Challenge Owners to Define Support Staff

Supplements, October 2022 Technician Supplement, Volume 5,

Many pharmacy professionals feel discouraged, underutilized, and undervalued, but the support staff often saves the day.

One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has proved is that community pharmacy professionals can do it all, even when they are short-staffed, stressed, and burned out.

Many pharmacy professionals feel discouraged, underutilized, and undervalued, but the support staff often saves the day. However, do owners, pharmacists-in-charge, and pharmacists stop to think about how the pandemic, which increased daily tasks and prescription and service needs, has affected support staff members? And have they considered who really are the support staff members and what that even means?

No one is immune to employee turnover in this economy, including community pharmacies. Increasingly burned out pharmacists and other staff members have left the profession or taken long-term breaks. Many pharmacists have not had sufficient time or tools to safely perform their jobs after working long hours. In addition, work-life balance has suffered, as pharmacists and pharmacy technicians went for long stretches of time without seeing their families. Independent pharmacies were not immune to this. The results of 1 survey showed that 68% of independent pharmacies struggled with turnover and had difficulty filling staff pharmacist positions.1

In a 2022 national survey of more than 20,000 technicians conducted by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, findings showed that approximately 25% of technicians who reported leaving the profession said they would have continued working if not for pandemic stressors.2 Pharmacy managers and owners should be able to serve patients and support staff members at the same time. Supporting staff members can help mitigate burnout and lead to providing a quality level of health care to patients, and this is the ultimate goal.

Maintaining a work culture based on teamwork can reduce levels of turnover within a pharmacy later on.

So what are support staff and how can pharmacies support them? The definition of support is to bear all or part of the weight. Historically, clerks, delivery drivers, office staff, and technicians were seen as additional personnel within the pharmacy, instead of key supports of its functionality.

Imagine getting to the end of a puzzle and finding a missing piece. The puzzle is not complete, and that will cause frustration. Supporting the entire staff by building a culture of respect and opportunities for growth, support, and trust, as well as investing in employees financially and professionally, is important.

The US population has many health care needs, which requires an all-hands-on-deck approach in pharmacies. According to findings from a 2020 study, 51.8% of US adults had at least 1 of 10 selected chronic diseases and disorders and 27.2% had multiple chronic diseases and disorders, as of 2018.3

These included arthritis, asthma, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hepatitis, hypertension, kidney disease, and stroke.

Encouraging teamwork in the pharmacy is essential to successfully meet this anticipated demand. Pharmacists must be prepared to tackle this need, and they will be ready if they change their mindset and culture.

The easiest place to start is changing views about which tasks support members are capable of doing.

Giving them opportunities to elevate their jobs will bring about responsibility and long-term careers. Pharmacies should collaborate with staff members to identify services they can provide that do not require a pharmacist’s attention or supervision.

Allowing them to create programs and maintain them will meet the needs of both patients and support staff. There are so many possibilities to build the pharmacy business outside dispensing while nurturing the staff’s engagement.

Owners and pharmacists should establish this new mindset and let go of old practices. Finding the cheapest labor will not cut it.

The saying “you get what you pay for” is truer than ever.

To obtain dedicated, dependable, and motivated staff members, pay them what they are worth. As an extension to pharmacy marketing, use a similar budget in the sense that these professionals will be the face of the pharmacy and represent the business on various levels.

That investment up front will help you retain good employees, obtain talented new workers, and keep the pharmacy current and always evolving.

Finding these excellent opportunities with the staff begins with how the pharmacy attracts them.

When hiring new employees for support staff roles, take a look at recruiting practices. Reflecting on previous hiring techniques for nonpharmacist positions is a great start. If a job listing contains terms such as “customer service oriented,” “dependable,” or “dedicated,” try descriptors such as “accepting of challenges,” “career oriented,” “flexible,” “patient care centered,” and “skilled.”

Do not be reluctant to interview individuals without a pharmacy background. Investing in the education and training of a willing potential employee will enable you to gain a new pharmacy team member who strives to meet the cultural values the pharmacy holds. Remember to engage staff members in the conversation. Set goals that are short- and long-term. Having a vision in mind will spark initiative. Gone are the days of solely providing prescription medications in community pharmacies. Use technicians to implement cash-based services, such as front-end products or medical equipment. Evaluate their interest in taking on long-term projects and maintaining them, such as being the team lead on pharmacy inventory management or implementing a better prior authorization process.

These types of ideas will strengthen the business, the care provided to patients, and the pharmacy team.

Some pharmacies worry that they cannot afford to move high-achieving technicians away from their primary positions, but the truth is they cannot afford not to.

Without providing opportunities for growth, the pharmacy will lose these employees to burnout or competitors. Allowing high-performing technicians to manage other employees and projects is good for retention; it enables them to mentor new ones and be the pharmacy’s support system.

A study of 200,000 employees found that the No. 1 factor related to job satisfaction was feeling appreciated and valued.4

Do not underestimate team members. They have approaches and ideas that might be different or unconventional. It is important to remember that the support staff live the processes every day.

They see firsthand the day-to-day potential of the pharmacy and genuinely want to improve teamwork to benefit patients and the team.

They must work together for newly generated ideas to work. Allow for a different and new approach and see the pharmacy culture come alive and unlock the potential for business and patient outcomes.

Those who want to stand out need a successful business environment to provide the best care possible for patients, but also to jump into other endeavors. The support staff is the pharmacy’s best feature, so show them off. Pharmacy-employed delivery drivers are driving around with a company billboard all day long. Educating clerks and delivery drivers is a huge asset.

Delivery drivers may be the only point of contact patients have with their pharmacies, whether they are home-bound or not within driving range. The drivers can do all nonclinical tasks if they receive proper training. Provide business cards, marketing materials, and quick elevator talks so they can answer questions, promote pharmacy services, and relay information back to the pharmacy.

Marketing is a huge opportunity for all types of support staff members. Pharmacies can assign an enthusiastic staff member, such as a technician, to organize smaller marketing goals and implement ways to meet them. That could mean creating social media content for health awareness months or designing hard-copy promotional material.

When I began my pharmacy career in 1998, I was a sophomore in high school and landed a job as a clerk in my small town local independent pharmacy in Virginia. Technician positions were considered good after-school jobs for students and viable options for a reliable hometown job after high school. After moving to Richmond, Virginia, in 2002 to attend school, I realized that I missed interacting with people in the community and using my critical thinking skills to help them.

Independent community pharmacy is a small world. With a favor called in by my hometown pharmacist and previous boss, I became a technician trainee at a booming independent pharmacy in Richmond and obtained my Pharmacy Technician Certification Board certification in 2004.

The opportunity to work for great independent community pharmacies led me to education and experiences that furthered my path in a nontraditional technician role.

This taught me to review my expectations of technicians and get a feel for what they are able and willing to take on.

Support staff members are more than their job descriptions. In my case, amazing mentors who recognized this early on gave me ideas and projects to implement that kept me engaged with helping patients and loving what I did. Allowing me to have autonomy and listening to my ideas and opinions defined the unique pathway to make pharmacy and being a technician a career instead of a job.

About the Author

Meredith Ayers, CPhT, is a consultant, RXTech mentor, and speaker at Snazzy RX Tech in Richmond, Virginia.

References

1. Survey of community pharmacy economic health 2021 report. National Community Pharmacists Association. Accessed September 16, 2022. https://ncpa.org/sites/default/files/2021-11/November2021-NCPA-Pharmacy.Economic.Health.Survey_0.pdf

2. PTCB releases 2022 pharmacy technician workforce survey results. News release. August 18, 2022. Accessed September 16, 2022. https://www.ptcb.org/news/ptcb-releases-2022-pharmacy-technician-workforce-survey-results

3. Boersma P, Black LI, Ward BW. Prevalence of multiple chronic conditions among US adults, 2018. Prev Chronic Dis. 2020;17:E106. doi:10.5888/pcd17.200130

4. White P. Making others feel good is not the goal of appreciation. Appreciation at Work. August 29, 2022. Accessed September 16, 2022. https://www.appreciationatwork.com/blog/making-others-feel-good-is-not-the-goal-of-appreciation/