Pharmacy Assistants and Technicians – What’s Different About These Healthcare Career Paths?

July 10th, 2024 by Sherri Leblanc

Have you been considering a career in the pharmaceutical field but haven’t been able to make up your mind about which path to follow? 

A lot of people find themselves in a similar situation, especially given that different career paths might seem really similar at first glance.

We’re talking of course pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians!

The distinctions between the two might not be super obvious if you’re not overly familiar with the industry or the education required to get you there.Fortunately, we’ve put together this article to explore the key differences between these two roles. Hopefully you’ll walk away with a better understanding of each, as well as the sort of educational and career path that you’d like to pursue!

Are Pharmacy Assistants and Technicians the same as Pharmacists?

The most important thing to note about pharmacy assistants (as well as technicians) is that they are not pharmacists. Pharmacists are typically doctors in their field – meaning they’ve gone through extensive schooling at the postgraduate level focusing on the preparation, management, and distribution of medications. 

Think of them the same way you would a medical doctor, except this one is focused on the pharmaceutical side of things rather than the physiological aspects the way a general practitioner would.

On the job, they typically are the ones running the pharmacy from the top level – supervising their assistants and technicians, as well as providing guidance to clients with questions about medications and their application.

What are Pharmacy Assistants?

A pharmacy assistant works under the supervision of a pharmacist. Their role primarily revolves around the customer service aspects of the pharmacy, dealing with client requests and certain questions. They’re also trained to deal with administrative tasks, ranging from inventory management to placing orders.

In a nutshell, pharmacy assistants provide general and all around support to the pharmacist and anyone else working at the pharmacy.

What are Pharmacy Technicians?

Pharmacy technicians differ from assistants in that their responsibilities are more directly related to handling the medication and other products dispensed through the pharmacy. This could include things like inventory management but also more specialized tasks such as prescription processing or compounding.

Pharmacy technician training is also more specialized than what pharmacy assistants go through, and they typically need to hold various certifications with rigorous standards (which are often completed after their studies) in order to be eligible to work. In Ontario, these include the Qualifying Exam with the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC), as well as having the pharmacy technicians register with the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP).

So, pharmacy technicians are not pharmacists, but many of their duties more closely resemble or overlap with them than what assistants do.

What are the key differences between Pharmacy Assistants and Pharmacy Technicians?

As discussed above, the two main areas of differences between the two would be where their day-to-day responsibilities are concerned, as well as their qualifications and training:

  • Responsibilities: Pharmacy assistants focus on administrative tasks and customer service, whereas pharmacy technicians perform technical duties such as medication compounding and prescription processing.
  • Qualifications: Pharmacy assistants typically have broader training focusing on office and administrative skills, without the need for a formal certification, while pharmacy technicians undergo more formal and rigorous education and require additional certifications to be able to work.

What are the healthcare career paths for pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians?

The end goal for both of these educational paths is to work in a pharmacy. Typically, both professions are the result of students undergoing training in a specialist pharmacy assistant or pharmacy technician program at a qualified career college.

As such, students in pharmacy assistant programs typically end up working those roles until they advance into more senior ones. They might also end up performing similar duties in other medical or healthcare settings, such as clinics or hospitals. Oftentimes too, after working as an assistant, people choose to go back to school to become technicians.

Pharmacy technicians, on the other hand, come trained with a focused set of duties that are fairly specialized and in-demand. They often work inside customer facing pharmacies, but they also end up in various roles in the wider healthcare field, from clinics to hospitals, as well as within the private pharmaceutical sector too, such as where testing or manufacturing is involved.

Final Thoughts on these Healthcare Career Paths

Understanding the differences between pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians is crucial for anyone considering a career in pharmacy without going through the extension postgraduate schooling required to become a pharmacist. 

As for which role is more worthwhile to pursue, know that both pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians play a vital part in ensuring the smooth operation of pharmacies and delivering quality healthcare services to patients across the country.

Whether you’re aiming to start as a pharmacy assistant or aspire to become a pharmacy technician, both paths offer rewarding opportunities to contribute to the healthcare industry.

Are you considering a career in the pharmaceutical industry? CTS Canadian Career College offers one of the only hybrid Pharmacy Technician programs in Ontario. Our program provides you with the training you need to succeed in the industry, along with preparing you to write your certification exams after graduation.

For more information, fill in the form on the right side of this page or send us an email to [email protected]