Pharmacy Technician or Pharmacist: Is Either Job Right for You?

Pharmacy Technician or Pharmacist: Is Either Job Right for You?


At one time or another, we all have that important decision to make regarding the career path we want to pursue. My mother has always worked in healthcare and I knew that was where I wanted to be. But which avenue did I want to take? My mother was friends with a pharmacist at work who agreed to let me shadow her for a day. From the moment I stepped into the pharmacy and took a look around, I knew pharmacy was the avenue I wanted to take. From the technology to the knowledgeable staff, my mind was blown! Although I was able to finally decide on a general career path, there were a few things I needed to think about: what steps to take, what this career path entails, and which specific part of pharmacy work was to be my niche in life?

Becoming a Pharmacy Technician

The next week, I put in an application for a pharmacy technician opening. My job application was accepted and I was on my way to starting my career, just like that! At that time, being a certified pharmacy technician was not mandatory in my state of residence. However, I urge anyone thinking about becoming a pharmacy technician to become certified, as there is typically a pay benefit and it will give you preference when applying for jobs.

An amazing free resource to help prepare anyone to become pharmacy tech certified can be found at Union Test Prep.

Working as a pharmacy technician was very fulfilling, but after a while I started dreaming about taking my career a step further. I looked up to all the pharmacists I worked with and thought that could be me someday. But, what would it take to complete such a transition?

What Does It Take to Become an Actual Pharmacist?

Transitioning from pharmacy technician to pharmacist takes a decent amount of time, money, and education. However, if you are as passionate about becoming a pharmacist as I was, the transition seems to fly by. Because time flies when you are having fun, right? The education needed to become a pharmacist is typically two years of undergraduate pre-pharmacy study in addition to four years of pharmacy graduate study (the last year being all internships). Also, after completion of the undergraduate portion, you need to score well on the PCAT® exam to interview and get accepted into your pharmacy school of choice. Typically, you have preference if you apply to pharmacy school at the same institution you completed your undergraduate study. Getting accepted into pharmacy school is the easy part compared to the four years of late night studying, exams, lab practicums, and internships you must successfully complete. So, that is six years of college total, which means you must be dedicated and excited about becoming a pharmacist! After graduation, you must successfully pass the NAPLEX® and your state-specific law exam to become a candidate for any pharmacist job. Hard work does pay off and anything worth having doesn’t come easy, right?

The Financial Aspect

College seems expensive these days compared to years past. However, there are many scholarships made available to you by colleges and universities to decrease the financial burden. The federal government will provide you with student loans to cover tuition, and repayment does not start until six months after graduation. But remember, you must pay these back, which can typically take 10 to 30 years depending on the amount borrowed. In round numbers, it is typical for a student to have on average $150,000 to $200,000 in student loan debt after graduating with a doctorate of pharmacy degree. Although this may seem like a lot, it is very doable to pay back student loans in monthly installments when a pharmacist’s starting salary is anywhere from $100,000 to $125,000 a year.

Comparing the Rewards to the Responsibilities

After you have wrapped your head around the time, money, and effort it takes to go from pharmacy technician to pharmacist, a bigger question remains. Is this career right for you? I chose to become a pharmacist because of my passion for patient care and the ability to share knowledge of medicine with patients in a way they can understand and benefit from. Pharmacists are considered the most accessible healthcare professional to the public, and that is where I wanted to be. Don’t get me wrong, the starting salary is nice too. However, you are held liable for all the prescriptions and orders you approve and dispense as a pharmacist, making every decision crucial to a patient’s health. In short, the salary tag is as high as the level of responsibility.

Parting Advice

So, a little more about my story: I graduated with my doctorate of pharmacy in 2016 and worked as a pharmacy technician through college until graduation. Since graduation, I have worked as a pharmacist in retail, hospital, and long-term care settings. I would like to share two final key pieces of advice. Make sure you are passionate about becoming a pharmacist before beginning this transition. Also, build positive relationships with every professor, pharmacist, preceptor, pharmacy technician, and even peer you interact with along the way, as they could potentially help you land a job in your pharmacy career someday. Pharmacy is a small world, and networking is key to finding your niche within the field.

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