Low compensation, stressful environment spark technician exodus; replacing them has been difficult.
Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted the American workforce, pharmacies across the nation are continuing to feel the strain of pharmacy technician shortages, and technicians are clearly feeling the strain of working in pharmacies.
A multitude of surveys from diverse pharmacy settings have revealed a common thread: Technicians are leaving the profession, and hiring replacements has proved challenging.
The results of a 2021 American Society of Health-System Pharmacists survey showed a majority of pharmacy administrators reporting technician turnover rates of 21% to 30%.1 Nearly 1 in 10 pharmacy administrators reported losing 41% or more of their technicians, despite most technician responders expressing strong job satisfaction. One-third of technician survey respondents indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic influenced their decision to leave their job.1
The results of a National Community Pharmacists Association survey of community pharmacies in 2022 showed that more than 70% of pharmacies were struggling to fill staff positions, particularly for technician roles and front-end staff members.2
And the results of a 2022 Pharmacy Technician Certification Board survey of the technician workforce showed that of those who had left the pharmacy profession, more than a quarter noted they would have stayed in the field were if not for job stressors related directly to COVID-19.3
Although the overall number of technician job postings has increased, recent data from the Pharmacy Workforce Center demonstrate that filling these positions remains a struggle at independent pharmacies and large companies alike.4
Retail chains, such as Rite Aid and Walgreens, have already adjusted pharmacy operating hours over the past year because of staffing shortages, and The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2023 that CVS and Walmart had announced plans to cut and/or modify pharmacy hours at most of their locations by spring 2023.5 This would collectively affect 10,000 stores nationwide across both companies.
As mentioned, many technicians consistently find strong job satisfaction in serving their communities, but the desire to help others is often overshadowed by low compensation and a stressful environment.
Salary was a common reason why technicians consider leaving.1
The employment of technicians is projected to grow 5% in the next 10 years, which is an average rate compared with that of other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.6 However, despite this projected growth, the median pay for technicians as of 2021 was $36,740 per year, which was below the median annual wage for all workers.6
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of technicians expanded significantly and included assisting with rapid point-of-care testing for COVID-19 and, for qualified technicians, administering vaccines under the newly expanded Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.7 These duties showcased technicians’ abilities as members of frontline staff, but in many cases, it was unclear whether these expanded positions received commensurate compensation for shouldering additional duties on top of their established daily tasks.
This kind of role expansion has made a sizable contribution to optimizing patient care, but increasing workload without adequate staffing has also been an immense perpetuating factor in the shortages.
The 2022 National Pharmacy Workplace Survey showed that almost 75% of respondents felt they did not have enough time to safely perform clinical duties and patient care.4
Retail pharmacy chains are attempting to alleviate workplace stress and respond to the technician shortage in various ways, allowing more breaks, increasing wages, offering retention bonuses, and reducing store hours.8
Notably, more employers are also offering professional development support as an incentive technique, with offers to cover expenses for technician continuing education, professional memberships, and training programs, as well as providing career ladders.9
Last year, Sam’s Club and Walmart introduced changes to technician wages, with the goal of creating pathways for career progression and, with hope, technician retention.
Their new model included a pay raise for employees, as well as more automatic and frequent raises based on length of service, which has historically been a more common process in health care systems than in retail.10
Other large retail chain pharmacies might follow suit to remain competitive.
As the profession of pharmacy has evolved, technicians have demonstrated their ability to act as provider extenders, often stepping up to new challenges to better serve patients. Study results have shown that technicians are capable of performing nontraditional tasks with similar accuracy and safety to pharmacists.11 When technicians take on increased job responsibilities and technical roles, pharmacists can focus on clinical services and increase face-to-face time.12,13
Whether the above measures will increase retention rates remains to be seen, but competitive compensation and ensuring sufficient staffing are encouraging first steps to improving the shortages.
About the Authors
Jennifer Chen, PharmD, BCPS, is a clinical pharmacy practitioner at VA Northern California Health Care System in Sacramento.
Saemi L. Cho, PharmD, BCPS, is a clinical pharmacy practitioner at VA Northern California Health Care System in Martinez.
1. Pharmacy technician shortage survey findings: executive summary. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. March 2022. Accessed February 15, 2023. https://www.ashp.org/-/media/assets/pharmacytechnician/docs/Technician-Shortage-Survey-Exec-Summary.pdf
2. Survey of community pharmacy economic pressures 2022 report. National Community Pharmacists Association. August 11, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://ncpa.org/sites/default/files/2022-08/Pharmacy%20economic%20health%20survey%20AUG%2022.pdf
3. PTCB releases 2022 pharmacy technician workforce survey results. Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. August 18, 2022. Accessed February 28, 2023. https://www.ptcb.org/news/ptcb-releases-2022-pharmacy-technician-workforce-survey-results
4. APhA/NASPA national state-based pharmacy workplace survey. American Pharmacists Association/National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. December 2021. Accessed February 23, 2023. https://www.pharmacist.com/DNNGlobalStorageRedirector.ashx?egsfid=Zofb6PIvYhs%3d
5. Terlep S, Nassauer S. CVS, Walmart to cut pharmacy hours as staffing squeeze continues. Wall Street Journal. January 27, 2023. Accessed February 23, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/cvs-walmart-to-cut-pharmacyhours-as-staffing-squeeze-continues-11674796388
6. Occupational outlook handbook, pharmacy technicians. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Updated September 8, 2022. Accessed March 1, 2023. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm
7. Guidance for PREP Act coverage for qualified pharmacy technicians and state-authorized pharmacy interns for childhood vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines, and COVID-19 testing. US Department of Health and Human Services. October 20, 2020. Accessed February 28, 2023. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/prep-act-guidance.pdf
8. Ngo M. Angry customers, more work, and longer hours strain pharmacists. New York Times. February 10, 2022. Updated February 13, 2022. Accessed February 23, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/us/politics/pharmacists-strain-covid.html
9. Traynor K. Hospitals scramble as pharmacy technician shortage persists. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. May 2, 2022. Accessed February 15, 2023. https://www.ashp.org/News/2022/05/02/hospitalsscramble-as-pharmacy-technician-shortage-persists
10. Host K, Jackson S. Walmart launches new approach to pharmacy tech wages with more frequent raises. June 16, 2022. Accessed February 28, 2023. https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2022/06/16/walmart-launchesnew-approach-to-pharmacy-tech-wages-with-more-frequent-raises
11. Miller RF, Cesarz J, Rough S. Evaluation of community pharmacy techcheck-tech as a strategy for practice advancement. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2018;58(6):652-658. doi:10.1016/j.japh.2018.06.018
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13. Taylor B, Mehta B. The community pharmacy technician’s role in the changing pharmacy practice space. Innov Pharm. 2020;11(2):10.24926/iip.v11i2.3325. doi:10.24926/iip.v11i2.3325