Pharmacy Aides are responsible for assisting licensed pharmacists by handling most of the administrative duties required to run a pharmacy. The primary duties of pharmacy aides tend to be clerical in nature: answering telephones, stocking shelves, taking inventory, handling money, etc. The scope of their responsibilities is limited; they do things that make the operation of a pharmacy run smoothly but none of the things they do extend into the technical health aspects of patient support. Any questions they get regarding prescriptions or drug information are typically referred to a pharmacist.
A pharmacy aide's job is distinguishable from that of other pharmacy staff members primarily in scope. Although all members of a pharmaceutical staff work together as a team, an aide's responsibilities are primarily administrative and clerical as opposed to technical in nature. The other professionals who are principal players on a pharmaceutical team include the following:
- Pharmacists are professionals who must be licensed. They are the only pharmacy workers who are authorized to counsel patients on the proper use of medications. Pharmacists typically check all medications before they leave the pharmacy and go into the hands of patients.
- Pharmacy Technicians, like pharmacy aides, are also responsible for assisting the pharmacist; however, the scope of a technician's duties is more complex and more technical than that of an aide. Technicians dispense medication and other health care products to patients. Their work includes many of the tasks associated with the preparation of prescribed medication (e.g., labeling bottles, counting tablets, etc.). To an increasing extent, technicians are beginning to handle many of the same administrative duties normally done by aides. In fact, the job description of a pharmacy technician in many places is nearly interchangeable with that of a pharmacy aide, except for the inclusion of the more technical support tasks.
Simply put, pharmacy aides are responsible for the administrative duties required to run a pharmacy. In doing their jobs, aides work closely with other members of the pharmaceutical staff, notably pharmacy technicians and pharmacists themselves. Aides are responsible for keeping accurate records, handling pharmacy correspondence, and maintaining inventory and stock. They develop and maintain patient profiles, prepare insurance claim forms, and maintain a sufficient inventory of prescription and over-the-counter medications. In addition, pharmacy aides keep records of medicines delivered to the pharmacy, assist in the maintenance of pharmaceutical equipment, and engage in correspondence with third-party insurance carriers in order to obtain payment for prescriptions.
Other tasks typically performed by pharmacy aides include the following:
- Maintain files and records
- Submit required pharmacy reports
- Accept prescriptions for filling
- Prepare prescription labels by typing and/or using a computer and printer
- Notify pharmacist when pharmaceutical supply levels are low
- Process cash and credit sales
- Restock storage areas and replenish items on shelves
- Clean pharmacy equipment
- Refer all questions regarding prescriptions, drug information, or health matters to a pharmacist
The work setting for most pharmacy aides mirrors that of pharmacy technicians and of pharmacists. Aides typically work in clean, neat, bright, and well-organized environments. They also tend to work the same hours as technicians and pharmacists. These are likely to include evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays; particularly in facilities that are open around the clock such as hospitals and some retail pharmacies. The large part of an aide's workday is spent on his/her feet. There are some physical demands associated with the job, including the moving or lifting of heavy boxes or delivery carts and the use of stepladders to retrieve supplies from high shelves.
Success in this occupation usually comes to individuals who possess strong customer service and communication skills, as pharmacy aides are frequently called upon to interact with patients, fellow pharmacy workers, and other health-care professionals. Friendliness, tact, and diplomacy can help an individual immensely in this profession. Also very important is good manual dexterity and an ability to perform repetitious work accurately. In addition, successful pharmacy aides need to be well-organized, responsible, team-oriented, and willing to take direction.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment of pharmacy aides is expected to decline rapidly over the upcoming decade. The lessening demand for aides will be caused in large part by the trend towards pharmacy technicians taking on many of the administrative tasks now performed by pharmacy aides. To an increasing extent, duties such as answering phones, operating cash registers, and stocking shelves are being handled by pharmacy technicians, who are doing these things regularly as corollary responsibilities to supplement their more technical duties. This trend is expected to continue and an increasing number of pharmacy aides are expected to seek out additional training and become pharmacy technicians themselves.
As employment of pharmacy aides declines, employment of pharmacy technicians is expected to rise, which should further boost the incentive for aides to advance in their profession. In the near future, there will be a wider variety of treatments for an increasing number of conditions, resulting in more prescriptions to be dispensed. Also, there will be a continual increase in the numbers belonging to the demographic whose use of prescription drugs is the highest (i.e., the middle-aged and the elderly).
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Almost all pharmacy aides are trained on-the-job, although employers generally seek out those with at least a high-school diploma when hiring. Prior experience as a cashier is also highly desirable to employers, as is experience serving customers, managing inventories, or using a computer. Training for pharmacy aides typically begins as the aide observes one or more experienced workers while at the same time learning and becoming familiar with the policies, procedures, and equipment in the pharmacy. As time goes on, the aide begins to work more independently and does not generally receive additional training unless new equipment is introduced or policies or procedures change.
It is common for pharmacy aides to seek advancement by going on to become pharmacy technicians. Those who decide to do so very often pursue a formal pharmacy technician education program and earn a diploma, a certificate, or an associate's degree. Programs are offered by a large number of institutions including vocational and technical colleges, community colleges, hospitals, the military, and even pharmacies at which the aide is currently employed.
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
- California Society of Health-System Pharmacists
- American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education
Pharmacy aides can be found in a variety of locations. More than 8 out of every 10 pharmacy aides work in a retail pharmacy of some sort. Most of these pharmacies are located in drugstores, but some of them are in department stores, grocery stores and mass retailer chains. The other major employer of pharmacy aides is hospitals.
Schools for Pharmacy Aides are listed in the column to the left.