Comparing Being a Pharmacy Technician With Other Similar Healthcare Careers

Becoming a pharmacy technician maybe a great career choice for anyone seeking a career in the allied healthcare industry as there are plenty of positives associated with this job, such as minimal education requirements, short duration of training, flexible work schedules and an opportunity to work in varied sectors. But is this career right for you? Exploring other very similar healthcare careers such as medical assistant, dental assistant, ophthalmic laboratory technician and psychiatric technician can empower you to make an informed choice. Whether it is the duration of an educational program, job prospects or the salary that drives you to pursue a career, the following information will help you understand and compare other healthcare careers to a career as a pharmacy technician.


In this section, we take you through the primary duty of each career, basically what does a pharmacy technician, a medical assistant, a dental assistant, an ophthalmic lab technician and a psychiatric technician do.

Pharmacy Technician: Works under the direct supervision of a pharmacist to fill and process prescriptions and dispense medications to patients either at a retail pharmacy or a hospital.

Medical Assistant: Works alongside a physician, mainly in a clinical setting, performing tasks such as administering medications and injections, measuring patient vital signs, recording patient information, handling medical instruments and supplies.

Dental Assistant: Is part of a dental team that supports both the dentist and the administrative staff. His/her job includes taking x rays, keeping instruments ready and sterilized for the dentist's use, scheduling appointment and recordkeeping of patient information.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: Makes prescription eye glasses and contact lenses. He/she cuts, grinds edges and finishes lenses according to specifications provided by dispensing opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists and also inserts lenses into frames to produce finished glasses.

Psychiatric Technician: Provide direct care to people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. They help patients with their daily routine activities. They provide therapeutic care and monitor the patient's condition.


Here you will get to know what is the pre-requisite to apply for certification for each of the following careers:

Pharmacy Technician: Can apply for certification right after high school or GED

Medical Assistant: Can apply for certification right after high school or GED

Dental Assistant: Can apply for certification right after high school or GED

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: Can apply for certification right after high school or GED.

Psychiatric Technician: Needs a high school education with some post-secondary training to apply for a certification program.


Here you will learn about the certifying national boards for the allied health careers.

Pharmacy Technician: Some states require pharmacy technicians to become certified. Certification can be earned from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) by passing the PTCE.

Medical Assistant: Although certification is not mandatory it increases the job prospects of a medical assistant. Certification may be earned by taking the CMA Certification Examination offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) certifying board in consultation with the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Dental Assistant: To become a certified Dental Assistant, Dental Assistants must take the DANB (Dental Assisting National Board) CDA examination. It is a less expensive and time efficient way to start a career as a dental assistant.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: Most ophthalmic laboratory technicians are trained on the job; however a certification can be an advantage. An ophthalmic lab technician can either be certified by the American Board of Optician or the National Contact Lens Examiners.

Psychiatric Technician: The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT) offers certification and further the job prospects of a psychiatric technician.


In this section, you will learn about the different types of education programs, including certificate/ diploma and associate degree, which a student can do to pursue any of the following careers:

Pharmacy Technician: A certificate/diploma program can be completed in 10 months. It is less extensive and less expensive compared to an associate degree which can be the next step for pharmacy technicians who are looking at advancing their careers in healthcare as compounding lab technician, pharmacy service technician or similar roles. Both include an on-the-job training component and cover subjects such as pharmacy operations, pharmacology and advanced administration. Online study options are available as well and must be accredited by the ASHP.

Medical Assistant: A certificate/diploma takes typically 9 to 12 months, while an associate degree can take up to 24 months and can help advance towards a bachelor's degree or maybe go on to becoming a registered nurse. On-campus or online programs, accredited by either Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) should be considered

Dental Assistant: Accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), the certificate/diploma can take anywhere from 9 to 12 months, whereas an associate degree takes 24 months to complete and can be a progression to a dental hygienist degree. Several schools offer online study options as well.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: Formal education or an associate degree is not required. An ophthalmic lab technician can gain knowledge by joining professional organizations like Contact Lens Society of America and the Optical Laboratories Association and stay abreast with the latest developments in the field.

Psychiatric Technician: A certificate/diploma program which takes 12 months to complete covers basic training and covers topics such as mental disorders, crisis intervention, substance abuse, therapy and case management. An associate degree program in mental health technology includes training in general and abnormal psychology.

#5 Duties

In this section, you will get to know the duties which each of the following professionals require performing for most parts of the day.

Pharmacy Technician:

• Accept and check prescriptions.
• Process and prepare medications mentioned in the prescription.
• Once ready they dispense the medication either directly to the patients or to the nurse or attending medical officer in charge.
• Help process insurance claims.
• Administrative duties such as managing the inventory in the pharmacy and taking care of patient billing.
• Entering patient information into the computer.
All these duties are performed under the supervision of a pharmacist.

