Working in a Hospital Pharmacy Versus a Retail Pharmacy

The majority of pharmacy technicians work in retail pharmacies, but the most coveted pharmacy technician position is often in a hospital pharmacy. There is very good reason for this: hospital pharmacy technicians earn about 20% higher salaries than retail pharmacy technicians. Though their duties are similar, there are some key differences between working in a hospital pharmacy and a retail pharmacy. Many pharmacy technicians begin their career working in a retail pharmacy, but after a few years of experience, they may be hired to work in a hospital pharmacy.

Qualifications of Retail Pharmacy Technicians

Many retail pharmacy technicians work with no special training or certification. Although a handful of states do require pharmacy technicians to be board certified, the majority do not. The only requirements for becoming a pharmacy technician in most states are a clean background check and a high school diploma or GED. Many employers will give a basic reading and math test, and if the prospective employee passes, they can be hired. Many retail pharmacies have in-house training programs to teach the pharmacy technician how their systems work. They may or may not include certification in their training programs. Retail pharmacy technicians work under the close supervision of a licensed pharmacist.

Duties of Retail Pharmacy Technicians

Today there are few small, family-owned pharmacies. Most pharmacies are part of a large retail chain. These modern pharmacies have computerized systems which guide the pharmacy technician in their main duty of filling prescriptions. The pharmacy technician reads the prescription and inputs the data into the computer system. This involves typing in the information and scanning a copy of the original prescription. The pharmacist must then review the information. He will make sure that the prescription was transcribed correctly and check for any drug interaction problems. Once he has approved it, he will print the information on a form to be included with the prescription. This form will be used by the pharmacy technician to fill the prescription. Often this form will include the drug identification number which the pharmacy technician will match to the number on the stock bottle to make sure that the correct medication has been selected. This type of system makes filling prescriptions almost fool-proof. When the prescription is filled, the pharmacist must review it again before it is sold to the patient.

Retail pharmacy technicians have many duties besides filling prescriptions. They spend much of their time interacting with patients when prescriptions are dropped off or picked up. They operate the cash register to sell prescriptions as well as other items sold in the store. They process insurance claims for the patient, which often involves being on the phone with insurance representatives. They also stock shelves, keep inventory records, clean the pharmacy, and file paperwork. They may even be asked to work in other areas of the store when needed.

Qualifications of Hospital Pharmacy Technicians

Regardless of which state a hospital is located in, they often only hire certified pharmacy technicians. Hospitals also look for pharmacy technicians who have at least 1 – 2 years of experience. Pharmacy technicians in a hospital are expected to have a greater working knowledge of medications than retail pharmacy technicians. They also have to understand more medical terminology because they may be required to read and update patient charts. Although they do work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, they are expected to work more independently than retail pharmacy technicians. They must also know how to create compound medications, IV fluids, and nutritional mixtures.

Duties of Hospital Pharmacy Technicians

In a hospital, the pharmacy technician does not deal with patients or process insurance claims. They spend more time filling prescriptions than any other duty. The process of filling prescriptions in a hospital is very different than in a retail pharmacy. In a retail pharmacy, the technician may fill up to 200 prescriptions in a day. Each prescription will be anywhere from a 7 – 90 day supply of medication that the patient will administer to themselves at home. In a hospital pharmacy, the pharmacy technician may fill over 1000 individual doses of medications which are given to nurses to be administered to patients.

Pros and Cons to Working in a Hospital

Hospital pharmacy technicians enjoy earning the top pay in their field. They often have the best vacation and insurance benefits as well. However, retail pharmacy technicians often report less stress in their jobs than those who work in hospitals. Retail pharmacy technicians often have a more flexible schedule than hospital technicians, and most do not have to work night shifts. Both hospital and retail pharmacy technicians find their jobs to be rewarding and feel respected.

Working in a retail pharmacy is a great beginning for a pharmacy technician. This gives them an opportunity to learn about different medications and pharmacy procedures. They may be exposed to some compounding. After working in a retail pharmacy for at least one year, the technician may be able to be hired by a hospital if they are certified.

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