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Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist

These two professions are distinguished by education, pay, and responsibilities.

pharmacist and technician looking at prescription order
Home » Blog » Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist
emily polner

Written and reported by:
By Emily Polner
Contributing Writer

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians often work side by side, performing similar duties such as filling prescriptions, conversing with patients, doctors, and insurance companies, and keeping pharmacies clean, safe, and up to standards. 

Despite these similarities, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have different educational backgrounds, job responsibilities, and salaries.

In this Article

Overview

Pharmacy technicians mainly assist with clerical work within a pharmacy or hospital. Pharmacists are chiefly responsible for ensuring that patients’ medications are filled properly and safely. 

“Successful pharmacy technicians are detail-oriented team players, and they have impeccable communication skills,” says Rhea Elizabeth Angeles, PharmD, an executive fellow with the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and a former PTCB-certified pharmacy technician (CPhT). “Pharmacy technicians are the backbone of every pharmacy and play a critical role in maintaining a smooth workflow.” Pharmacists, on the other hand, “must be confident, effective leaders with strong moral character, and have the ability to interpret complex information,” Angeles says. “Pharmacists are responsible for utilizing their vast clinical knowledge to ensure the safe and effective use of medications.”

Roles and Responsibilities

Both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians speak directly with patients, doctors, and insurance companies. But a pharmacist is a supervisor and manager who oversees the work of pharmacy technicians. Here’s a closer look at the roles and responsibilities for each profession.

Pharmacy Technician


  • Collect patient information to help fill prescriptions
  • Talk to pharmacy customers on the phone and in person
  • Receive and process patient payments
  • Manage pharmacy inventory
  • Prepare medications for pharmacists by reading orders, preparing labels, and calculating the appropriate quantities
  • Process patients’ insurance and serve as a liaison among insurance companies, physician offices, and the pharmacy
  • Assist with various administrative tasks, including but not limited to billing, record keeping, and insurance paperwork

Pharmacist


  • Oversee pharmacy orders and dispensing on a daily basis
  • Review all prescriptions for accuracy
  • Check patients’ records for any conflicting medications or dosages
  • Advise patients on how to use medications appropriately and effectively 
  • Collaborate with other healthcare professionals to monitor patient treatments
  • Ensure the pharmacy follows all local, state, and federal laws

Pharmacy technicians work alongside pharmacists at chain and independent pharmacies, as well as in the pharmacy department at retail stores, grocery stores, and hospitals.

Pharmacists can be found most commonly in retail pharmacies and hospitals. Some pharmacists go on to work in clinical research and development settings or become pharmacy scholars or university professors. 

Legally, pharmacy technicians can fill patient prescriptions, so long as they are reviewed by a pharmacist before they are given out. Pharmacy technicians are not permitted to recommend medications to patients, including over-the-counter medications and supplements.  

Legally, pharmacy technicians can fill patient prescriptions, so long as they are reviewed by a pharmacist before they are given out.

Education

While there is a slight overlap in the subjects they study, pharmacy technicians and pharmacists have different education backgrounds and requirements.

Pharmacy technician programs are typically one to two years and cover core courses in:

  • Body systems
  • Inventory management
  • Pharmacy calculations
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacy law/ethics
  • Medical dosing

Pharmacists attend six to eight years of school with a foundation in chemistry, biology, and math, and advanced courses in subjects such as:

  • Physiology
  • Chemical and molecular pharmacology
  • Medicinal biochemistry
  • Pharmacogenomics
  • Therapeutics
  • Pharmacy practice
  • Pharmacy management

How to Get There

Pharmacy Technician


In some states, pharmacy technicians must complete a pharmacy technician certificate program or earn an associate degree. These programs help aspiring pharmacy technicians prepare for and pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam. 

In other states, no education beyond a high school diploma is needed. However, previous work experience is highly desired for those who choose not to enroll in a pharmacy technician education program.

Pharmacist


To earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree, six to eight years of study are required. There are two education tracks:

  • Pharmacists may complete six-year programs that start with two years of prerequisite courses in chemistry, biology, math, and English, followed by four years of pharmacy study.
  • If students have already completed a four-year bachelor’s degree program, they must complete an additional four-year doctoral program to earn a PharmD.

Both PhD tracks include extensive clinical work, interacting with patients and doctors under the guidance of a professional pharmacist.

