I worked for eleven years in my favorite hospital. I liked my boss. I had a tremendous staff. I knew how to navigate through the politics of the hospital. I did a good job.
Amongst my major accomplishments: I renovated the main pharmacy. I put in a new IV cleanroom. I helped the hospital pass Joint Commission, Department of Health, Board of Pharmacy and other inspections. And I supplied my boss and vice-president with a plethora of statistical data and graphs to show how productive the pharmacy was.
Around 2007, the hospital decided to outsource the pharmacy department. The hospital had accomplished successful ventures by outsourcing food services, housekeeping, and the fitness center. So why not pharmacy?
I was not privy to all the details of the contract between the outsourcing company and the hospital. But I did know the following:
- The outsourcing company brought in their own team to manage the pharmacy. Although I was disappointed, I was not really surprised. As a manager, I always knew that I “served at the pleasure of management.” Therefore, even if I’m doing an outstanding job (which I was) a new group can come in at any time and bring in their own management team. Thus, my boss, my assistant manager, my two supervisors, my IT supervisor and I were all let go. The outsourcing company brought in their own management staff to run the pharmacy.
- It should be noted that the management team were employees of the outsourcing company— not the hospital. This outsourcing company paid the salaries and benefits of the new management team. This was a big plus for the hospital, since they did not have to pay these costs.
- The clinical pharmacists were also employees to the outsourcing company and not the pharmacy. This was another group of employees that the hospital did not have to pay salaries and benefits for.
- The outsourcing company ran the pharmacy. They made key decisions. They made and paid for major improvements. And they paid for and owned the drug inventory. This was another major savings for the hospital.
Revisiting The Pharmacy
As the old saying goes “it’s not personal, it’s business”. One day I’m doing a great job managing the pharmacy. And the next day— I’m gone. I was very upset— even though I landed on my feet.
I was quite annoyed because I had built a thriving operation. I had a productive staff. I successfully implemented many projects for the department. And I was well respected by my boss and upper management.
But I had to be mad at somebody for losing my job. So I blamed the outsourcing company. In the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to go back and visit the pharmacy. It would be nice to reconnect with many of my former staff members, although quite a few of them have moved on and no longer work there. It would also be interesting to meet the management team that replaced me (which I never did). I’d also be curious to see all the changes to the pharmacy.
It would have been nice to go back and visit the pharmacy. But I never did.
Volunteering At The Hospital
I’m retired now. I have a lot to keep me busy. I also don’t want to (or need to) work. I like the flexibility of not working. I like the ability to commit to something and not worry if I’m scheduled to work that day or evening.
But I always enjoyed working in my hospital. And even though a lot has changed, I am quite familiar with the general layout, the operation, and the people.
I decided to volunteer at my hospital two days a week. I didn’t want to volunteer in the pharmacy department. I wanted to be in a place where I could greet and help visitors. Thus, I’m volunteering at the information desk., where I help screen visitors by asking COVID related questions. I also bring visitors to different areas of the hospital.
Getting A Hospital Pharmacy Position
When I was teaching my students to become pharmacy technicians, I always asked them where they wanted to work. Many students wanted to work in a hospital pharmacy. When I asked them “why”— many of them did not have an answer. They didn’t know what a pharmacy technician did in a hospital. They just thought a hospital pharmacy sounded like a nice place to work.
In order to work as a pharmacy technician in a hospital pharmacy, a person may need a license or be a certified pharmacy technician. Furthermore, many facilities want a person to have some sort of formalized training as well as hospital pharmacy experience. Thus, it is difficult for a brand new pharmacy technician (student) to get a job in a hospital pharmacy.
But it is possible to get a pharmacy technician job in a hospital pharmacy with little or no experience. So how does someone do it? By volunteering.
Following Steps To Volunteer
These are the steps that I tell my students to follow in order to volunteer:
1. Call several (5-6 or more) hospital volunteer offices in the area. Find out who you are speaking to. Are you speaking with the Director of Volunteer Services? Or are you speaking with some nice old lady who is answering the phone?
2. Ask what is the procedure for becoming a volunteer. It is generally a 4-6 week process involving a) completing an application, b) being interviewed, c) attending the required in-house classes, and d) getting the necessary immunizations and vaccines (ie COVID, PPD, and flu).
3. Find out the date that the next required in-house classes will be held. For example, if today is the fifth of the month, and the next set of classes will be held on the tenth of the month, this may shorten the volunteer process. Because you’ll only have to wait about a week to take the required classes.
However, if today is the fifth of the month, and the next set of classes will be held on the first of the month, this may delay the volunteer process. Because you’ll have to wait 3+ weeks to take the required classes.
4. Ask the person on the phone if once you complete the 4-6 week process if you can volunteer to work in the pharmacy department. Again, as indicated by step #1, this is why it’s important to know who the person is that you’re speaking with. It’s important to have a director or manager who will allow you to volunteer in the pharmacy department after you finish the volunteer process.
