Shortages & turnover are serious problems for pharm techs, but solutions are available
Pharmacy leaders are grappling with profound challenges that are threatening the field’s ability to improve patient health. First among the challenges is a problem that extends across the healthcare sector.
“The pharmacy workforce is stretched thin. More than half of pharmacists reported pausing the expansion of new services due to the workforce shortage,” says Aigner George, PharmD, AVP of Pharmacy Solutions at HealthTrust.
Turnover rates among technicians are nearly 30%, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) in late 2021.
Pharmacy technicians report high job satisfaction, but many of them are frustrated with heavy workloads, inadequate staffing and low salaries. These are among the leading reasons for leaving a position. Inadequate salaries were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which created a gaping need for certified technicians. Significant increases in salary or career growth opportunities continue to lag, driving consistently high turnover.
A changing profession
“Thirty years ago, becoming a pharmacy technician was a reasonable career choice, marked by job stability. Since that time, salaries have eroded, but the complexity of the job has grown,” George notes.
The critical opportunity to develop avenues for technicians to advance their careers has been shifted aside or missed. Pharmacy technicians are responsible for having competence in working with hazardous compounds, communicating professionally with healthcare staff and patients and prioritizing the workflow. It is very difficult to acquire and retain talent if leaders do not reward the training and professionalism required to safely navigate these tasks. Without effective professional development in place to grow and expand technicians’ scope of work, they will seek alternate careers.
Solutions at hand
“Our best option for addressing these pervasive, complex issues is to work together,” says George. “It’s counterproductive for each leader to tackle only one part of the puzzle, lacking vision of the broader forces shaping the industry or duplicating work. Instead, I’m confident that by joining together to learn from one another and develop new solutions, providers will emerge in an improved position.”
A few preliminary steps can begin to improve the problems. To start, leaders can reevaluate their pay scales and should be selective when identifying comparative organizations. Hospitals, as an example, should be similar in size and have the same general labor pool characteristics. “Also, it’s important to consider a broad array of factors when looking at other organizations for comparison. For example, if pay rates are low, it can be helpful to consider turnover rates, which may trend higher,” George adds.
Changes are needed beyond direct pay increases to retain talented technicians. Investing in a schedule for career progression and raises, as well as sign-on and retention bonuses, are key. These costs may be undesirable or appear unnecessary, but ultimately it is more expensive to lose and replace a technician or draw on pharmacists’ time to fill the technician gap. Simultaneously, leaders need to look critically at how they support technicians in advancing professionally and assisting their acquisition of specialized skills. For example, employers can provide financial support and encourage technicians to complete additional education.
“By acknowledging these challenges and working together, I am confident healthcare organizations can make positive changes,” says George.
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