Licensing and Certification 

Licensing and certification vary by state for pharmacy technicians, but all states require pharmacists to take a national licensing exam and an exam on state law to practice.

Pharmacy Technician

Licensing requirements are set by the states and fall into three categories:

  • License/registration required
  • National certification and license/registration required
  • No license or certification requirements

In states that require certification, pharmacy technicians must pass one of two certification exams. Pharmacy technicians with formal training and those with work experience only can qualify for either one:

Since each state has its own certification requirements, make sure you understand the requirements for the state you’re looking to work in. 

Pharmacist

Pharmacists must take two licensing exams after completing a PharmD program:

  • The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX)
  • Either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a state jurisprudence exam. You’ll need to contact your state’s licensing board to determine which jurisprudence exam you need to take.

After you’ve taken your exams, you can apply for licensure. Some states may require you to pass a background check, submit proof of your pharmacy internships, or complete additional training. 

Licensed pharmacists can take exams to earn specialized certifications from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) in any of the following areas: 

  • Ambulatory Care
  • Cardiology
  • Compounded Sterile Preparations
  • Critical Care
  • Geriatric
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Nuclear
  • Nutrition Support
  • Oncology
  • Pediatric
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Psychiatric
  • Solid Organ Transplantation 

Becoming a pharmacy technician is a great steppingstone to becoming a pharmacist. Many pharmacy technicians make the decision to pursue a PharmD degree after their experiences working in a pharmacy. Entering pharmacy school with hands-on work experience can put you at an advantage over your classmates.  

Salary and Job Outlook

Given the years of education required to be a pharmacist, plus the responsibilities of the job, it’s no surprise that pharmacists earn significantly more than pharmacy technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salaries for pharmacy tech and pharmacist jobs are:

Pharmacy Technicians

National data

Median Salary: $36,740

Projected job growth: 5%

10th Percentile: $28,740

25th Percentile: $29,460

75th Percentile: $45,850

90th Percentile: $47,580

Projected job growth: 5%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $46,470 $36,650 $59,280
Alabama $30,030 $23,020 $38,830
Arkansas $29,650 $23,450 $45,470
Arizona $37,240 $29,280 $47,150
California $46,760 $36,340 $74,910
Colorado $37,390 $29,310 $47,790
Connecticut $36,640 $29,060 $47,790
District of Columbia $46,550 $36,990 $59,630
Delaware $30,020 $23,190 $46,890
Florida $36,550 $28,840 $46,330
Georgia $35,000 $23,370 $46,190
Hawaii $36,920 $28,610 $58,540
Iowa $36,590 $28,590 $46,210
Idaho $36,910 $28,990 $47,120
Illinois $36,630 $29,040 $46,790
Indiana $36,360 $28,750 $46,150
Kansas $36,630 $28,270 $46,470
Kentucky $30,140 $23,450 $45,620
Louisiana $35,870 $28,280 $45,850
Massachusetts $37,240 $29,560 $55,850
Maryland $36,840 $29,030 $47,790
Maine $36,140 $28,600 $46,250
Michigan $36,590 $28,170 $46,860
Minnesota $39,900 $29,490 $58,250
Missouri $32,050 $26,330 $46,170
Mississippi $35,640 $28,360 $45,640
Montana $36,880 $29,430 $47,150
North Carolina $35,930 $27,260 $46,470
North Dakota $45,410 $29,070 $51,080
Nebraska $36,640 $28,770 $46,700
New Hampshire $36,820 $28,910 $47,160
New Jersey $36,810 $29,100 $46,920
New Mexico $36,690 $28,980 $47,830
Nevada $37,190 $29,230 $47,130
New York $36,790 $29,130 $56,850
Ohio $35,140 $23,250 $46,460
Oklahoma $30,610 $27,930 $46,620
Oregon $46,190 $35,690 $59,390
Pennsylvania $36,290 $23,170 $46,470
Rhode Island $36,820 $29,360 $47,110
South Carolina $36,330 $28,420 $46,450
South Dakota $36,680 $29,080 $46,190
Tennessee $35,520 $28,110 $46,010
Texas $36,900 $29,080 $47,150
Utah $37,390 $29,280 $47,460
Virginia $36,450 $28,790 $47,030
Vermont $36,800 $28,930 $46,470
Washington $46,690 $36,590 $59,540
Wisconsin $36,670 $28,850 $47,000
West Virginia $29,280 $22,970 $45,550
Wyoming $37,510 $29,270 $47,790