After all, you don’t want to go through the entire volunteer process and find yourself having to volunteer in dietary, or housekeeping, or at the information desk. You want to volunteer to work in the pharmacy department.
5. If the person in volunteer services won’t let you volunteer in the pharmacy department or can’t give you a straight answer, contact the volunteer office in a different hospital. Eventually you will find a volunteer department in a hospital that will allow you to volunteer in the pharmacy department.
6. The next step is to speak with the Director, Assistant Director, or Manager of the pharmacy department. This is best done in person. Introduce yourself. Tell the person that you are taking classes in order to become a pharmacy technician. Also tell them that you plan to start the hospital’s volunteer process and would like to volunteer in the pharmacy.
I am 99% certain that most hospital pharmacy departments would welcome a volunteer. However, if there is a problem with your volunteering in the pharmacy department, move on to the next hospital.
7. Keep the pharmacy manager abreast of what’s happening with the 4-6 week volunteer process. You will not be allowed to volunteer until you complete the 4-6 week volunteer process. But it is crucial, close to the end of the process, to agree upon a shift when you can volunteer in the pharmacy department.
I recommend one or two four-hour time periods. So I tell my students to look at their job and to look at their lifestyle. Then reach an agreement with the pharmacy department manager as to when you are able to volunteer (Wednesday 5pm-9pm, Friday 12pm-4pm, Sunday 10am-2pm., etc.).
8. Once you commit to a time shift (ie. Wednesday 5pm-9pm) you must be there for that time shift. You can not volunteer the first few times, then start with the excuses why you can’t be there (my kid has baseball practice, my mother needs to go to the doctor, my boss wants me to work, etc.) Because this may result in having you work only three times in an eight week period.
If you choose a time, and agree to it with the pharmacy manager, then you must commit to this shift. Because if you don’t, you may be dropped.
9. Don’t expect to be performing glamorous jobs for the first few months when you volunteer. You will not be preparing IVs or working with the latest technology. Instead, you will probably be doing grunt work. Or as I describe it, the necessary things that have to be done that no one wants to do.
In my pharmacy department, it was the job of the volunteer to search through all the drugs and remove the outdated ones from the shelves. The volunteer was assigned several shelves of medication. They would then examine each medication’s package for the expiration date. Anything with a three month or less expiration date was removed and placed in a box. Anything with an expiration date longer than three months— remained on the shelf.
The drugs in the box were eventually examined by a pharmacy employee. If it was felt that the medication could be used before its expiration date, it was placed back on the shelf. If not, it was removed and reordered from the wholesaler.
10. Eventually, as you continue to volunteer, you will get to know the pharmacy staff and they’ll get to know you. They will learn that you are taking classes in order to become a pharmacy technician. Thus, you’ll go on break with the pharmacy staff. You’ll go make medication deliveries with them. And you might even be invited into the IV room to observe.
11. One day in the future (and I can’t promise you when) there will be an opening for a pharmacy technician. It may be day shift, evening shift, or night shift. It may be full-time, part-time, or per diem.
Open positions tend to wreak havoc with the pharmacy for the following reasons: a) The pharmacy manager wants to fill an open position as quickly as possible for fear of losing the position, and b) It takes about three months to advertise, interview, and hire a person before they even walk through the door. Thus for this three month period, the pharmacy is working short staffed.
12. At this point, if you are a reliable, hard-working, well-liked volunteer who has made inroads with the pharmacy staff, several pharmacy staff members may go to bat for you. They will approach the pharmacy director and suggest that you be hired for the open position.
This will greatly please the director because a) it will significantly reduce the three month period that is needed to bring a new hire on board, b) the volunteer/new hire will already be familiar with the pharmacy operations and procedures, and c) the pharmacy staff has recommended the volunteer/new hire. This is a major plus when hiring new staff members. Most pharmacy managers want their staff to like the people that are hired.
13. But even if a pharmacy technician position does not open up in the pharmacy, there is another possibility. One day the pharmacy director may approach you (the volunteer) and tell you about a position in a colleague’s hospital pharmacy department. The pharmacy director may recommend that you send his colleague your resume. The pharmacy director may also help set up an interview with his colleague and may even provide a reference
I’m certain that most volunteers would be receptive to this type of job assistance.
In closing I can’t stress the importance of volunteering in order to get a pharmacy technician position in a hospital pharmacy. It should be remembered that: 1) It is possible to get a job in a hospital pharmacy. But it’s easier if you volunteer, and 2) By definition, the purpose of volunteering is to (hopefully) get a pharmacy technician job in a hospital pharmacy. It is not to make money. I tell my students to work other jobs (in addition to volunteering) in order to make money.
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.