Why is this such a hot topic? The answer is simple: because techs are the backbone of pharmacy.
If the pharmacist is the head, which is responsible for decision-making, then the technician is appropriately described as the backbone, which is responsible for carrying out the decisions made by the head. Neither can operate without the other.
In addition to filling prescriptions, pharmacy technicians often deal with the computer system, assist customers, and correspond with insurance companies. Even in the age of automation, pharmacy techs have become vitally important to ensuring a smooth and efficient pharmacy operation.
Keeping quality techs
Pharmacy tech turnover is probably the most often cited argument for increased wages. The theory is that higher wages would increase the likelihood of pharmacy technicians staying at their jobs, thereby decreasing the amount of time pharmacists or lead technicians need to spend training new, inexperienced techs.
By retaining experienced employees, advocates of higher tech pay say, pharmacists would also improve customer service and safety, as high-quality technicians with years of experience are more likely to be skilled at handling the rudest customers and less likely to make potentially life-threatening mistakes.
Opponents of wage hikes argue that there are many hospitals, independent pharmacies, and clinical settings that pay technicians very well—often $5 to $10 per hour or more—and retain them for years. The low-turnover jobs are out there, opponents say, but they are fewer in number and much harder to get.
Higher stress=higher pay
It’s no secret that pharmacy technicians work in high-stress environments. While there are a few pharmacy tech hacks that make the job easier, the stakes are always high and the prescription volume is even higher, particularly in retail.
Another argument for boosting pay is that pharmacies would be able to attract quality technicians who can handle the volume and stress while filling prescriptions with spot-on accuracy. Higher pay would probably make many techs more agreeable to working on nights, weekends, and holidays, as well.
Opponents argue that the job is what it is—long days and all. As long as there are applicants, which there always seem to be, there is no real incentive to raise tech wages, they argue.
Is certification really necessary?
Those against giving pharmacy technicians a salary boost often make the argument that the job is unskilled labor, so it’s really not necessary for techs to know all of the information required for certification.
Therefore, unless certification is required by state law, they often hire uncertified techs, provide company-sponsored training, or do not offer a substantial salary boost for techs who do become certified.
Proponents of increased wages argue that the roles of pharmacy technicians are expanding, which requires well-rounded, certified techs to assume new responsibilities. With the passing of laws that allow tech-check-tech programs, advocates say there is an even more pressing need to compensate techs at a higher rate in order to protect patient safety.
Wage hike opponents say pharmacy budgets are so tight that they are often unable to pay techs a higher wage or provide substantial raises. With insurance reimbursements on the decline, pharmacy managers have limited options when it comes to cutting costs, opponents say. Sometimes, hiring inexperienced techs is the way managers choose to make ends meet while keeping the pharmacy staffed.
Pharmacy technician salary advocates say that pharmacy managers should find another way to offer additional compensation. Whether it comes from bonuses, overtime, or the overall retail store budget, technician salaries should be priority.
Any tech will tell you that it’s not easy being the backbone of the pharmacy. The days are long, the pace is often frantic, and mistakes can be disastrous. There’s a myriad of changes for technician job roles that cofound the pay problem.
As the demand for drugs continues to increase, pharmacies may become even more squeezed. Frank discussions and a little creativity will go a long way toward allowing techs and management to develop suitable, individualized solutions to address salary concerns.
What do you think? Should the pay scale be raised or remain the same? Message me on Twitter @pharmschoolhq.
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.