Master These Abilities to Elevate a Pharmacy Career
Clinical knowledge is essential, but soft skills are also critical in patient-centered care.
Success in the pharmacy profession requires more than scientific achievement and technical ability.
Although pharmacy education has historically concentrated on scientific knowledge, pharmacists and other pharmacy personnel must display essential soft skills.1 In a health care environment that is increasingly focused on patient-centered care, pharmacies that excel in adaptability, communication, empathy, and teamwork have the potential to achieve better operational and patient outcomes, decrease errors, and improve relationships with coworkers, patients, and providers. Continuing education and training opportunities can improve these soft skills, which can in turn advance a care provider’s career as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician (tech) and improve the overall practice.
It is important for pharmacists and pharmacy team members, such as techs, to hone their communication skills, as the interactions they have every day can affect the patient experience and outcomes. This includes communication with not only patients but also colleagues and providers.
Patient-provider conversations are powerful, and if done effectively they can improve patients’ use of medications and ensure optimal therapeutic outcomes.2 Through patient counseling and education, pharmacists can improve adherence,2 but it is important to understand that the relationship is collaborative. Tactics such as motivational interviewing can help pharmacy professionals gather the patient information they need to provide better drug therapy and help individuals achieve their health goals.
To gain a better understanding of a patient’s background and care, it is also vital that the health care professionals who prescribe medications and therapies and the pharmacy team are having meaningful communications. Research shows that effective pharmacist-provider communication can prevent medical errors, promote patient safety, and reduce costs.3 Unfortunately, many pharmacists have admitted they lack confidence in communicating with physicians and other health care providers,4 and the results of a recent survey showed that only one-fourth of primary care physicians had much personal contact with pharmacists.3 Written communication is most common, but the phone and, when possible, face-to-face interactions can provide better opportunities for collaboration.
The interactions that happen most frequently in a pharmacy are among pharmacy team members, such as interns, pharmacists, and techs. In an environment that encourages open communication, individuals can report errors without fear and present ideas to improve efficiencies and processes.
Having empathy or understanding a patient’s concerns and perspective is essential to providing quality care. Clinical empathy allows pharmacy professionals to converse with patients about their feelings and thoughts concerning their medication(s) and helps them understand key prescription information about insurance and payment. This can help identify ongoing pharmaceutical problems and help patients get the most from their treatment and overall experience.5 Acknowledging concerns, active listening, and establishing a shared understanding demonstrate empathy, and pharmacy professionals can learn these skills.
Empathy becomes especially important to improving care regarding patients with behavioral disorders, such as addiction and mental illness. Research shows that pharmacists are very knowledgeable about mental illness and management options, but there are also high levels of stigma in the profession, including a desire to socially distance and discomfort when treating patients with mental illness.6 By improving their empathy skills, pharmacy professionals can help create a comfortable environment and provide improved care to all patients. Seeing, understanding, and treating those with behavioral disorders help pharmacy professionals realize how much their counsel and prescription means to patients.
Advances in regulation, education, and training; innovative models of care; and new technology have created a new scope of practice in the pharmacy. As pharmacies expand their offerings, the roles of pharmacists and techs are also growing. Consider that for techs, 90% of employers now encourage or require certification, and 40% report that techs have more responsibility this year compared with last,7 demonstrating the need for advanced skills. Additionally, the results of a survey of pharmacy employers showed that techs’ “ability to adapt to practice change” was the third-most-important factor in making hiring decisions, just below training and emotional intelligence.8
Adaptability and change have been in pharmacy professionals’ DNA since perhaps the beginning of the practice. In a professional pharmacy publication dating back to 1888, author John Humphrey discussed the importance of adaptability9:
“There must exist a willingness to change whenever due cause is shown. Our minds must remain plastic…we see around us, both near at hand and far off, evidence of the increasing determination of pharmacists to unceasingly endeavor to adapt themselves to circumstances, much as these may change.”
Change is constant, especially in the world of pharmacy, and to elevate a pharmacy career, techs must be willing to adapt, grow, and learn as the practice evolves.
Pharmacists and techs work in close quarters and often busy conditions. They are also in communication with providers. Although each professional plays an essential role, working together as a cohesive team is important and can yield the best results.
Teamwork requires mutual respect and trust, from the bottom up and the top down. It also requires that everyone be on the same page, with every team member willing to pitch in when needed. Failing to do so can potentially reduce morale. For example, if a tech is working hard and sees a pharmacist not pulling his or her weight, the tech may be likely to slow down and could even take out their frustration on customers. Likewise, pharmacists may be less likely to entrust advanced tasks to techs who underperform.
Members of high-functioning teams collaborate, feel safe asking questions, trust each member, and are willing to support one another. It is an age-old rule, but it holds true: We can achieve more together than we can on our own.
- Hargie O, Morrow N. Interpersonal communication and professional practice: a case study from pharmacy. J Furth High Educ. 1985;9(3):26-39. doi:10.1080/0309877850090304
- McDonough RP, Bennett MS. Improving communication skills of pharmacy students through effective precepting. Am J Pharm Educ. 2006;70(3):58. doi:10.5688/aj700358
- Kallail KJ, Stanton SR. Pharmacy-physician communications: potential to reduce medication errors. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2006;46(5):618-620. doi:10.1331/1544-322.214.171.1248
- Mcdonough RP. Build a successful practice using interprofessional communication skills. Pharmacy Today. 2015;21(7):43. doi:10.1016/S1042- 0991(15)30253-X
- Jubraj B, Barnett NL, Grimes L, Varia S, Chater A, Auyeung V. Why we should understand the patient experience: clinical empathy and medicines optimisation. Int J Pharm Pract. 2016;24(5):367-370. doi:10.1111/ijpp.12268
- Aluh DO, Anyachebelu OC, Ajaraonye CI. Comparison of pharmacists’ mental health literacy: developed vs developing countries. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). Published online May 12, 2020. doi:10.1016/j.japh.2020.05.003
- 2020 industry outlook: trends impacting allied health professionals. National Healthcareer Association. July 2020. Accessed July 20, 2020. https://info.nhanow. com/learning-leading-blog/2020-industry-outlook
- 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 (Basel). 2019;7(4):147. doi:10.3390/ pharmacy7040147
- Humphrey J. The future of pharmacy. Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions: A Weekly Record of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences. January 21, 1888. Accessed July 20, 2020. https://www.google.com/books/edition/_/ebtkNVJZKT4C?hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PA611&dq=pharmacies+must+be+willing+to+adapt