How Pharmacy Technicians Differ From Pharmacy Assistants
These two job titles used to be interchangeable. But, increasingly, that is no longer the case in Canada. In fact, as part of a nationwide effort by professional pharmacy organizations, many provinces now regulate who can be called a pharmacy technician.
Here's why: A lot of pharmacists are seeking to change how pharmacies operate behind the counter. They want more flexibility and time to pursue expanded roles in clinical care. As a result, they want to work with technicians who have the independent authority to carry out some of the duties that only they were previously allowed to perform.
So even if your province or territory doesn't currently have such regulations, it could very soon. That means it's important to know the potential differences between technicians and assistants. Here are the most important ones:
In many areas of the country, you can only use the title of "pharmacy technician" if you have successfully completed the licensing or certification process of the pharmacy board or college of pharmacists in your province.
That process usually involves multiple steps. For example, in BC, Alberta, and Ontario, you must fulfill requirements such as:
- Graduating from a formal pharmacy technician program
- Completing a period of supervised practical training in a real pharmacy
- Passing exams related to pharmacy law
- Passing a final qualifying exam from the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC)
Pharmacy assistants are not regulated, so they are not required to earn any certification.
To become a pharmacy technician in a regulated province, the program you graduate from must be accredited by the Canadian Council for Accreditation of Pharmacy Programs (CCAP).
Also, after you gain licensure, you'll likely need to undergo a certain amount of continuing education each year.
In contrast, training to become a pharmacy assistant can happen at any school that offers a relevant course of study. You might even have the option of learning online. And any additional education is completely voluntary unless mandated by your employer.
Pharmacy technicians and assistants typically share many of the same duties, such as helping pharmacists by:
- Keeping prescription records accurate and up to date
- Tracking the inventory of medications and other items
- Compounding, measuring out, packaging, and labelling medicinal drugs
The main difference is that a regulated pharmacy technician has the extra authority and independence to carry out tasks like:
- Checking to make sure a drug preparation was done accurately
- Conducting the final check on prescriptions
With that additional responsibility comes the requirement to carry liability insurance. That's because, like pharmacists, regulated pharmacy technicians can be held legally accountable for their work.
How much you make from working in a pharmacy sometimes depends on whether you are a technician or an assistant. For example, the typical wage range for pharmacy assistants in Canada is $12.42 to $16.42 per hour. And a senior certified pharmacy technician typically makes $16.37 to $21.66.*
Of course, it's possible to make even more. Retail and community pharmacies often employ pharmacy assistants at competitive wages. But many of the best-paying jobs are found at the pharmacies of hospitals and long-term care facilities. And you can increase your chances of landing one of those higher-paying jobs by becoming a licensed pharmacy technician.
* Workopolis, website last accessed on March 6, 2014.