Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist: What’s the Difference?

Ann Feeney
Updated August 29, 2023
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    Considering a pharmacy career? This pharmacy tech vs pharmacist guide will help you choose. Learn about educational requirements, salary, and more.
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    If you are considering a pharmacy career, one of the first decisions to make is deciding between pharmacy technician versus pharmacist.

    This guide explains the difference between the roles, educational requirements, and typical salary ranges, so you can decide which career best fits your goals. Keep reading for the information you need to make the pharmacy tech versus pharmacist decision today.

    Pharmacy Technician and Pharmacist Key Similarities and Differences

    The primary pharmacy tech versus pharmacist difference is what each role is trained for and legally allowed to do. Pharmacists have a doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree, while pharmacy technicians do not need a college degree. Both must pass a licensing examination, though the specifics vary.

    What is a Pharmacist?

    Pharmacists supervise pharmacy technicians and advise patients on pharmaceuticals, including potential drug interactions. They are also authorized to conduct health screenings, provide immunizations, and advise patients on general health.

    Concerning pharmacy tech vs. pharmacist pay, pharmacist salaries are considerably higher than pharmacy technician salaries. This reflects their higher levels of education and responsibility.

    What is a Pharmacy Technician?

    Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists by preparing prescriptions and giving them to patients. They update patient records and work with insurance providers and other payers.

    Pharmacist vs. Pharmacy Technician
    Points to ConsiderPharmacy TechnicianPharmacist
    Degree RequiredNoneDoctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
    Certification OptionsCertified pharmacy technician (C.Ph.T.)Pharmacy-based immunization delivery, pharmacokinetics, investigational drug services, non-malignant hematology, etc.
    Duties and ResponsibilitiesDispense medications under pharmacist supervision, complete paperwork, communicate with insurance companies, process prescriptionsAdvise patients on prescriptions, check prescriptions for potential interactions, administer immunizations, provide general health and wellness advice
    Average Annual Salary$39,000 $116,140


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    Duties and Responsibilities

    Pharmacy tech versus pharmacist responsibility boils down to pharmacists having a broader scope of work. They can work independently, while pharmacy techs must work under a pharmacist and are not licensed to provide advice.

    What Does a Pharmacist Do?

    Pharmacists are responsible for patient health and safety related to prescriptions, as well as legal compliance. Their responsibilities include:

    • Verify prescription information as needed
    • Advise patients and other healthcare providers about potential interactions
    • Instruct patients on how to take medications safely and what side effects to watch for
    • Advise patients on any other issues related to prescriptions
    • Provide general health and wellness advice as needed
    • Supervise pharmacy technicians

    What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?

    Pharmacy technicians are largely responsible for the smooth and hygienic operations of a pharmacy, including processing prescriptions, dispensing medications, and handling payments. Their responsibilities include:

    • Prepare medications safely and hygienically
    • Ensure dosages match the prescribed amount
    • Process insurance claims, prior authorizations, and other payment issues
    • Maintain pharmaceutical inventory
    • Compound medications
    • Update patient records
    • Follow applicable state and federal laws related to prescriptions and controlled substances

    Education and Certification

    Both pharmacy technicians and pharmacists need training on pharmacy safety and operations. Both need to earn a state license.

    However, the length of required education is an important pharmacy technician versus pharmacist consideration. Depending on the state, pharmacy technician training can take less than two years and might even be as short as one month. Pharmacists, on the other hand, must earn a doctorate.

    How to Become a Pharmacist

    The pathway to pharmacist licensing is much more standardized. You must earn a Pharm.D. degree from an accredited program, which takes around four years (after a bachelor’s degree).

    In most states, you will need to complete an internship. Some states offer a six-year Pharm. D. program out of high school.

    After graduating, you must take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a state-specific test. Most states require an internship after graduation.

    While not required to practice, many pharmacists pursue specialty certifications. One of the most common is the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) immunization certification.

    How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

    States have different pharmacy technician training requirements. Some states allow on-the-job training, while others require formal education to be eligible to take the state licensing examination.

    The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) offers a certification course. All states accept this certification as a qualification for the licensing examination.

    It takes 1-2 years to earn a pharmacy technician degree, but in many states you can qualify with a shorter training course. The length can vary from approximately a month to approximately six months. You must have a high school diploma or GED certificate for these programs.

    Salary and Career Outlook

    Because of the very different licensing requirements, the pharmacy technician versus pharmacist pay gap is large. On average, pharmacists earn nearly three times what pharmacy technicians earn.

    Average Annual Pharmacist Salary
    Source:Payscale, August 2022

    Average Annual Pharmacy Technician Salary
    Source:Payscale, August 2022

    Pharmacist Salary and Career Outlook

    The BLS projects a 2% decline in pharmacist jobs between 2020 and 2030, though there will still be an average of 11,300 job openings each year. It also reports that the highest-paid 10% of pharmacists earn $164,590 or higher and the lowest-paid 10% earn $76,840 or less.

    The median annual salary for pharmacists working in ambulatory healthcare settings is $131,790, followed by hospitals at $130,280, food and beverage stores at $128,190, and pharmacies and drug stores at $127,820.

    Pharmacy Technician Salary and Career Outlook

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the lowest-paid 10% of pharmacy technicians earn $28,740 or less, and the highest 10% earned $47,580 or more. Hospitals pay the most, with a median $38,270 annual salary, followed by $360,090 at food and beverage stores, and $35,940 at pharmacies and drug stores.

    Education levels and certifications, along with local demand and cost of living, significantly affect salaries. Pharmacy technician jobs are expected to grow 4% between 2020 and 2030, slower than the average growth rate.

    Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist: Which Career is Right For Me?

    If salary is the only factor, the pharmacy tech versus pharmacist decision is an easy one. Pharmacists earn a median six-figure salary often more than three times the median pharmacy tech salary. However, it is far easier and faster to become a pharmacy technician, and the number of pharmacy technician jobs is projected to grow.

    The pharmacy technician versus pharmacist decision fundamentally depends on your career and financial goals. Some pharmacists start as pharmacy technicians to see whether they would like the career enough to commit to earning a doctorate, rather like some nurses start as certified nursing assistants.

    If you think you would enjoy pharmaceutical work, but are less keen on hours spent in classrooms and on schoolwork, becoming a pharmacy technician might be the path for you.

    Whichever you choose, both are helpful jobs. Pharmacists, in particular, are one of the most important safeguards for patients against medication errors or negative interactions. While not licensed to advise patients the way that pharmacists are, pharmacy techs also play a vital role in patient safety.

    Page Last Reviewed: August 15, 2022

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