Medical Assistant:

• Greeting patients and answering calls.
• Updating patient records and scheduling appointments.
• Preparing patients for examination.
• Conducting basic laboratory tests, drawing blood, taking electrocardiograms.
• Explaining treatment procedures and instructions about medication to patients.
• Removing sutures and changing dressings.
• Administrative duties include filing out insurance forms.
• Arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services.
• Using the computer to enter patient information and billing.

Dental Assistant:

• Assisting the dentist during dental procedures.
• Taking and developing dental x-rays.
• Preparing and sterilizing all the instruments.
• Taking impressions of patients' teeth for dental models.
• Helping the patient feel comfortable before and after the procedure.
• Instructing the patient with follow-up treatment such as placement or restoration.
• Administrative duties such as communicating with patients and suppliers.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician:

• Receive orders from the optometrists and opticians.
• Then cut, polish, and grind lenses for preparation glasses or create prescription contact lenses.
• Set up machines to polish, edge or grind lenses, or other precision optical elements.
• Repair broken parts, using precision hand tools and soldering irons.

Psychiatric Technician:

• Monitor patients' physical and emotional well-being and report unusual behavior or physical ailments to medical staff.
• Assist patients with their daily activities such as bathing, grooming,
• Make beds and keep living areas clean.
• Administer oral medications and injections, following physician's prescription.

#6 Skills

To be successful in any career an individual should possess the relevant skills, some which are inherent to a person's personality, while some can be developed on the job. Let's take a look at some of the basic skills required for each of the following careers:

Pharmacy Technician:

• Should have great communication and people's skills.
• Should be an empathetic and patient listener.
• Should be accurate, detail oriented and organized.
• Should possess computer skills and must be proficient with different platforms, applications and software's used in pharmacies

Medical Assisstant:

Being the first and last person a patient interacts at a physician's clinic, a medical assistant:

• Should have a calm and compassionate demeanor along with being an empathetic communicator.
• Should have analytical skills to understand and follow medical charts and diagnoses.
• Must be acquainted with using clinical instruments to take patients vital signs such as heart rate or blood pressure.
• Needs to be accurate and organized.

Dental Assisstant:

• Require to have medical skills which include being proficient in taking dental X-rays, taking dental materials and taking impressions.
• Need to have great interpersonal skills as they have to work with patients and dentists alike.
• Administrative skills are required to be able to do a number of administrative tasks like scheduling appointments, entering patient data into the computers and ordering supplies.

Opthalmic Lab Technican:

• An ability to do precision work and an aptitude in science mathematics and computers are valuable.
• Manual dexterity and fine motor skills to cut, finish and edge lenses.
• Attentive listening is necessary to take clear instructions and successfully work on them.

Psychatirc Tecnican:

• Requires being sensitive towards the patient's needs.
• Should be a socially perceptive individual, being aware and understanding of others' reaction and understanding.
• Good negotiation skills are handy especially in situations when a patient needs to be convinced on to doing a task.

#7 Working Conditions

Working conditions vary for each of the following careers. While it is a well-ventilated pharmacy and clinic for one, it is the quiet confines of a laboratory for the other. Read further to know which work conditions are best suited to you:

Pharmacy Technician: Medical assistants work in clinical settings where the environment is clean organized and well-ventilated. Most full-time they work a regular 40-hour week. Some work part-time, evenings or just weekends. They are in the frontline at the clinic; manage patient delays and thereafter rescheduling appointments in a pleasant manner. On a busy day at the clinic they need to make the patient feel comfortable while waiting for their turn.

Medical Assistant: Medical assistants work in clinical settings where the environment is clean organized and well-ventilated. Most full-time they work a regular 40-hour week. Some work part-time, evenings or just weekends. They are in the frontline at the clinic; manage patient delays and thereafter rescheduling appointments in a pleasant manner. On a busy day at the clinic they need to make the patient feel comfortable while waiting for their turn.

Dental Assistant: Dental assistants have their work area near the dental chair to assist the dentist during dental procedures. They usually work 30-45-hour work week, which may include working on weekends or evenings. They spend most of the day on their feet, laying out supplies for the dentist. They must be comfortable dealing with saliva and blood of the patients.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: Ophthalmic laboratory technicians have limited contact with people as they mostly work behind the scenes. Their workplaces are generally quiet. They usually work fulltime and spend a good part of the day on their feet. If based in a laboratory, they require to handle some solvents and chemicals and wear necessary protective clothing and equipment.

Psychiatric Technician: Psychiatric technicians work in a wide variety of environments including, psychiatric treatment facilities, social rehabilitation facilities, day treatment programs and outpatient mental health clinics. They usually work a 40-hour week. As patients usually require care 24 hours a day, they are expected night shifts and weekends. At times, they may encounter violent patient behavior and this can be physically and emotionally draining. At the same time taking care of the needs of their patients can be very satisfying.

