Technicians Provide Critical Support to the Pharmacy Profession, But They Need Support Too

As pharmacy technicians continue to take on more responsibilities, actions must be taken to alleviate the burnout so many are facing.

Exhausted workers. Unsung heroes. Both phrases have been used simultaneously to describe pharmacy technicians throughout the pandemic. As the demand for health care services continues to grow, the role of the pharmacy technician continues to evolve.

We’ve seen new responsibilities added to the job, ranging from point-of-care testing to vaccine administration. As technicians will likely be taking on even more responsibilities, what can be done to alleviate the burnout so many are facing?

The short answer: advocate for pharmacy technicians.

Stakeholders across the pharmacy profession have an obligation to step up on behalf of technicians, who are often the backbone keeping pharmacy operations running as smoothly as possible. If technicians have the resources they need to do their job well, they will be able to support the pharmacy team as a whole to function more efficiently. And, most importantly, they can ensure that the patient experience is one that prioritizes safety above all else.

Colleagues on the pharmacy team see firsthand the contributions technicians make, and pharmacists are well aware of their value because technicians directly impact the ability of pharmacists to do their jobs well. An easy way for pharmacists to advocate for their technicians is to show general appreciation for their work.

Taking the time to actively listen to technicians’ concerns, finding opportunities to solicit their feedback, and giving credit where it’s due can go a long way. Taking it a step further, pharmacists can help identify the technicians who are taking on leadership roles and push for the development of team structures that allow these technician leaders to be formally recognized with corresponding positions and titles.

Health care employers, particularly those within the pharmacy profession, also play a critical role in advocating for technicians. While business priorities influence many decisions that are made at higher levels, it’s vital to ensure patient safety while balancing the bottom line.

As the pandemic has made it obvious how essential health care workers—such as pharmacy technicians—are to the fabric of our society, employers can recognize this in concrete ways. At a minimum, they can ensure technicians—and all of their workers—operate under reasonable working conditions.

Measures such as those recently taken by large national groups like CVS and Walgreens to give pharmacy teams uninterrupted lunch breaks are significant steps to recognize the intense demand they face, and provide some relief to ensure that when teams are on duty, they are not so stressed that they cannot focus on the job at hand.

It would also benefit employers to work directly with pharmacy teams to institute best practices that help maintain high patient safety standards. Opportunities should be created for technicians to have more visibility and more contributions to conversations about the decisions that directly impact them.

Employers can create and support safe environments in which technicians are encouraged to engage in dialogue with their supervisors and management by providing honest feedback. Employers should also welcome suggestions of ways technicians feel improvements can be made.

All of this information can be incorporated into tangible actions that can improve not only the working environments, but also the customer experience and, ultimately, pharmacy workflows and efficiency. And sometimes, technicians can be their own best advocates.

If there is constructive feedback or recommendations technicians have on how their working conditions can be improved, they should make their voices heard when those opportunities are available. Go beyond identifying problems and take the initiative to propose solutions that could be implemented to prevent issues from arising in the first place.

Understanding that every workplace may have different procedures for feedback, in individual conversations with direct supervisors, share specific examples of personal experiences. Look for opportunities to share perspectives with a broader audience of stakeholders.

For example, technicians can participate in state board of pharmacy meetings, which are open to the public. They can even get involved by becoming members of certain state and national pharmacy associations. Technician voices are some of the industry's most valuable resources to inform the profession of areas they can and must improve.

The health care industry is already facing an ongoing shortage of qualified, trained, and credentialed technicians. Technicians who are dedicated to their careers, for example, those who have earned PTCB’s CPhT-AdvTM Certification to showcase their advanced expertise, are incredibly valuable employees who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to advancing patient and medication safety.

The pandemic has shed light on what the pharmacy profession already knew about the important health care roles technicians play. As these responsibilities expand and evolve, the amount of support they provide to the pharmacy profession will only grow. It’s imperative that technicians receive the support they need from a community advocating on their behalf in return.

About the Author

William Schimmel is executive director and CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).