The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a good picture of job growth prospects in the pharmacy sector of the healthcare industry. Especially for professionals working as pharmacists, pharmacy assistants, and pharmacy technicians. The positions are expected to see a surge in the demand for their skills throughout 2028.
The increase in demand for pharmacists has been largely attributed to the growing population size of senior citizens across the U.S. This demographic is in constant need of medication and monitoring.
Pharmaceutical research as an industry has evolved immensely over the years and there are now more career options in this field. Below, we are going to explore the various career fields in the pharmaceutical industry and the job description.
Types of Careers in the Pharmaceutical Industry
The pharmaceutical industry is characterized by three main types of professionals:
- Pharmacy Assistant
- Pharmacy Technician
While the three professions have job titles almost similar, they do serve different roles. They also most certainly require different levels of education and training. Each of the three professions has specific duties, quite distinct from the others.
To become a pharmacy assistant, you must first have a high school diploma and get some on-the-job training. That means, work at a pharmacy assisting professionals there with some of the tasks. You will certainly be the less educated and experienced in matters pharmaceutical within the work establishment.
They bear the least responsibility at any pharmacy outlet, and typically a high school diploma or GED qualification suffice for this role. There are also pharmacies that allow high school students to work in their establishment part-time or as a school holiday gig. We earlier talked about their job description, which for the most part is clerical and doing small errands around the pharmacy.
The roles of a pharmacy assistant vary from one work establishment to the next. Also, what they can and cannot do is dictated by the state, so you find some pharmacy assistants having fewer responsibilities in some states than in others. Typically, their general tasks include:
- Stocktaking of supplies and merchandise
- Record keeping of available medication
- Working the cash register
As you can probably guess, a pharmacy assistant earns the least in any typical pharmacy establishment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pharmacy assistants take home on average about $26,450 annually. Those working in hospitals and physicians’ offices earn comparatively higher than those working in drugstores.
Pharmacy Technicians have their work out pretty much cut out at a pharmacy outlet. Thus they need advanced training to get the job done right. Pharmacy Techs are required to not only hold a high school diploma, but also a certificate or associate degree. A growing trend among employers is to prefer pharmacy tech who go the extra mile of pursuing specialty training certification in areas like IV medications.
Also, they need to undergo specialized training in pharmacy. Most states and employers insist that a pharmacy tech at the very least acquires the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) credentials.
The majority of pharmacy tech pass through formal pharmacy education training programs leading up to a certificate or associate’s degree. Additionally, they may be required to pass a background check and undertake drug abuse screening.
In a typical pharmacy establishment, the pharmacy tech is usually the go-to-person for doctors, patients, and other medical professionals when they want drug prescriptions. No doubt, they play a critical role in your average pharmacy or hospital establishment.
With the on-going evolution in the pharmacy industry, pharmacy techs are increasingly taking up responsibilities previously reserved just for pharmacists. That trend is likely to continue, given the fact that also the training the pharmacy techs are undergoing is growing in breadth and depth.
The typical roles of a pharmacy tech include:
- Collecting customers information in order to fill their prescriptions
- Measuring the correct dosage of medication needed by a patient
- Packaging and labeling the drug prescriptions
- Organizing the drug inventories
- Processing patients insurance claims and payments
- Entering customer details in the hospital/drugstore database
- Answering phone inquiries by customers
- Making customer appointments with the resident pharmacists
- Manning the drugs dispensing equipment
- Preparing intravenous medication
Just like with the pharmacy assistant, the duties of a pharmacy tech varies depending on the state. For instance, in some states, pharmacy techs are legally allowed to call a doctor for medication refills, while in others it will be illegal to do so.
As far as annual take-home salary is concerned, pharmacy techs on average make about $32,700 per year. However, the salary varies depending on the individual’s level of education, experience, place of work, and status of certification. Those working in drugstores make less than those working in well-established hospitals, medical labs, and outpatient medical care outfits.
These are the highly trained professionals who are qualified and licensed to dispense medicinal drugs and hold the ultimate responsibility in the pharmacy. They are tasked with checking the overall prescription recommended by pharmacy techs to ensure safety and accuracy standards are met. They also ensure patients are well informed about their medication prescriptions.
A fully licensed pharmacist must attain a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. Afterwhich, they must be licensed in order to begin practicing.
Their job also entails the following duties:
- Ensure the patient’s prescription will not negatively react with other medications the patient could be taking
- Make sure the patient will not have an allergic reaction to their medication
- Inform the patient on the correct dosage of their medication
- Conduct community screening on health and general wellness
- Test the patient’s blood sugar and cholesterol levels
- They give patients flu shots and other vaccinations.
- As we mentioned earlier they bear the full responsibility of making sure a patient’s prescription does not interfere with other drugs they (patient) might be using.
- Advice the patient on how safely to take their drugs.
- Ensure the patient does not get an allergic reaction to their medication
- Do a general prefecting of the pharmacy assistant and technician.
- Collaborating with insurance companies to ensure patients do get the right medication affordably.
- Conducting community health and wellness screening
- Testing patient’s blood sugar and cholesterol levels
- Collaborating with other professionals on charting out the best medication course for patients with the need for special medical attention
With the evolution of the medical industry in general, the role of a pharmacist continues to widen; both in breadth and depth.
According to the BLS, on average pharmacists make about $126,120 per year. Although the salary for individual pharmacists varies depending on the institution they work for and their level of experience. However, the industry tends to have a standard remuneration for pharmacists in general. The difference is often not that much as when compared to the pay pharmacy assistants and techs do get based on location and experience.
Educational Path to Becoming a Pharmacist
To become a pharmacist, one must attend a pharmacy school after getting their high school diploma. The good thing about most pharmacy schools is that they offer dual degree programs. So you will earn your Pharm.D. alongside another bachelor’s degree program over a course of six to seven years.
You will first need to attain a bachelor’s degree program in subjects such as chemistry or biology. That usually takes between three to four years. Afterwhich, you can now pursue a Pharm.D. program. Having some background as a pharmacy assistant or technician will be an added advantage in your Pharm.D. program admission.
To be admitted, one must take and pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). The test is broken down into multiple-choice sections testing your knowledge on biological processes, your quantitative reasoning, and the ability for critical reading. That is then followed up by an essay. However, each school has its own passing score for determining qualification for admission.
The Pharm.D program will have classes on subjects such as the following:
- Healthcare management
- Pharmacological measurements
During your Pharm.D program, you will need to undertake a formal internship at a pharmacy. There are stipulated minimum number of hours for the internship, and it varies per given state. The internship hours is also taken into consideration as one of the licensing requirements.
Taking the Licensure Exams
After successfully completing your Pharm.D. program, you will be required to sit for two licensing exams. That is the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE).
Applying for Your License
After successfully completing your education, exams, and internship requirement for your Pharm.D. program, you can now apply for a license. In addition to the two mentioned licensing exams, your state may require the following also:
- Background check
- Proof of internship to the state’s board
- Additional training for certification in public health matters such as vaccination
- Completing an additional postgraduate experience hours
A qualified pharmacist can work at pharmaceutical establishments such as retail pharmacies, hospital pharmacies, clinics, research labs, and government and military facilities.
Article provided by, Advocate Search Group – a recruiting firm focused exclusively on filling educator and administration positions at universities with health science programs (i.e.: nursing, allied health, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, etc.)
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