#8 Salary

The following information will let you know about the annual and per hour earning of each profession:

Pharmacy Technician: According to the Labor statistics average annual wage for a pharmacy technician in May 2017 was $33,060.

Medical Assistant: According to Bureau of Labor statistics, the median annual wage for a medical assistant in May 2017 was $33,580 per year.

Dental Assistant: According to BLS the average annual pay in May 2017 was $36,940.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: According to BLS the annual wage in May 2017 was $34,030.

Psychiatric Technician: According to BLS the annual average wage in May 2017 was $36,870.

#9 Job Outlook

The job outlook will let you know about the growth potential of each career and what are the various factors responsible for it:

Pharmacy Technician: According to Bureau of Labor statistics employment for pharmacy technicians is projected to grow 11.83 percent from 2016 to 2026. Factors responsible for this growth are the rise in chronic lifestyle diseases, aging population, and advancements in the pharmaceutical world leading to more prescription medicines to fight diseases and increasing number of people insuring their health because of federal insurance reforms. The total number of pharmacy technician jobs in 2016 was 450,100.

Medical Assistant: According to BLS, employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 28.99 percent from 2016 to 2026. The rise in demand for preventive medicine provided by physicians will lead to physicians expanding their practices. This in turn will lead to hiring more medical assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties. Increasing number of people having access to health insurance will further increase patient access to medical care. All these factors are responsible for the increasing job market of medical assistants. The total number of MA jobs in 2016 was 634,400.

Dental Assistant: Employment of Dental Assistants according to BLS is projected to grow 19.46 percent from 2016 to 2026. Advancement in dental science with more patient friendly procedures and increased awareness about oral health care will lead to the dentist treating more patients in a day eventually giving rise to the demand for dental assistants. Besides expanded health insurance coverage has led to more dental patients, further driving the demand for dental assistants. The total number of DA jobs in 2016 was 332,000

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: According to BLS job opportunities for ophthalmic lab technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026.Factors responsible for the growth of this occupation is aging population and the frequent use of computers. An aging population will need corrective lenses due to vision problems later in life. The younger population using computers and smart phones and tablets will face vision problems which will need to be corrected. The total number of OLT jobs in 2016 was 30,100.

Psychiatric Technician: According to BLS employment of psychiatric technicians is projected to grow at 5 percent from 2016 to 2026. Cognitive mental disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia are more likely in an aging population. As people live longer, demand for psychiatric technicians is expected to rise as they are expected to take care of these patients. Psychiatric technicians will also require treating patients of substance abuse, developmental disabilities and mental illness. The federal health insurance reform will expand coverage of mental health disorders to many more people and thus the need of more psychiatric technicians to treat them. The total number of psychiatric technician jobs in 2016 was 66,930.

#10 Career Advancement

Knowing what lies next is an important criterion when comparing similar careers. The following information lets you know about advancing opportunities in each of the following careers.

Pharmacy Technician: A pharmacy technician can go on to become a pharmacist or a nurse. Other career paths include becoming a compounding pharmacy technician or taking up management positions in large retail stores.

Medical Assistant: A medical assistant can make a successful transition into nursing. Other options include choosing specialty clinical fields like podiatry, cardiology and emergency care or choosing to become a transcription supervisor, clinical office manager or a lead medical assistant.

Dental Assistant: Dental assistants who wish to advance their career can choose to become a dental hygienist. Most hygienist certification programs take close to one year to complete and two year programs offered at community and junior colleges lead to an associate degree.

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician: Ophthalmic laboratory technicians go on to take supervisory and management positions in larger labs. Some become dispensing opticians, although further training is generally required. Some technicians start their own business.

Psychiatric Technician: Psychiatric technicians who wish to advance their career can obtain a medical degree in psychiatry. Those who have had ample experience can obtain a supervisory position in psychiatric hospitals and rehab homes.

#11 The Bottom-Line

While a career in healthcare is certainly promising, choosing which one is right for you can be daunting. If it's the salary that's drives you, then you need to know that a psychiatric technician earns more than a pharmacy technician. However, the job can be emotionally and physically draining. If it's a quiet workplace that suits you better, then being an ophthalmic lab technician, who works behind the scenes is right for you, unlike a pharmacy technician who requires interacting with different types of patients' day in and day out. So, if you are someone, who is social, enjoys being part of a healthcare team, which includes co-technicians, doctor's nurses and pharmacists, someone who is seeking a work-life balance, looking at varied options to advance your career and at the same time do not mind a slightly smaller pay package, then being a pharmacy technician is the right choice for you.

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