From outside the industry, spotting the differences between a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician can be a tough task. 

To the uninformed, it is easy to think that the two roles are the exact same but just have different names but they are very different from each other and each play an integral role in the running and operations of a pharmacy.

 After all, those within these career paths work to ensure that the right advice and medication is administered to those who need it. 

Not only that, but they both work in the community, in hospitals, or within the industry. Both have also dealt with tough challenges over the past two years, since Covid-19 became part of our lives. 

Of course, there are also many overlapping skills that are necessary to work successfully in either position. 

However, for all the similarities between the two, there are also some key differences. 

As we said, a pharmacy technician and a pharmacist are both working to achieve the same aim, but their qualifications, tasks and responsibilities are somewhat different. 

Throughout the following article, we are going to look at the similarities and differences between the two jobs. 

Qualifications

Both pharmacy technicians and pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals. However, their education paths are slightly different. To become a pharmacist, you need to spend more than twice the amount of time in third level education than you are required to if you are becoming a pharmacy technician. 

Here is a quick rundown of the education requirements of both.

  • To become a Pharmacist:

You first have to undergo five years of education.  The first step in this instance is your initial degree (B.Sc Pharm). This takes four years. You then have to follow that up with your Masters Degree (M.Pharm).

Upon completion of this education, you then need to sit an exam. Then, to practice, you must register with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI). 

  • To become a Pharmacy Technician:

You must complete a two-year higher certificate in science for this position. There are a number of colleges around the country that offer this course. For instance, both Athlone and Carlow currently provid these types of courses. 

The Irish Pharmacy Union also offers a distance learning course, which allows you to gain the relevant qualification for those who may not be able to attend full time education. This is useful if you are already working and want upskill. If you want to work in this area, you also must also register with the PSI. 

Day-to-day

A pharmacy technician is very often the first person you see when you enter a community pharmacy. There, they work alongside the pharmacist and give advice to the patients when necessary. 

Very often, they will also accept prescriptions and check their legality, while passing on any questions that the patient has for the pharmacist. Both roles work alongside each other, with the pharmacist very often working as a manager, or supervisor, to the pharmacy technician. 

If everything is as it should be with the prescription, either the pharmacist or pharmacy technician will then dispense the medication. 

Amongst other things, pharmacists that work in community pharmacies will advise patients on their prescriptions, they will liaise with doctors over prescription queries, ensure the safe and legal dispensing of medication, while providing several other services. The role of a pharmacist in this scenario is to ensure that the pharmacy is dispensing medication in a safe and legal manner. Often, they will have more responsibility in community pharmacies than the pharmacy technician. 

Both pharmacy technicians and pharmacists also work within hospitals and within the pharmaceutical industry. Essentially, if you are to break it down into one line, the difference between the two, especially in community pharmacies, is a pharmacy technician is their to lias between the patient/customer and the pharmacist working behind the scenes preparing the medication. 

Income 

In Ireland, the average yearly salary for a pharmacist is around €70,000. This differs from the wage for a pharmacy technician, which is between €30,000 and €35,000. 

Experience levels, along with the levels of training and education that are required, are reflected in the salaries for both positions. It should also be noted that the salary of a pharmacist also reflects management duties that a pharmacy technician may not have. 

Aside from the financial aspect, both jobs can be highly rewarding as you are a key frontline worker helping your community. Never before has this been as apparent as it is now, with pharmacies throughout the country helping us to take counteractive measures towards the Covid-19 virus. 

Throughout the last 20 months, both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have been working on the frontline as essential workers, helping those in need. They have also play a key role in the successful vaccine rollout throughout the country. 

Skills Required 

As previously pointed out, for all the differences, there are still many similarities. For instance, many of the same skills are used and needed when working as a pharmacy technician and a pharmacist. 

For instance, to be good at either, you need: 

  • To be a good communicator, who is patient and willing to listen. 

Never has this been as essential, with covid regulations around masks and social distancing making it difficult to interact with patients. 

  • Do not be afraid of making decisions that are not popular, but for the best. 

Of course, when you are dealing with medication, there may be difficult decisions that need to be made. 

  • To be empathetic and calm around crises. 

As a pharmacist, you will be dealing with ill people on a daily basis. At times, a soft manner is required here. 

  • To be resilient and patient in difficult situations. 

Like any profession, the pharmaceutical industry has its challenging moments. 

  • To be organised and willing to go the extra mile for someone who needs it. 

Of course, there are many other skills that will help you thrive in these positions. The above only scratches the surface. 

Groups 

Both professions have a number of different groups that you can join either when qualified, or as a student. For instance, the National Association of Hospital Pharmacy Technicians is one such organisation. 

For pharmacy technicians, The Irish Association of Community Pharmacy Technicians is another group. With both of these organisations, there are annual events, which provide a useful way to stay up to date with the latest developments and an opportunity to network. 

As for pharmacists, there are also a number of individual groups, depending on the area of specialisation or interest. For example, there is The Hospital Pharmacists Association of Ireland.

Being a member of certain groups can look on your CV when you are applying for new roles. 

Challenges  

Both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are facing unprecedented challenges with the covid-19 pandemic. These challenges include staffing difficulties, due to close contact and positive covid tests, and uncertainty around future and current regulations.   

Community pharmacies have also had to deal with a minority refusing to adhere to regulations, putting staff members further at risk. Ensuring the safety of all that work and entering the pharmacy is a consistent priority for these staff members. 

On top of the challenges, there has also been the task of administering the vaccine in some instances. 

Outside of that, there have also been some communications issues that can be associated with the restrictions that have been introduced. For example, masks, social distancing, and plastic screens have made communication difficult at times. It can be antagonising for patients, who feel as though they are not being heard within their local pharmacy.

Alongside these challenges, both professions still face the difficulties that existed pre-covid. For instance, like with any profession where you interact with the public, there will also be times where your decision will not be the one a patient is hoping for. 

Pharmacies are also fast paced workplaces, where you are on your feet for most of the day which can be stressful and tiring. Of course, these are just some of the challenges that all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians face. 

Which Role Suits Me? 

Both of these jobs offer rewarding career paths, and the job market is in a positive state for both roles. 

A pharmacy technician role may be more suitable to you if you don’t want to pursue five years of education, or if you are already working in some capacity and want to keep that work while you study. 

If you would prefer to work in a managerial, or supervisory role, with added responsibility and don’t mind the added educational responsibilities, then you may prefer the path of becoming a pharmacist. That is also true if you want to follow a career as a researcher. 

If you are already qualified in either discipline, then check out the roles we have available right now.