Many people looking for fast entry into a healthcare career choose pharmacy assistant training. The diploma program is relatively short, there is demand for pharmacy assistants in Ontario, and graduates can pursue careers in different settings (retail, clinic, or hospital pharmacies).
But before you leap into training, it's important to get an overview of life on-the-job for a pharmacy assistant. Does this career path match your natural interests, aptitude, and professional goals?
In this post we break down the daily responsibilities of pharmacy assistants, the benefits and challenges of working in this field, and the employment situation for pharmacy assistants in Ontario.
What exactly does a pharmacy assistant do?
Your professional responsibilities will vary a bit, depending on the type and size of pharmacy you work in (hospital, clinic, retail). However, regardless of where you work, your primary function as a pharmacy assistant will remain the same: to help ensure the pharmacy runs smoothly by serving customers and performing clerical tasks. These are the duties you can expect to carry out on a daily basis to meet that goal:
- greeting customers and helping them find what they need (or referring them to the technician or pharmacist on duty)
- answering phones
- keeping track of inventory and re-stocking drugs and other items when necessary
- checking for and discarding expired medications
- helping compound, package, and label pharmaceutical products
- accepting prescriptions
- preparing routine paperwork (invoices, receipts, orders, memos)
- working the cash register
Most important skills for pharmacy assistants
Working successfully as a pharmacy assistant requires both technical and "people" skills. Because you'll work with prescriptions and medications, you will need to pay close attention to detail and follow established procedures for preventing potentially life-threatening errors.
You will need to abide by strict protocols for calculating medication dosages, compounding medications, mixing ingredients, and labeling prescriptions. Remembering and abiding by pharmacy rules is a key requirement in this occupation.
The ability to use and learn computer systems is another important technical skill area for pharmacy assistants. Modern pharmacies use computerized dispensing systems, such as Nexxsys, to manage patient care histories, check for drug to food interactions, keep track of prescription renewal dates, and much more.
A good pharmacy assistant program ensures students fully understand pharmacy procedures and computer systems through hands-on learning and internship experience.
The third key to performing well as a pharmacy assistant is delivering excellent customer service. In many ways, you will be the "face" of the pharmacy. You will be the person customers come into contact with first, and most often. Pharmacy assistants must be patient, clear communicators, professional, and kind.
Benefits & challenges of working as a pharmacy assistant
One of the most commonly reported benefits of working as a pharmacy assistant is getting to know customers—and supporting them in their healthcare needs. Building positive client relationships and being part of an important healthcare team are considered the primary rewards of working in this field.
Others top benefits include:
- helping to prepare and deliver prescriptions (this work is important, serves a clear need, and is much appreciated by clients)
- working with a diverse population of clients
- tasks and responsibilities are varied, which keeps things interesting
- hours are often flexible
Some of the most often-cited challenges of working as a pharmacy assistant include:
- coping with the demands of fast-paced pharmacies (retail pharmacies are usually described as the most fast-paced)
- learning to manage difficult or anxious customers
- being on your feet most of the day
Career outlook for pharmacy assistants in Ontario
The Government of Canada Job Bank predicts steady demand for pharmacy assistants in Ontario over the next several years. Other labour market sources support this view, citing Ontario's growing population of aging people as a key driver for growth in this field.
It is important to note that while a diploma is not strictly required to work as a pharmacy assistant, it is quickly becoming a requirement for most employers. Statistics Canada found that 44% of employed pharmacy assistants in Ontario currently hold a college diploma—compared to 5% who have only a high school education.
Given this trend, it makes sense to invest in quality pharmacy assistant training in order to compete for entry level positions. Pharmacy assistant schools in Ontario typically take from 10-12 months to complete, include an internship, and equip students with all of the skills needed to support every-day operations at a retail, clinic, or hospital pharmacy.
The median hourly wage for pharmacy assistants in Ottawa is $18/hour, according to the most recent Labour Force Survey by Statistics Canada.
Interested in learning more about becoming a pharmacy assistant? Looking for a reputable diploma program near you?
Your next step is to speak with Admissions. An Admissions Advisor will guide you through the Pharmacy Assistant program, costs, financial aid, how to apply, and more.
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