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Pharmacy technician shortages are well documented1,2. These shortages, combined with growth in pharmacy services and a need for specialized training, has created a situation in which the demand for pharmacy technicians outweighs the supply of qualified candidates. There is only so much that traditional recruitment and sourcing activities can accomplish in the absence of a candidate pool.
Pharmacy technician training programs present a unique opportunity for health systems to change this landscape. More and more organizations are choosing to invest in technician training programs to ensure a highly skilled and sustainable pharmacy technician workforce. Here, I share some of my own lessons learned for those looking to develop such a program.
Data, Data, Data
Pharmacy organizations have made calls for standardized pharmacy technician education and training, and the importance of a formal training program3,4. Unfortunately, these calls to action don’t necessarily translate the need into a business case. Data will help accomplish this. You might consider collecting the following metrics to justify the need for an in-house program:
- Vacancy rate (inclusive of turnover both to external organizations and within the organization)
- Average time-to-fill a pharmacy technician vacancy
- Average time-to-train an external pharmacy technician hire
- Overtime expense due to vacancies and training
As with most business plans, creating strategic partnerships outside the pharmacy will go a long way in the development, implementation, and long-term success of a pharmacy technician training program.
Get to know your finance or business partner. This is someone who can provide support in the early stages of business planning and ensure the financial justification for your case is sound. He/she may also be in a unique position to advocate for your proposal to decision makers in finance.
You will also find yourself working closely with your Human Resources or Talent Acquisition team. This team has a vested interest in the success of your program, as it is a strategic pipeline for candidates. At one point, approximately 30% of pharmacy technicians working in our central inpatient pharmacy had graduated from our in-house pharmacy technician training program. The HR team should be supporting program recruitment through referrals, social media posts, inclusion at career fairs, and community connections.
Does your health system have an office for community engagement? This team may have connections with community organizations that specialize in job readiness and training. Additionally, your state workforce development board is another source of recruitment and workplace readiness tools. For example, our local board provides referrals to the program, tuition assistance, and candidate screening through baseline math and reading exams.
Program Design Considerations
Will you develop program curriculum in-house or utilize an external vendor for content?
The answer to this question ultimately comes down to expertise and bandwidth. In the education and training world, there are whole degree programs dedicated to instructional design. Recognizing that your team may not possess the knowledge, skill, or ability to design and maintain your program’s curriculum, you might consider outsourcing to a content vendor. A vendor may also provide an online learning platform for students, reporting capability, support for accreditation surveys in the form of a standards crosswalk, and regular curriculum updates based on changing standards (e.g., in USP 795, 797, and 800). Of course, outsourcing to an educational vendor comes at a cost, so you may choose instead to seek out program staff with formal skills or experience in curriculum design.
Will you seek program accreditation?
If so, become familiar with the ASHP/ACPE accreditation standards early in the planning stages. The standards cover more than just educational objectives and include structural requirements such as a strategic plan and advisory committee.
Will you deliver content on-site, virtually, or both?
Almost 80% of pharmacy technicians surveyed indicated that their preferred method of learning new information is experiential training5. A program that chooses to administer content through an online learning platform may want to ensure that there are elements of in-person simulation and experiential training. Of course, on-site training requires space and equipment. Consider flexing existing pharmacy spaces and taking advantage of outdated or “test” equipment to conduct learning activities.
Who will manage your program?
Depending on the design, format, and size of your program, you may need dedicated program staff to manage the day-to-day. An instructor, program coordinator, or supervisor can provide student support, conduct recruitment activities, and oversee accreditation. Consider a job description that emphasizes instructional experience or a degree in teaching, alongside the desired pharmacy experience.
How will you measure program performance?
Determine what metrics you will use to track program success, make informed decisions about program changes, or justify additional resources in the future. Some of the metrics we track and have found useful are:
- Acceptance rate
- Enrollment rate
- External vs current health-system employees
- Dismissal/Drop-out rate
- Graduation rate
- National certification exam pass rate
- Hire rate (within and outside the organization)
- Training time (compared to non-program graduate hires)
- Turnover (compared to non-program graduate employees)
Not in a position to develop your own health system-based pharmacy technician training program? Consider the following strategies in the meantime:
- Become an experiential rotation site for a local program. As is the case for APPE students in pharmacy school, rotations are a great way for pharmacy departments to connect and build relationships with future candidates for job openings.
- Partner with a community or technical college. Consider a joint venture in which the college provides the instruction, and the hospital provides simulation space and experiential rotation sites/oversight.
- Begin collecting data today that will support a future proposal. As discussed above, data is a powerful tool for demonstrating the need to senior leadership and stakeholders.
Developing and leading our pharmacy technician training program over the past 6+ years has been one of the most rewarding opportunities of my career. It’s a labor of love that pays off in the form of an engaged pharmacy technician workforce, career opportunities for our community, and high-quality patient care.
- P Twenter. Pharmacy's most pressing issue: a technician shortage. Becker’s Hospital Review, 27 October 2022, https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/pharmacy/the-next-pharmacy-issue-a-technician-shortage.html.
- Hospitals and Health Systems Experiencing Severe Shortage of Pharmacy Technicians. Press Release. ASHP, 15 March 2022, https://www.ashp.org/news/2022/03/15/hospitals-and-health-systems-experiencing-severe-shortage-of-pharmacy-technicians.
- HR Manasse, TE Menighan. Single standard for education, training, and certification of pharmacy technicians. AJHP, Volume 67, Issue 5, 1 March 2010, Pages 348–349, https://doi.org/10.2146/ajhp100018.
- New Year, New Requirements: PTCB Launches New Certification Requirements and Updated Exam. PTCB, 14 January 2020, https://www.ptcb.org/news/new-year-new-requirements-ptcb-launches-new-certification-requirements-and-updated-exam.
- ER Stanley, et al. Assessment of pharmacy technician learning preferences and implications for training. AJHP, Volume 78, Issue Supplement_1, 1 March 2021, Pages S16–S25, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajhp/zxaa362.