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Let's talk techs

The kind that save your butt day after day, keep you going when the going gets tough, and probably know more about your pharmacy and patients than half the pharmacists that cover your store.

I promised a long time ago that I'd devote some time to covering the issues facing pharmacy technicians, so here we go!

Let's start with the basics, and the most commonly (and rightfully) bemoaned issue I hear about: lack of compensation. Unfortunately, our hard-working technicians who toil alongside us in the pharmacy assembly lines of retail are often barely being paid above minimum wage, and we as rank-and-file pharmacists have no control over it. We aren't even "allowed" to give them the honest evaluation scores we think they deserve, No Siree, buddy boy, Exceeds Expectations? That's a straight-up myth. They put it on the paper just for the inexplicable purpose of taking up otherwise-usable space. Not even a technician who works with the efficiency and determination of a futuristic prescription Terminator and still interacts with patients like they are made of pure spun-sugar sweetness could possibly attain that. Maybe they can rank up eventually - get certified, become senior tech, become lead tech, etc. But that usually leads straight into the next topic down the line...

...technician turnover. Ever had the bottom drop out of your stomach when a well-trained, smooth-working, lifesaver of a tech says they are leaving for greener pastures? You can never blame them, because the grass truly is greener on the other side for techs, whether they stay in the broader realm of pharmacy or leave for literally anything else (no, I mean that. Pretty much anything).

Keeping pharmacists afloat...all in a day's work.

Why is pretty much anything better? Because for the demands, knowledge, capability, and work ethic required to make a good technician, they could go to any other industry and be more highly valued, more highly compensated, oh, and treated like a human?? A human who is afforded breaks?? I know in many places technicians do get lunch breaks, but I have never in my time as a pharmacist, technician, or intern, ever seen a technician take any of their other legally-afforded breaks (those 15 minute paid thingies that everyone looks at you like you have three heads if you were to ever mention in a pharmacy).

And that's only considering their treatment by corporate - it doesn't even address the abuse they receive on a daily basis from patients who consider them cashiers (no offense intended to cashiers, but cashiering only makes up a minute portion of the tasks and skills required of most pharmacy technicians). Too many times I've seen a technician explain an issue with absolute accuracy, in patient-friendly language, only to have the patient demand to see the pharmacist, be told the exact same thing, and the patient walks away satisfied with the same message, except that it came from someone sporting a white coat.

Unfortunately, I have also seen technicians taken advantage of by pharmacy technician training programs, for which the student may shell out tens of thousands of dollars, only to receive a certification which they could just as easily achieve after some on-the-job training and study (at least in my state). Yes, these technicians may have a broader understanding of pharmacy as a whole, but they are also strapped with unnecessary debt, in a profession with a relatively low earnings-ceiling. In fact, I once heard an educator associated with one such program mention that their institution's technician program wasn't producing enough buy-in organically, and that they would need to pursue the enactment of legislative requirements for technicians in order to make sure they could procure enough students for the program. I'm pretty sure my internal organs were made up of pure boiling water in that instant.

My seasonal "what did you just say?" face. As you can tell, my poker face may not be all that great.

To make things even worse, the constant cutting of tech hours doesn't just affect patient safety and pharmacist sanity- it also affects the ability of these poor souls to simply stay afloat financially. Add financial instability to a stressful work environment, and it's no wonder at all that I've heard of techs leaving to go to lunch and simply never coming back! And don't forget the rapid staff turnover which only makes the job more stressful and causes more departures, and now you're stuck in a vicious cycle, chasing your tail trying to get more folks trained while already understaffed.

All in all, technicians deserve way more than what they get. They deserve better compensation, better recognition, better opportunities, better representation, and better treatment from corporate, some pharmacists, and many patients.

Unfortunately, much like pharmacists, their situation is not going to improve until the pharmacy world changes as a whole. Pharmacies cannot afford to staff appropriately under the current compensation models, or at least that's what corporate would have you believe. I haven't personally seen the financials, but my independent buddies are saying the same things. Even if they could though, there is no legislation in many (if any!) states that requires a minimum ratio of tech hours to anything (script count, pharmacist hours, patient census, etc). So if compensation changes, corporate still won't have any incentive to increase tech hours, since clearly service and safety are not high on their priority lists (unless of course a complaint gives them a way to retaliate against an employee). In an ideal world, we wouldn't need legislation to enforce safe staffing, but sadly, this healthcare world we have right now is far from ideal.

As I've said before, pharmacist issues are tech issues, and tech issues are pharmacist issues. We need to advocate for each other, for our patients, and for reasonable legislation. I've provided tools for citizens of every US state to find their state legislator and send a comment at the Take Action page, and a place for us to track overall legislative contacts at Legislative Progress.

So please, please, please, treat this as an urgent matter. Contact your legislators. Tell them about patient safety concerns, technician staffing concerns, reimbursement bullspit, and any other pharmacy related concern you may have that I haven't mentioned. I spent a recent weekend sending letters concerning some legislation in my state. I didn't get a whole lot of direct replies, but the legislation did pass its next hurdle completely unopposed (and yes, I emailed every single person who was voting on it!). I may not have changed their minds, but I like to think I helped at least a little, and you CAN do the same. We may not have a powerful lobby, but we have ourselves. We can at least be LOUD about it!


Hey techs! Anything I forgot? Please let me know! It's been a long time since I've been a technician and I'm certain things have changed a bit. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you do!


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