Will the Need for Pharmacy Technicians Stick?

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for more helping hands in pharmacies, especially with vaccinations, and the opportunities for techs may last.

On average, I receive 2 inquiries each week from pharmacy managers who want my help in seeking qualified individuals to fill open pharmacy technician positions.

These are positions in community pharmacy, hospital inpatient and outpatient pharmacy, long-term-care facility pharmacy, mail order pharmacy sites, specialty compounding pharmacy, and veterinary pharmacy. Most positions offer pay on the high side of the technician pay scale, and most pharmacy managers are in a frantic state to hire technician help.

Is there an uptick in need for qualified pharmacy technicians because new positions have been created to complement new vaccine administration, point-of-care testing, and other advanced positions pushed ahead to meet COVID-19 workflow demands? Is there an uptick simply because nuances in COVID-19 workflow require more helping hands? Or is the uptick because of technician turnover when staff members leave the workforce creating a gap? Or maybe it is a blend of all 3, perhaps?

I see a constant stream of individuals new to the profession gaining technician-specific education and training.Successful completion of education is followed by the certification credential and entrance into the technician workforce. Maintaining the certification credential requires a renewal process. At this renewal point I see transience in the technician workforce. There is a marked slump in renewal of the technician certification credential. Technicians moving into the pharmacist-intern role requiring a different credential and scope gives explanation to some non-renewals. Some technicians leave the workforce for retirement. Most transient activity, though, is a result of individuals leaving the technician workforce for better paying jobs in different types of working environment.

Michelle Porter, CPhT-Adv, an investigational drug service technician specialist at Moses H. Cone Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, discussed the uptick in technician jobs, because of the COVID-19 workflow that requires more helping hands.

“As COVID-19 cases began to rise again, technicians had to build out pyxis machines with the time of need medications, learn proper [personal protective equipment] procedures, and figure out a good way to deliver medications to the COVID-19 units to keep staff safe. Patient safety and our own safety are key components during this difficult time where we had to adapt and be flexible to get our jobs done,” Porter said.

“Delivering to the COVID-19 units with proper procedures in place for returns and cleaning of our medication carts while also paying attention to chart notes when doing a medication history [was done] all to keep our staff safe,” she said.

The Pharmacy Demand Report Executive Summary compiled and offered byPharmacy Workforce Center, Inc, looks at uptick data to gain insight into open technician employment positions by contrast to the number of technicians in the workforce.1 For 2021 year to date through the end of the third quarter, there were 124,547 shared technician job openings across the country.1 California had the highest number of openings, at 13,202, and Wyoming had the fewest number, at 107.1

Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) data show that 279,806 individuals have earned its CPhT credential.2 There are also other entities that provide certification, such as state-specific entities and ExCPhT, as well as individuals working as technicians where certification is not required per state pharmacy regulations. Annual averages reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on the Workers by Occupation and Industry 2020 report shows 336,000 technicians in the workforce, with a median age of 34.2 years.3

Will the uptick for technician jobs stick after COVID-related needs wane?

“Having trained pharmacy technicians that can provide immunizations has been invaluable during this pandemic. The foundation has been formed for them to continue immunizing once the [Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act] ends,” Todd Larimer, RPh, and the pharmacy manager of an ambulatory community pharmacy in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

“My hope is that the pharmacy profession embraces the idea,” he said.

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Judy L. Neville, CPHT, CPST, is the program director of the pharmacy technician program in the Department of Pharmacy Practice & Science at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Pharmacy in Omaha.

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References

1. Pharmacy demand report (PDR) executive summary. Pharmacy Workforce Center Inc. First quarter 2021. Accessed January 4, 2022. https://www.aacp.org/sites/default/files/2021-04/pharmacy-demand-report-04192021.pdf

2. Certified pharmacy technician (CPhT). Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://www.ptcb.org/credentials/certified-pharmacy-technician

3. Labor force statistics from the current population survey. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. January 22, 2021. Accessed January 4, 2022. https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm