Tip of the Week: Adult Learning is a Wise Investment for Onboarding New Employees


Investing in adequate education and training of new employees up front can save a considerable amount of time and money on the back end.

One of the hallmarks of a profession (versus an occupation) is the continued, life-long self development of its members. Development comes in many ways and opportunities, and education is one of them.

We already know that education for pharmacists does not stop after walking across a stage with a diploma or being handed a certificate for completing a residency program. Increasingly, we recognize that strategies to promote learning in adults (i.e. “adult learning”) differ from those of youth. Adult learning embodies active learning and also recognizes the value of experiences and molding those experiences into the learning process. One area that many professionals seek continued education in is customer service, with customers defined broadly as the patients who visit our pharmacies, along with informal caregivers, peers, and even other health professionals.

Researcher Caroline McAllister conducted a study to determine the effects of training that employed adult learning concepts aimed to improve customer service acumen.1 The study was performed at a specialty pharmacy in the Midwest that treated patients with rare or orphan diseases and emphasized the need to minimize disease-related burdens, improve their quality of life, and ameliorate stress by being the single point of contact for patients who would otherwise be dealing with multiple providers and insurance companies to coordinate their care.1

The pharmacy employs a position called a patient service coordinator (PSC). The PSC combines aspects of a traditional pharmacy technician with aspects of an insurance billing expert, alternate funding expert, and customer service support. The PSC must apply rules, regulations, and company procedures as defined in standards operation procedures (SOPs) and work instructions. The original method used to educate new PSCs involved asking them to read dozens of such SOPs and taking a quiz after each. The new procedure employed a systematic 3-day training that involves presentations, videos, shadowing a nurse, shadowing a pharmacist, shadowing a financial officer, and performing tasks with greater cognitive escalation and varying in type over the latter couple weeks while under observation and provision of feedback. There were 39 PSCs trained in either the previous or new methods.1 Training satisfaction was greatly improved using the adult learning mechanism, according to the study.1

The other variable measured was time to proficiency. In other words, not whether the PSC was proficient, but how long it took them to arrive at differing levels of proficiency post training. The time series analysis looked at multiple competence stages of proficiency in customer service and found that the cohort trained using adult education attained those more quickly at every stage (varying from a few days to even several weeks).1

There are a number of things to take away from this study. For one, adults learn more effectively and efficiently using adult learning techniques. Second, investment into adequate education and training of new employees up front can save a considerable amount of time and money on the back end when those employees demonstrate greater proficiency more quickly. Given rates of turnover by pharmacy staff, some employees might be leaving pharmacy organizations even prior to becoming proficient. Additionally, this introduced a relatively newer practice setting with the notion that staff positions can be created or restructured to help fit the mission of an organization so that it might more effectively carry out its mission.

Additional information about Customer Service and Human Resources Management Functions can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.

About the Author

Shane P. Desselle, PhD, RPh, FAPhA, is a professor of social and behavioral pharmacy at the Touro University California College of Pharmacy.


McCallister CP. Effect of integrating adult learning concepts and curriculum strcture into customer service training for specialty pharmacy employees. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Missouri-Saint Louis. Available at: https://irl.umsl.edu/dissertation/872/.

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