I was meeting my friend. I don’t know his exact title, but he oversees pharmacy services for every hospital in his system across the United States. Thus, he’s always traveling. In fact, two or three weeks each month, he’s on the road visiting one of his facilities.
Sometimes there’s a problem. Sometimes he’s helping put in a new technology system. And sometimes it's just the hospital’s turn in the rotation.
We were having dinner at a local restaurant like we always do. Amongst the many things that we were discussing was one of our favorite topics: pharmacy technicians.
My friend really values pharmacy technicians. He thinks they are the best things ever! His pharmacy technicians are a knowledgeable group of individuals. He makes certain that they were all hired with pharmacy experience.
My friend feels that pharmacy technicians are crucial to the operation of “his” pharmacies. Pharmacy technicians perform most of the “work”, thereby allowing the pharmacists to be involved with the clinical aspects of the department. These pharmacists make patient rounds, consult with physicians regarding drug regimens, and meet the patients’ and nurses’ needs.
As stated, none of the pharmacist’s functions would ever exist, if it weren’t for pharmacy technicians. So I asked my friend the following three questions:
Do his pharmacy technicians need to be certified?
What does he pay his certified pharmacy technicians?
Where does he get his certified pharmacy technicians from?
Do His Pharmacy Technicians Need To Be Certified?
I live in New Jersey. When I first became a pharmacist, pharmacy technicians did not have to be registered. They did not need to be certified. They did not need to have any formal education. In fact, anyone could be a pharmacy technician. It was downright scary when you considered it.
Then, around the mid 2000s, all New Jersey residents employed (or who wanted to be employed) as pharmacy technicians had to be registered with the NJ Board of Pharmacy.
This is not the same as becoming certified. One method of certification is through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). Individuals who become certified may benefit from items such as increased pay and better job opportunities.
In New Jersey, an individual MUST be registered with the NJ Board of Pharmacy in order to work as a pharmacy technician. They do NOT have to be certified.
This inconsistency really frustrates my friend. In New Jersey, many individuals become registered with the Board of Pharmacy. They work as pharmacy technicians. However, for whatever reason, they do not attain their certification.
My friend, on the other hand, wants certified pharmacy technicians. Why? For two reasons:
First, for the educational value. One of the requirements of certification is for the candidate to complete a PTCB-Recognized Education/Training Program or equivalent work experience. Because of this educational piece, my friend is assured that the certified pharmacy technician will be knowledgeable in many pharmacy aspects.
My friend feels that a pharmacy employee (either pharmacist or pharmacy technician) must be shown to be proficient in their job. My friend feels that he can better demonstrate a pharmacy technician’s proficiency when they have their certification.
My friend is not alone in his desire for certified pharmacy technicians. Many other hospitals require that all their pharmacy technicians are certified.
But there’s a bigger problem that my friend encounters. As previously stated, he oversees pharmacy services for every hospital within his system across the United States. And although he isn’t directly responsible for the hiring of personnel for each individual pharmacy, proper staffing does fall within his jurisdiction.
When it comes to pharmacy technicians, there is no standardization across the United States. Thus, depending on the state, the (entry-level) requirements for a pharmacy technicians can be one of the following:
No registration or licensure,
No certification or education/training,
Certification or education/training,
Certification and education/training.
Again, many pharmacy technicians seek the absolute minimum requirement(s) in order to become a pharmacy technician. Few may pursue certification, especially if their state does not require it.
As for my friend, he still wants to hire certified pharmacy technicians. But sometimes the state’s requirements make them difficult to find.
What Does He Pay His Certified Pharmacy Technicians?
In order to become a PTCB certified pharmacy technician, an individual must complete several requirements. Two of these requirements are
Complete an approved educational program. In New Jersey, these are offered by several county colleges and technical career schools. Students pay for and attend classes which educate them in many pharmacy areas.
Pass a computer-based exam on a variety of topics which include medications, federal requirements, patient safety, and order entry.
Generally, it is the student who is responsible for paying for the classes and paying for the certification exam.
My friend wishes to hire certified pharmacy technicians to work in his hospital pharmacy. Some of the job responsibilities include:
Prepare pharmaceutical medications for patient care areas,
Deliver medications in a prompt manner,
Review nursing and pharmacy areas for expired medications,
Fill stock orders for patient care areas,
Prepare IV and TPN products under the direct supervision of a pharmacist, and
Maintain all required records.
I asked my friend, “How much do you pay your certified pharmacy technicians?”
He thought for awhile and responded, “ Usually it depends on how much experience they have. But generally between $15 to $18 an hour.”
My friend wants to hire certified pharmacy technicians. He expects these individuals to attend pharmacy classes. He expects these individuals to pass a certification exam. And he expects these individuals to pay for these items
My friend wants certified pharmacy technicians who are knowledgeable and proficient. He expects these individuals to excel in the job responsibilities listed above, so that pharmacists are free to make rounds and complete other clinical tasks. He wants the best certified pharmacy technicians that he can find.
More places should take the lead of my friend’s facilities and properly compensate their pharmacy technicians.
Where Does He Get His Certified Technicians From?
My friend knows my position when it comes to hiring any new employee (not just certified pharmacy technicians). Pharmacy is unique. Most newly-graduated pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must complete an externship after completing their course of study.
An externship is a valuable tool. From the student’s point of view, they gain experience in their selected field. They also can determine if the externship environment provides a proper work atmosphere.
Employers, on the other hand, are able to “test drive” candidates and gain valuable knowledge before bringing these new hires onboard. Thus, the employer can determine whether the externs would be a good fit if they were hired.
Unfortunately this practice of hiring externs (and eventually offering them a position) is not always feasible.
So where does my friend get his certified pharmacy technicians from? He goes the traditional route. He places an ad on a job website, candidates complete an application and send a resume. He reviews the resumes and brings candidates in for an interview. And he hires the best candidate for the position.
Simple? Yes. No problems? Well, not quite.
The main problem is that there is a limited number of certified pharmacy technicians. Every hospital wants to hire them. And they’re not that plentiful.
Thus, if one hospital is hiring a clinical pharmacy technician, chances are they are leaving another facility to come work there. Now there might be a variety of reasons why a person might leave one hospital for another. But a lot of times, it comes down to money.
Previously, I mentioned that my friend’s hospital is paying $15- $18 an hour for clinical pharmacy technicians. Now imagine if other hospitals in the area were paying more. It wouldn’t be long before several of his clinical pharmacy technicians might leave to work elsewhere.
So what would happen? Perhaps after several months of not being able to hire certified pharmacy technicians, his facility might implement a program that would increase the pay rate for certified pharmacy technicians.
After all, it would be justified. Certified pharmacy technicians do have the education. They do have the knowledge. They’ve passed the certification exam and demonstrated their proficiency.
Furthermore, look at the tasks they’re performing on a daily basis. These tasks free up the pharmacists and allow the pharmacy to perform more clinical functions.
It would not be that hard to convince a vice-president that clinical pharmacy technician provides a valuable service and should be properly compensated.
So why wait for crisis mode? Why wait for several good clinical pharmacy technicians to leave and then react? Why not implement a proper pay rate for pharmacy technicians?
About ten years ago, the Chief Economic Office (CEO) of one of my hospitals wanted to retain good certified pharmacy techs. He wanted to be competitive in the pharmacy tech market. He established a tiered pay system where certified pharmacy techs would be rewarded for their education and their experience.
All pharmacy techs would be placed in their respective category within the tier. This would immediately raise their salary.
The tier categories were
Non Certified Pharmacy Tech Certified Pharmacy Techs
0-1 years experience. $14/hr 0-1 years experience. $18/hr
1-3 years experience. $16/hr 1-3 years experience. $20/hr
3-5 years experience. $18/hr 3-5 years experience. $22/hr
5+ years experience. $20/hr. 5+ years experience. $24/hr
The importance of the pharmacy technicians’ help should not be minimized. And they should be paid accordingly for their efforts. More hospitals should adopt a tiered pay system that rewards certified pharmacy techs for their education and their experience.
Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.