Lessons From the Pandemic: 5 Career Skills Now Front and Center with Employers

Pharmacy Careers, Spring 2021, Volume 15, Issue 1
Pages: 2

The response to COVID-19 has elucidated the challenges and opportunities with pharmacy-provided services delivery.

It has not been your average year for the pharmacist, working during a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has upended the normal way of doing things, whether in the community, at the clinic, on the floors of the hospital, or doing rounds in long-term care. From operations to patient counseling to billing, deviating from the standard has been imperative.

This deviation has highlighted the need for experienced pharmacists and technicians to acquire new skills and responsibilities, and has enabled newcomers to assume leadership roles.

Skill 1: Agility and Thinking Outside the Box

On March 11, 2020, the NBA canceled the rest of the season, actors and spouses Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced their COVID-19 infections, and the world changed forever. Pharmacists and pharmacy staff woke up the next day and found themselves in a new paradigm with questions: Do we wear masks? Should we shut the front door and deliver to the parking lot? Do we need to double our deliveries for everyone on a chronic medication? Do we partner with the local distillery to procure hand sanitizer? The most effective pharmacists and support staff were comfortable with new ways of serving patients, being resourceful, and finding solutions.

Skill 2: Pharmacist and Pharmacy Services Delivery Knowledge

First came the need to figure out how to distribute the medication to patients differently, then came the need to screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms and answer questions at a time of few data points and a lot of uncertainty. Next came the April 8, 2020, directive by the US Department of Health and Human Services authorizing licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 testing. Then came COVID-19 mass vaccination preparation.

These opportunities brought logistical challenges that stretched convention and forced planning on services delivery—even with previously "normal" dispensing operations that required appointment-based concepts for delivery and patient distancing efforts.

Skill 3: Technological Savvy

With practice model changes came new technology needs. First up was new ordering and billing systems and processing for COVID-19 collection and point-of-care testing services. Then it was the realization that a scheduling utility helped balance the staff as well as separating patients for operational capacity and patient safety. Appointments and queuing patients became even more important when COVID-19 vaccination efforts started with the demand far outstripping supply as eligibility criteria became complex and ever-changing. Building and troubleshooting templates, websites, and new technology plug-ins along with training staff have become high-demand skills.

Skill 4: Pharmacy Services Business Planning

The first goal of the pandemic response was to continue existing levels of care and then expand services. Yet, maintaining dispensing flows and extending services must be economically sustainable.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, long-time pharmacy owners are not the best equipped to generate business plans for health care service delivery. New graduates and residents have had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to meaningfully participate in revenue cycle management, expense modeling, and return on investment planning for health care services delivery.

Skill 5: Pharmacy Services Regulatory Know-How

With all of the new authorizations, processes, and billing opportunities come regulatory requirements. And with service delivery comes the need for a new set of legal, policy, and documentation acumen. Once provider status and payment become available, new sources and types of risk management come into play. It is not a flashy area of practice, but pharmacists who have a comprehensive understanding of laws and regulations outside of dispensing and keep up-to-date with them will be sought-after leaders, managers, and owners.

Putting It All Together

This is an opportune time to be a "positive deviant." Pharmacy practice has for many years favored dogma and "staying in our lane." Demand for interchangeable dispensers bereft of the skills and mind-set of new services and new ways of practicing will continue to wane, and COVID-19 has accelerated this trend.

About the Author

Troy Trygstad, PharmD, PhD, MBA, is vice president of pharmacy and provider partnerships for Community Care of North Carolina, which works collaboratively with more than 2000 medical practices to serve more than 1.6 million patients who are on Medicaid, Medicare, commercially insured, or uninsured. He received his PharmD and MBA degrees from Drake University and a PhD in pharmaceutical outcomes and policy from the University of North Carolina. He also serves on the board of directors for the American Pharmacists Association Foundation and the Pharmacy Quality Alliance.