Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD, dedicated his life to a disciplined pursuit of excellence and coffee. He's the host of Pharmacy Life Radio (, a show born to make pharmacists' lives 10% better. Alex graduated from Ferris State University, completed a PGY1 residency focusing on ambulatory care and academia, and currently works as a clinical pharmacy specialist in an ambulatory care and anticoagulation clinic. He is the founder of Pharmacy School HQ (, which is devoted to helping students become pharmacists.

How to Fix Your Frustrated Pharmacy Team

SEPTEMBER 19, 2016
A retail pharmacy was struggling with a problem every team eventually faces: a frustrated staff. One pharmacist felt a few of the technicians weren’t following through on the tasks delegated to them. The pharmacist felt justified in his anger and started to resent his manager, the other pharmacists, and the technicians.
On the flip side, the technicians felt the pharmacist was being unreasonable and his expectations were unrealistic. In fact, they saw flaws in the pharmacist’s work that they wanted to point out.
The pharmacy soon became a hostile environment. Technicians were thinking about quitting, pharmacists were looking for other jobs, and the manager didn’t know where to start to improve the situation. Work was no longer about providing quality patient care or creating a great environment; it was about suffering and negative attitudes.
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, the good news is it’s fixable—if you’re willing to form agreements with your coworkers.
Figuring It Out
In this case, the manager asked me to work with the problem group to evaluate the situation and create a solution. I started by sitting down with the pharmacist—the one who was causing all the trouble—to find out what was happening from his point of view.
I began asking questions to get to the root of problem. We talked about management, workload, and how things recently changed with pharmacy policies and procedures. Interestingly, he didn’t want to talk about the technicians at first, but when our conversation eventually arrived there, I asked questions like, “What role are the technicians failing to fulfill?” He described tasks like calling insurance companies and returning patients calls that weren’t being completed. He ultimately mentioned the follow-up work was landing on his plate.
The Crucial Question
“What have you agreed upon with your technicians?” I asked.
The pharmacist gave me a puzzled look. He said, “I haven’t talked to them. They talk to the manager, and it’s not my job to talk to them about what they’re supposed to do.”
Essentially, he had created expectations for the technicians to fill, but they didn’t even know or understand them.
Afterwards, I spoke with the technicians separately and then brought the technicians and the pharmacist together. We talked about the different roles and responsibilities that technicians could fill and the things the pharmacist must do. These were daily tasks that could be done by the pharmacists or technicians. Sure enough, the technicians and the pharmacist were able to work together to create agreements about who’s supposed to do what.
Expectations Without Agreements
The biggest problems with leaders is they have expectations for everyone, but often have no agreements. Expectations without agreements lead to anxiety because managers never know if someone is actually going to follow through. They can also create a sense of rebellion. Like it or not, we channel our inner teenager and say, “I’m not going to do what she tells me to do.”
If you’re the pharmacist in charge, what kind of relationships do you have with your technicians? Are you constantly expecting them to do certain things even though you only mentioned it once? How does that affect the work environment?
Think about what usually happens with expectations—more often than not, we end up disappointed. Why? Because others don’t understand what’s going on in our brain, especially if we don’t communicate it.


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