Fundamental Questions About Pharmacy Technicians: The Answers Suggest a Need to Move Forward
The process of becoming certified in itself instills a greater sense of belonging in pharmacy among technicians.
Research on pharmacy technicians’ roles and work environments has increased exponentially in recent years. Foundational questions are being raised.
For one, “If pharmacists are to take on new responsibilities in alternative models of care, then who is going to pick up some of the responsibilities previously borne by pharmacists, primarily in dispensing and administrative functions?”1
Given the answer to that question is the pharmacy technician, other fundamental questions have to be answered:
- “Are technicians adequately prepared in their education, training, and professional socialization to take on these roles?”
- “Do we compensate technicians appropriately for taking on extra responsibility?”
- “Have we made their jobs attractive enough to acquire and retain good talent?”
- “Have we provided appropriate incentives for technicians to remain in the job and aspire to reach new heights emotionally and professionally?”
Thankfully, studies have begun address these and other questions during the past 10-15 years.2 In the United States, the value of certification has been explored. Certification by a national vendor has been deemed to be a favorable asset.3
Specifically, it has been suggested that the process of becoming certified in itself instills a greater sense of belonging in pharmacy. It also provides fundamental knowledge necessary for someone to begin a professional journey.
One study demonstrated greater career commitment among technicians who were certified.4 Although certification is said to help prepare technicians for a lifelong career, it has been suggested that certification should better emphasize so-called “soft skills” in communication and related competencies.5
Pharmacists have also opined that certification can become better integrated with other types of education and training.3 This is difficult in light of the tremendous variability in quality and curriculums in pharmacy technician vocational programs.6
Employers have a momentous role to play in preparing, stabilizing, and developing the technician workforce. No matter the salience and congruence of vocational education and certification, on-the-job training will always have an important role in technician competence, as will the organizational culture of these companies, who must connote a sense of value and worth to technician employees.7
One mechanism to accomplish this is through career laddering. Any employee, regardless of current position, aspires to be better, to move up in position and roles, and achieve self-actualization. Employers have begun implementing ladders, or at least paying greater attention to other mechanisms of technician retention, but they still have a way to go.8
Salary is important for 2 reasons, the most obvious of which is the ability to pay bills and “put food on the table.” Additionally, an employee perceives their value to the employer inaccordance with the salary they are paid.
Recent research indicates that pharmacy technicians are not paid as well as their counterparts across similar occupations in other health fields.9 Their pay is not higher in states with higher regulatory burdens of entry and practice.10
Additionally, their pay has not moved in a manner consistent with inflationary pressures, particularly in the community sector, in which good technicians are often lost to health-systems and to other occupations entirely.4,11 This is in spite of evidence that a difference in only $0.75 an hour can differentiate technicians who will stay as a result of their current pay, are ambivalent about their pay, or plan to leave an organization expressly due to low pay.12
The work that technicians engage in itself may be a major factor in retaining and attracting talented pharmacy technicians. A recent study on pharmacy technicians involved in technician product verification (TPV) uncovered the positive impact of such advanced duties on career commitment and quality of work life.13
Similarly, when engaged in patient service support roles, technicians indicate increased satisfaction in their work.14.15 This phenomenon is also represented practically in the form of a common fear among community pharmacists, whereby their most talented technicians will leave for more engaging work in a nearby hospital or health-system.
Pharmacy technicians are on the proverbial front lines of care. They are often a patient’s first contact in the health care system. Their roles are being expanded in pharmacy’s emerging services, such as assistance with point-of-care testing.16
We know more now than we did a few years ago about technicians’ education, work environments, and competence. Although additional research will help shed even more light on the role of technicians in delivering pharmacy care, it is time that various stakeholders in the process pay heed to what we do know, come together, and make things happen for these invaluable members of the pharmacy team.17
- Desselle SP. Survey of certified pharmacy technicians in the United States: A quality-of-worklife study. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2005;45(4):458-465.
- Desselle SP. Job turnover intentions among certified pharmacy technicians. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2005;45(6):676-683.
- Desselle SP, Hohmeier KC, McKeirnan KC. The value and potential integration of pharmacy technician national certification into processes that help assure a competent workforce. Pharmacy.2019. https://doi.10.3390/pharmacy7040147.
- Wheeler JS, Renfro CP, Wang J, Qiao Y, Hohmeier KC. Assessing pharmacy technician certification: A national survey comparing certified and noncertified pharmacy technicians. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2019;59(3):369-374.
- Desselle SP, McKeirnan KC, Hohmeier KC. Pharmacists ascribing value of technician certification using an organizational behavior framework. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2020;77(6):457-465.
- Anderson DC, Draime JA, Anderson TS. Description and comparison of pharmacy training programs in the United States. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2016;56(3):231-236.
- Desselle SP. An in-depth examination of pharmacy technician worklife through an organizational behavior framework. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2016;12(5):722-732.
- Mattingly AN, Mills R, Leber B, Pereda MC. Implementation of a pharmacy technician career ladder. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2020;77(9):709-712.
- Mattingly AN, Boyle CJ. Salary and entry-level requirements for pharmacy technicians compared with other health technologist and technician occupations in Maryland. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2020;60(1):17-21.
- Urick BY, Mattingly TJ, Mattingly AN. Relationship between regulatory barriers to entry and pharmacy technician wages. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2020;16(2):190-194.
- Zgarrick DP, Bujnoch T, Desselle SP. Wage premiums as a means to evaluate the labor market for pharmacy technicians in the United States: 1997-2018. Pharmacy. 2020;8(1): Article 42.
- Desselle SP, Holmes ER. Structural model of certified pharmacy technicians’ job satisfaction. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2007;47(1):58-71.
- Hohmeier KC, Desselle SP. Exploring the implementation of a novel optimizing care model in the community pharmacy setting. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2019;59(3):310-318.
- Lengel M, Kuhn CH, Worley M, Wehr AM, McAuley JW. Pharmacy technician involvement in community pharmacy medication therapy management. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2018;58(2):179-185.
- Hohmeier KC, McDonough SL, Rein LJ, Brookhart AL, Gibson ML, Powers MF. Exploring the expanded role of the pharmacy technician in medication therapy management service implementation in the community pharmacy. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. 2019 Mar 1;59(2):187-94.
- Hill H, Cardosi L, Henson L, Wasson M, Fountain M, Desselle SP, Hohmeier KC. Evaluating advanced pharmacy technician roles in the provision of point-of-care testing. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016.j.japh.2020.02.024.
- Zellmer WA, McAllister EB, Silvester JA, Vlasses PH. Toward uniform standards for pharmacy technicians: Summary of the 2017 Pharmacy Technician Stakeholder Conference. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2017;74(17):1321-1332.
About the AuthorsShane P. Desselle, RPh, PhD, FAPhA, is Professor of Social and Behavioral Pharmacy at Touro University California College of Pharmacy and Editor-in-Chief of Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy.Kenneth C. Hohmeier, PharmD, is Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Director of Community Affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center College of Pharmacy.