Updated: Apr 25
If you participate in rotations; often called an internship, in an inpatient hospital setting for your pharmacy technician program, you will likely hear the words “pharmacist” and “clinical pharmacist”. These two terms are similar, but they do have some differences and as a pharmacy technician, you should be able to differentiate between the two.
In short, pharmacists are drug experts and clinical pharmacists are drug experts who take their knowledge and apply it to clinical scenarios. For a new pharmacy technician, this can sound a bit confusing, so let’s break it down just a bit.
First off, you will always have a central pharmacist, or a staff pharmacist overseeing day to day activities in the pharmacy. This pharmacist remains in the pharmacy and is generally responsible for answering questions regarding drug information that come through on the phone or computer system from nurses and doctors, verifying orders entered by nurses or physicians, verifying drug order fulfillment including IV medications, and overseeing pharmacy technicians. This pharmacist wears a lot of hats and sometimes it can look as if they aren’t busy, but it is important for new pharmacy technicians to understand all of the responsibilities that this pharmacist has. It is imperative that a pharmacist be able to rely on her pharmacy technicians to answer phones and do their best to decide whether or not and when a phone call should be directed to a pharmacist. Oftentimes, questions that come through can be answered without a pharmacist needing to stop what he/she is doing and pick up the phone. While it is true that pharmacy technicians cannot answer questions regarding medications on their own; they can ask the pharmacist the question and then relay to the nurse what the pharmacist said.
Clinical pharmacists are most often working outside of the pharmacy department; generally, on the patient units, which are the floors of the hospital in which patient rooms are. These pharmacists are completing clinical consults, which are medication regimen reviews based on a patient’s health history that evaluate the appropriateness, safety, benefits and risks of medications that patients are taking. Clinical pharmacists are also dosing medications, meaning checking the frequency, amount, and the number of doses of a particular medication taken over a particular amount of time and ensuring that the best option for the patient is being used. They are often responsible for attending rounds with other healthcare professionals, which is where a patient’s medical team visits the patient's room as a group to review the patient's status and care plan. This is usually done once a day and is often done in the mornings. Clinical pharmacists are in charge of answering drug information questions and educating patients on their medications.
So, as you can see, a staff or central pharmacist vs a clinical pharmacist have some differences, but also many similarities in their roles. When you are in the inpatient setting and you hear these terms thrown around, you can be sure that you understand what they are as well as the roles they play and the hard work that goes into each of them. Remember, your primary role as a pharmacy technician is to assist the pharmacists that you are working with.