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Where Can You Work As A Pharmacy Technician/Assistant In Canada?

Updated on June 17, 2013

1.)Community/Retail Pharmacy

A retail pharmacy is usually the first place a new Pharmacy Technician/Assistant finds his/her first job. Retail pharmacies operate under many organizational structures; Some are corporate-owned operations operating under frachise-like agreements with Pharmacists being "owner/operators/Associates" , like Shoppers Drug Mart. Other corporate-owned pharmacies operate under one umbrella, with no specific franchisee/owner/operator like Rexall, but also own pharmacist-franchised operations like IDA, etc.

Some retail giants, like Target, Hudson's Bay, and Wal-Mart, to name just a few, operate pharmacies within their stores under the "Lock-And-Leave" premise. This involves locking up certain OTC medications from public access when the pharmacy department leaves for the day. This is done to ensure that customer safety is upheld--by restricting access to some OTC medications--whenever a pharmacist is unavailable for questions or counseling. The pharmacy department within these retail stores usually close much earlier than the rest of the store.

Other community/retail pharmacies include privately owned pharmacies. These pharmacies are usually smaller and offer just basic (in some cases, only specialized) pharmacy services and doesn't include the unnecessary retail extensions such as cosmetics or housewares. These pharmacies are usually run by just the pharmacist/owner, 1 technician/assistant, and perhaps a cashier and in some cases, 1-2 pharmacy students.

2.)Long-Term Care Pharmacies

Long-Term Care Pharmacies, along with Mail-Order Pharmacies, vary differently compared to their retail/community cousins. For starters, many (but not all) LTC Pharmacies and MO pharmacies do not operate a traditional storefront setting. Rather, they are usually housed within warehouses or warehouse-like settings, but modified for pharmacy-level considerations such as adequate lighting, ventilation, and cleanliness. Long-term care pharmacies specialize in servicing nursing homes, long-term care facilities, daily assisted living facilities, and other similar establishments. As such, drug orders don't just come as patient-specific orders, but also as ward stock orders (like a grocery list, to keep the nursing home/long-term care facilities' stock maintained.) One unique thing I learned to operate while I was working in a LTC pharmacy was a PacMed machine. A PacMed machine--or anything similar--is a machine that is stocked with a good 100-500 (depending on the machine capacity) medications. The machine is then programmed to create small pouches that contain only specific medications for specific patients (which are usually specifically timed, i.e, a pouch is created for a patient's lunch medications, then another for a patient's dinner dose) or for specific stock locations (ward stock, narcotic stock, etc.) LTC pharmacies also ship medications in bulk, including compounds, infusions, and injectables, and these orders usually ship out at the end of the day. Unlike retail pharmacies, LTC's usually operate within an 8-9 hours shift, with 1 pharmacist designated as the "After-Hours Emergency Contact" who is in charge of anything pharmacy related after hours.

3.)Government-Funded Healthcare Organizations

Instead of writing about each individually, I grouped them all together under government funded healthcare. The main reason they are all lumped together under the term "government funded" is because 99% of the time, a Pharmacy Assistant/Pharmacy Technician job in these organizations pay significantly MORE compared to Retail/Community and LTC/MO pharmacies. As an example, an entry-level Pharmacy Assistant position at a major hospital in Alberta, Canada starts off at $17 per hour, while the lowest entry-level Retail/Community Pharmacy Assistant job offer I ever turned down was $13/hr, while the lowest LTC Pharmacy Assistant offer I ever took was $15/hr.

Many of these pharmacies pay more because of 2 major forces: Unions and Collective Agreements that guarantee pay increases on a yearly basis, and the fact that these positions require specialized skills and qualifications. I'm not a fan of unions, and for the sake of civility will not elaborate on these positions further, other than that you require well-established connections deeply entrenched in the hiring process to get hired in these positions. So unless you have great connections, good luck getting in.

4.)Insurance Companies

Not all pharmacy technicians and assistants find employment in the traditional medical setting. One industry that has hired pharmacy technicians and assistants and used their medication knowledge really well is the insurance industry. Insurance companies usually hire pharmacy technicians and assistants to work closely with pharmacists to review medical and drug claims filed by the insurance company clientele. I have met many pharmacy assistants who found work as insurance call center agents who field calls from pharmacies requesting online drug claim approval or inquiring about drug claim rejections. Other pharmacy-related job duties technicians and assistants do for insurance companies involve paperwork (claims, collecting supporting documentation, etc.) and research roles (drug interactions, step drug analysis, etc.)

While I did interview for the biggest insurance company in Alberta at 1 point in my life, I remember failing miserably.

5.)Post-Secondary Institutions (both private and public)

Another great alternative to the traditional health industry setting where Pharmacy Technicians and Assistant can work are the very same places that train them! Private career colleges offer great benefits such as benefits, set vacation days, a set schedule, and a set salary. However, to be able to work for many post-secondary institutions, you will need to amass a great deal of experience in the field, possibly in all aspects of pharmacy--meaning a mix of retail/community and hospital pharmacy experience, which are integral in a teaching position.


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