Medical Assistant vs. Pharmaceutical Assistant: What You Need to Know

There are generally two types of pharmaceutical positions meant to help licensed pharmacists do their job: aides and pharmacy assistants/technicians. The former requires very little training, is usually someone trained at a pharmacy and doesn’t require formal training or education. The latter, though, is usually the graduate of format training programs and educational programs; they are entrusted with more serious functions (like measuring and packaging medication, processing prescriptions, and assisting pharmacists in other important ways). The position this document is concerned with is the latter.

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Some of the duties pharmacy technicians may have to deal with include:

  • Handle cash register transactions
  • Set-up and keep up patient information files
  • Help keep pharmacy equipment clean and functional
  • Help maintain supplies and equipment
  • Process, submit and field question in relation to insurance claim forms
  • Take inventory of and stock OTC and prescription medicines
  • Answer customer/patient questions, if possible
  • Process prescriptions coming in
  • Process prescriptions in the system
  • Call doctor’s office regarding questions & problems with prescriptions
  • Field customer/patient problems & complaints

When it comes to pharmaceutical techs the most important thing to keep in mind is that mistakes are unacceptable. Actually, that goes for all healthcare professionals but pharmacists and their staff have to take special precaution to insure that the precision and accuracy of their efforts are flawless — or as flawless as humanly possible. Mistakes by pharmaceutical personnel can lead to serious, potentially deadly consequences.

Here are some of the major differences between pharmaceutical techs and MAs:

  • Pharmaceutical technicians (PTs) are restricted to one setting, whereas MAs generally have much more mobility.
  • Like MAs, much of the skills PTs possess come from on-the-job-training; in fact, PTs sometimes have no formal education save for a high diploma. This used to be also true about MAs but not anymore; today, most MAs at the very least have a certificate or diploma from a technical or trade school.
  • PTs generally don’t have as much education as MAs, mostly because they just don’t need it to do their jobs. It’s the pharmacist that takes responsibility for the hardcore chores in a pharmacy (such as making sure the right medications, in the right dosages are given to the right patients). PTs merely double check such and perform duties that someone with a high school education (and who’s been properly trained) can do.
  • Unlike MAs, PTs don’t have to have close and extensive contact with potentially infectious or contagious patients; in this regard, a pharmaceutical tech’s job is safer than an MAs.
  • PTs can get away with wearing regular clothes (in addition to maybe a vest or jacket required by the pharmacy) but MAs are generally expected (or required, as the case may be) to wear scrubs.
  • PTs only have to answer to the pharmacist in most settings; MAs, on the other hands, have many bosses, as has already been explained.
  • PTs, in general, make less money than MAs, although, if they have an associate’s, have extensive experience and can handle more responsibility than the average PT, they may make more than other PTs in general and as much as an MA.
  • Both professions require lots of standing on their feet.
  • PTs may be required to lift heavy things and climb ladders to retrieve items from shelves on high; MAs may also have to deal with heavy things (patients).
  • Like other healthcare professionals, both PTs and MAs may to work long hours and on any day of the week (especially if working for 24/7 open pharmacies).
  • Both positions require good people/customer relations skills, patience when dealing with difficult people and ability to handle fast-paced, great-stress environments.
  • Both positions require that candidates have clean background checks, especially in regards to drug abuse of any kind.
  • MAs and PTs both need to have great teamworking capacity, although the “teams” that MAs work with on a daily basis may be bigger and is usually more diversified.
  • There may be more repetitiousness to a PTs work repertoire than an MAs, who may engage in a wider variety of duties.
  • There is no advancement as a PT, except, of course, to go back to school and become a licensed pharmacist, but that will require significant commitment, time and funds; an MAs advancement is also limited but is more expansive than a PTs.
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Article Written by Rachel Dennis

Rachel Dennis works as both a professional writer and health care provider. She has been a licensed health care provider since 1998, with work experience as a medical assistant, certified nursing assistant and emergency medical technician. She has been writing since 1994 and has been published both on-line and in print.

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