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Pharmacists

National data

Median Salary: $128,570

Projected job growth: 2.4%

10th Percentile: $76,840

25th Percentile: $121,070

75th Percentile: $143,600

90th Percentile: $164,590

Projected job growth: 2.4%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $153,920 $121,700 $167,140
Alabama $127,270 $80,230 $162,440
Arkansas $127,240 $80,060 $153,480
Arizona $128,190 $49,290 $162,820
California $155,930 $79,980 $193,120
Colorado $129,090 $57,430 $166,910
Connecticut $127,690 $82,830 $162,190
District of Columbia $128,780 $37,750 $160,920
Delaware $129,580 $100,660 $153,920
Florida $127,240 $77,060 $160,840
Georgia $128,020 $48,730 $160,990
Hawaii $128,690 $101,330 $164,620
Iowa $127,690 $98,680 $152,480
Idaho $127,940 $77,940 $153,480
Illinois $128,580 $48,020 $156,130
Indiana $127,820 $48,730 $157,840
Kansas $127,940 $37,770 $162,010
Kentucky $127,240 $78,850 $162,820
Louisiana $127,240 $76,050 $153,480
Massachusetts $128,160 $48,560 $154,370
Maryland $128,650 $63,160 $160,230
Maine $128,690 $98,290 $163,360
Michigan $127,770 $49,000 $159,820
Minnesota $130,610 $99,510 $165,590
Missouri $128,410 $48,070 $163,360
Mississippi $127,050 $48,730 $152,950
Montana $127,870 $80,290 $134,350
North Carolina $128,360 $96,700 $163,360
North Dakota $128,600 $37,480 $153,070
Nebraska $125,840 $79,220 $153,920
New Hampshire $130,610 $96,420 $163,360
New Jersey $128,030 $99,720 $153,920
New Mexico $128,500 $46,580 $162,810
Nevada $128,600 $99,510 $162,820
New York $128,920 $100,490 $164,030
Ohio $128,190 $64,650 $159,490
Oklahoma $126,420 $77,770 $137,390
Oregon $131,570 $100,670 $167,670
Pennsylvania $127,690 $80,470 $154,620
Rhode Island $122,020 $38,590 $153,920
South Carolina $126,950 $46,830 $161,020
South Dakota $127,930 $99,190 $152,480
Tennessee $127,240 $46,210 $153,040
Texas $128,440 $79,600 $164,070
Utah $128,690 $62,680 $164,070
Virginia $128,340 $59,840 $164,040
Vermont $128,690 $99,500 $161,150
Washington $131,080 $101,340 $166,520
Wisconsin $130,280 $76,050 $167,140
West Virginia $127,080 $41,720 $160,580
Wyoming $128,790 $76,050 $164,150

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

The job outlook for these professions tells a slightly different story. While pharmacy technician jobs are expected to grow by 5 percent through 2031, roles for pharmacists are expected to grow 2 percent through 2031, slower than average.

Pharmacy jobs are on the decline, especially in drug and other retail stories, because more people are getting their prescriptions online, according to the BLS. Another factor is that technicians are doing more of the tasks previously done by pharmacists, such as preparing some types of medications.

While pharmacy technician jobs are expected to grow by 5 percent through 2031, roles for pharmacists are expected to grow only 2 percent, slower than average.

One positive spot for pharmacists will be healthcare settings such as hospitals and clinics, where more pharmacists are expected to be needed to oversee medications for patients.

Pharmacy technician roles are growing in line with the average for all jobs. This is due in part to the growth of the nation’s aging population and a rising need for prescription medication. Technicians can expect to take on a greater volume of this work.

Which Career is Right for You?

Pharmacy technician roles are great for those who would like a fulfilling career in health but don’t necessarily want to pursue a four-year degree.

However, if you want a managerial role, a higher starting salary after finishing school, or to conduct clinical research, you may be more suited for a career as a pharmacist. 


rhea angeles

With professional insight from:
Rhea Elizabeth Angeles, PharmD
Executive fellow, Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, a former PTCB-certified pharmacy technician (CPhT)