Working In a Hospital Pharmacy vs. a Retail Pharmacy

Are you considering getting certified to become a pharmacist or Pharmacy Technician? Do you already have certification as a Pharmacy Technician and are debating which career path is right for you? Although there are many jobs that a Pharmacy Technician can seek out, almost 75% of graduates from pharmacy programs will pursue work at either a retail pharmacy or a hospital pharmacy. Below is a guide to help you decide which of these environments is right for you.

As you may already know, a Pharmacy Technician assists licensed pharmacists with filling prescriptions, dispensing medication to customers and health care professionals, processing insurance claims, answering patient questions about medications, and stocking supplies, among other duties at the pharmacy.

Many Pharmacy Technicians begin their career working in a retail pharmacy, and after a few years, seek work in a hospital pharmacy. Retail pharmacies include those inside national chain stores like CVS, Walgreens, and Duane Reed; big merchandisers like Target or Wal-mart; or grocery stories. Similarly, retail pharmacies include independently run pharmacies that are typically smaller establishments.

Read on to find out more about the differences between a retail and hospital Pharmacy Technician and the pros and cons of each type of environment.

Qualifications of Retail Pharmacy Technicians vs. Hospital Pharmacy Technicians:

Retail Pharmacy:

The qualifications for Pharmacy Technicians vary depending on the location where they work. Many retail pharmacies don’t require their Technicians to have special training or certification. In most states, a clean background check and a high school diploma or GED are enough to land you a job as a Pharmacy Technician at a retail venue. In-house training programs function as a way for the retail pharmacies to teach the Pharmacy Technician the specifics of the trade and how their unique computer systems work. This training is useful, but keep in mind you may need to learn a new system if you are later hired by a different retailer.

Hospital Pharmacy:

Hospital pharmacies usually hire candidates that are certified to be Pharmacy Technicians, regardless of the state in which the hospital is located. Having certification gives you an edge on the job market – so, if your ultimate goal is to work at a hospital facility, you will want to pursue getting certified. Because in a hospital you would be working with both patients and medical professionals, Pharmacy Technicians with at least 1 – 2 years of retail pharmacy experience are also preferable to these employers.

Differences between Retail Pharmacy Technicians and Hospital Pharmacy Technicians:

In addition to qualifications, there are different expectations of the Pharmacy Technician in a retail or a pharmacy setting. In both the retail and the hospital environment customers might ask a Pharmacy Technician for advice regarding their medications or symptoms. While not qualified to give medical advice per se, hospital Pharmacy Technicians are generally expected to have a greater working knowledge of medications than retail Pharmacy Technicians. Because these Pharmacy Technicians will be working in the hospital itself, hospital Pharmacy Technicians are also required to have knowledge and understanding of medical terminology and hospital policies and procedures. They may be asked to read and update patient charts as necessary, too. In addition, they will need to know how to mix compound medications, IV fluids, and nutritional mixtures – not typically part of the retail Pharmacy Technician’s repertoire.

The Pros and Cons of Retail vs Hospital Pharmacy employment:

Retail Pharmacy:

One benefit of working as a Pharmacy Technician in a retail pharmacy is that you deal with a wide range of the public. This allows you an opportunity to learn about different medications, pharmacy procedures, and the needs of a varied clientele. You may see patients who have not been to the doctor yet and are looking for suggestions on how to alleviate their symptoms with over-the-counter medications. Patients may need help processing complex insurance claims or have questions about coverage. The exposure to all aspects of the pharmaceutical profession is invaluable to one’s career in this field. Retail Pharmacy Technicians often have a more flexible schedule than hospital Technicians, and most do not have to work night shifts. If you like working with a team and prefer a varied schedule, this might be the right setting for you.

Because large retail establishments serve the public, you may be asked to fill hundreds of prescriptions in a day and, as a result, there can be a certain amount of anonymity to the job, which you may consider a negative. Techs at independent, family-owned retailers often have more one-on-one customer interaction than in large chain stores. This is because they are the nearest equivalent to a medical professional in the store, so they can often work closely with the public to sort out various illness- and insurance-related issues. If you are a customer service-oriented person, seeking a more intimate connection with patients, this could be the right place for you. But note, in both the retail and the hospital environments, Pharmacy Technicians are required to interact with the public.

Hospital Pharmacy:

Because of the preferred certification and experience for Pharmacy Technicians working in a hospital, these Technicians usually earn the top pay in their field – a desirable aspect of any job! In fact, hospital Pharmacy Technicians earn about 20% higher salaries than retail Pharmacy Technicians nationwide. They often have better vacation and insurance benefits as well. Additionally, the hospital setting is ideal if you are a person who likes working independently because, more so than in retail, Pharmacy Technicians in hospitals are expected to be self-starters and capable of working unsupervised at times.

Unlike at a retailer, Pharmacy Techs in a hospital will be expected to understand hospital policies and protocol, which can be numerous and complex. Furthermore, because of the hierarchic nature of most hospitals’ infrastructure, implementing changes or improvements to pharmacy procedure may take months and many requests, approvals, and meetings to finalize. You can expect change to be slow in this type of environment.

Working in a retail pharmacy is a great starter job for a Pharmacy Technician. If your ultimate goal is work in a hospital pharmacy where they require a few years of experience, starting out in a retail pharmacy can be just the right introduction to this field. Pursuing certification as a Pharmacy Technician will give you the advantage in this competitive job market and can ultimately help you secure a better paying job at a hospital pharmacy. At Medical Institute of Palm Beach, we offer courses in Pharmacy Technician certification. MIPB is an accredited school with day and evening classes for Pharmacy Techs. Please contact us to get details about the program. Start your Pharmacy Technician career today!