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Pharmacy vs. Apothecary — What's the Difference?

By Fiza Rafique & Maham Liaqat — Updated on March 18, 2024
Pharmacy is modern medical facility where licensed pharmacists dispense prescription medications and offer various healthcare services. Apothecary is a professional who formulated and sold medicinal drugs, often used to denote more holistic approach.
Pharmacy vs. Apothecary — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Pharmacy and Apothecary


Key Differences

Pharmacies are contemporary establishments that play a crucial role in healthcare, providing a wide range of prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and health-related services. In contrast, the term "apothecary" harks back to earlier times when individuals would both prepare and dispense medicinal concoctions, often using natural and herbal ingredients.
While pharmacies are regulated spaces staffed by professionals with degrees in pharmacy, ensuring the safe dispensing of modern medications, apothecaries were the precursors to these modern pharmacists, blending the roles of physician, chemist, and herbalist. The modern usage of "apothecary" sometimes alludes to establishments or practices focusing on natural and herbal remedies.
Pharmacies are characterized by their adherence to contemporary medical standards and practices, including the use of scientifically tested medications and therapies. On the other hand, the concept of an apothecary today may embrace a more holistic approach, emphasizing natural remedies and traditional healing methods.
The evolution from apothecary to pharmacy reflects the transition from traditional to scientific medicine, with pharmacies now embodying the advancements in pharmaceutical sciences and healthcare delivery. Apothecaries, in their traditional sense, represent a more personalized and artisanal approach to health, which still influences some modern natural health practices.

Comparison Chart


A facility where prescription medications are dispensed by licensed pharmacists.
Historically, a place or person preparing and selling medicines; now, often associated with natural and herbal remedies.


Dispensing modern, scientifically tested medications and health services.
Traditional, often herbal, medicinal preparations and remedies.


Highly regulated by health authorities to ensure safety and efficacy.
Historically less regulated; modern "apothecaries" may focus on holistic and natural health products.


Staffed by pharmacists with formal education in pharmacy.
Traditionally, a blend of chemist, herbalist, and physician roles.

Modern Relevance

Central to contemporary healthcare systems.
Influences natural and alternative medicine sectors.

Compare with Definitions


A facility for dispensing prescription medications under the supervision of licensed pharmacists.
She went to the pharmacy to pick up her prescribed medication.


Historically, a professional who prepared and sold medicinal drugs.
In the past, people visited the apothecary for remedies and potions.


Offers health-related services, including immunizations and health screenings.
The local pharmacy provides flu shots every autumn.


Traditional apothecaries were less regulated compared to modern pharmacies.
The apothecary of old had more freedom in the creation and sale of medicinal concoctions.


Regulated by health authorities to ensure the safety and efficacy of medications.
The pharmacy adheres to strict guidelines to maintain its license.


Today, often associated with natural and holistic medicine practices.
The modern apothecary shop offers a range of herbal supplements and natural remedies.


May also sell over-the-counter drugs and healthcare products.
Besides prescriptions, the pharmacy sells a variety of pain relievers and vitamins.


Sometimes used to describe specialty shops selling herbal and natural health products.
She found a unique selection of essential oils at the local apothecary.


Pharmacists provide drug therapy management and consultation.
The pharmacist reviewed her medication regimen to avoid potential interactions.


Represents an artisanal and personalized approach to health and wellness.
The apothecary crafted a special herbal blend tailored to his specific health needs.


Pharmacy is the clinical health science that links medical science with chemistry and it is charged with the discovery, production, disposal, safe and effective use, and control of medications and drugs. The practice of pharmacy requires excellent knowledge of drugs, their mechanism of action, side effects, interactions, mobility and toxicity.


Apothecary () is one term for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses materia medica (medicine) to physicians, surgeons, and patients. The modern chemist (also known as a pharmacist in American English) has taken over this role.


A shop or hospital dispensary where medicinal drugs are prepared or sold
The local pharmacy


A person who prepared and sold medicines and drugs.


The art of preparing and dispensing medical drugs.


One that prepares and sells drugs and other medicines; a pharmacist.


A place where medical drugs are prepared, dispensed, or sold. Also called apothecary.


See pharmacy.


A place where prescription drugs are dispensed; a dispensary.


Synonym of pharmacist: a person who sells medicine, especially (historical) one who made and sold their own medicines in the medieval or early modern eras.


The science of medicinal substances comprising pharmaceutics, pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology, phytochemistry and forensics.


Synonym of pharmacy: an apothecary's shop, a drugstore.


The occupation of a pharmacist.


(uncommon) A glass jar of the sort once used for storing medicine.


The art or practice of preparing and preserving drugs, and of compounding and dispensing medicines according to prescriptions of physicians; the occupation of an apothecary or a pharmaceutical chemist.


One who prepares and sells drugs or compounds for medicinal purposes.


A place where medicines are compounded; a drug store; an apothecary's shop.


A health professional trained in the art of preparing and dispensing drugs


The art and science of preparing and dispensing drugs and medicines,


A retail shop where medicine and other articles are sold

Common Curiosities

What was an apothecary?

An apothecary was a historical professional who formulated, compounded, and sold medicinal concoctions and often provided medical care.

What is the difference between an apothecary and a modern pharmacist?

An apothecary historically assumed the roles of pharmacist, physician, and sometimes chemist, using empirical and traditional methods, while a modern pharmacist is a licensed professional specialized in medication therapy management within a scientific and regulated framework.

Can apothecaries still be found today?

While traditional apothecaries are largely a historical concept, the term is sometimes used in niche markets focusing on herbal and traditional remedies, or nostalgically to refer to pharmacies, particularly in the UK.

What is the main function of a pharmacy?

The main function of a pharmacy is to dispense medications prescribed by healthcare providers and offer related health services and advice.

Why do some people refer to pharmacies as apothecaries?

The use of "apothecary" to refer to pharmacies is often a nod to historical terminology or used for stylistic reasons, especially in regions or establishments emphasizing traditional or herbal remedies.

How do pharmacies ensure the safety of medications?

Pharmacies operate within a regulated healthcare system, adhering to strict standards for storing, dispensing, and advising on medications to ensure their safety and efficacy.

Did apothecaries perform medical procedures?

In some cases, apothecaries did perform minor medical procedures and provided a broad range of healthcare services, especially in areas or periods where access to physicians was limited.

How are pharmacies regulated?

Pharmacies are regulated by health authorities and professional bodies that set standards for practice, medication handling, patient privacy, and safety protocols.

Are pharmacies part of the healthcare system?

Yes, pharmacies are integral to the modern healthcare system, providing essential services for medication dispensation, health screenings, immunizations, and wellness advice.

What kind of products do modern pharmacies offer?

Besides prescription medications, modern pharmacies offer over-the-counter drugs, health and wellness products, medical supplies, and sometimes even cosmetic and personal care items.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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