A pharmacy assistant is the person behind the counter who greets customers as they come in for prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines.
Assistants play a key role in supporting licensed pharmacists and keeping the pharmacy running smoothly.
The pharmacy assistant job description includes updating patient records, preparing prescriptions, answering the phone, monitoring inventory, and processing payments and insurance claims.
Thinking about taking on this role? Wondering what your daily routine might look like?
In this post, we take you through a typical workday for a pharmacy assistant. We also explain how the role differs a bit depending on the type of pharmacy you work in.
Let’s get started.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY FOR A PHARMACY ASSISTANT?
Pharmacy assistants have a wide range of responsibilities, so no two days will be exactly the same. But here’s a typical example of how your day might unfold:
☑️ You start by greeting two new customers who are dropping off prescriptions: one for blood pressure pills and one for a psoriasis cream.
For each patient, you create a new file in the computer system and enter data like their name, address, birthdate, and known allergies.
You also advise them how long it will be before their prescriptions will be ready for pickup.
☑️ Then you begin preparing the prescriptions. For the first patient, you select the blood pressure medication and count out the correct number of pills.
The second patient is allergic to the preservatives in the cream he needs, so you must compound the cream so that it does not contain that preservative. That requires weighing and mixing ingredients.
☑️ When you’re finished, you package and label each prescription. The pharmacist checks that you have done everything correctly.
☑️ Your next task is seeing if the pharmacy has enough current products on the shelves. You notice some allergy medications have expired, so you remove them and make a note to order more.
☑️ The patient who needs the blood pressure pills has now arrived to pick them up. After ensuring that the pharmacist has counselled the patient on how to use the medication, you guide her to the cash register.
☑️ You enter her insurance details into special software that tells you how much of the cost is covered by insurance and how much is the patient’s responsibility.
The patient owes a small amount, so you process her credit card payment and hand her the pills.
☑️ Next, you sort capsules and prepare blister packs as part of a standing order for a senior who needs help keeping track of his daily doses. The blister packs will be delivered to him the next day.
The above is a snapshot of a typical day in a retail pharmacy, which is where most graduates of pharmacy assistant training start out.
It’s a bit different if you work in a hospital pharmacy (more on that next).
THE PHARMACY ASSISTANT ROLE: RETAIL VS HOSPITAL PHARMACY
While the basic functions of a pharmacy assistant remain the same in all settings, there are some key differences between working in retail pharmacies versus hospital pharmacies.
☑️ Who you interact with: Pharmacy assistants who work in retail settings deal directly with the public. A big part of their job involves customer service.
In a hospital, however, pharmacy assistants tend to deal with nurses and doctors rather than the patients themselves. Customer service isn’t a major focus.
☑️ The types of prescriptions you fill: In a retail environment, assistants concentrate on preparing prescriptions and compounding ointments and creams.
The prescriptions they prepare are meant for patients to take at home, so they might compile enough medications to last for a few weeks or even a few months.
Pharmacy assistants in hospitals still compound medications, but they also prepare nutritional solutions and IVs.
Rather than putting together a week’s worth of pills, they tend to prepare individual doses for a healthcare professional to administer to a patient.
☑️ The hours you work: A pharmacy assistant in a retail setting will typically have a more regular schedule and is less likely to work overnight (depending on the pharmacy’s opening hours).
Hospitals operate around the clock, so night and weekend shifts are common.
IS A PHARMACY ASSISTANT THE SAME AS A PHARMACY TECHNICIAN?
No. The two roles are very similar, but pharmacy technicians have a wider scope of practice. They have the authority to sign for refills and transfer a prescription to another pharmacy.
Pharmacy technicians must meet licensing regulations laid out by the Ontario College of Pharmacists. That requires registering with the College, graduating from an approved program, and passing two exams.
Pharmacy assistants, however, are not regulated. They can go straight to work after completing a pharmacy assistant program at a trade school or career college.
INTERESTED IN BECOMING A PHARMACY ASSISTANT?
Explore the Pharmacy Assistant program at Herzing College Toronto.
It's just 10 months long, including a 4-week internship at a local pharmacy.
Students develop skills in compounding, prescription preparation, aseptic techniques, inventory control, and customer service.
Our grads are fully prepared for pharmacy assistant roles in either retail or hospital pharmacies.
Click below to get complete program details and chat live with an Admissions Advisor. We’re here to help!