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How familiar does this phrase sound to you: “I’m just a pharmacy technician.” This is a phrase I have found myself saying multiple times over the course of my 20 years in the pharmacy profession. In addition, this is a phrase that many well-intended colleagues of mine have stated when asking me about my experience. While this seemingly innocuous phrase does not hold any negative connotation at face value, I believe that this phrase is one of the many reasons we have not been able to foster sustainable growth in the pharmacy technician profession.
When examining actionable steps, we can take to improve retention of the critical pharmacy technician workforce, it is all too easy to focus on the highly visible targets that need to be addressed: inadequate compensation, inflexible scheduling, and lack of career progression. What is often not addressed, however, is the lack of professional identity that we instill into these vital team members. What does it mean to be a pharmacy technician? What value do you, as a pharmacy technician, bring to the team? Where do you see your career growing in the next 5-10 years? These are questions we must ask, foster, and cultivate in our incoming (and experienced) pharmacy technicians if we hope to retain them as satisfied members of the health care team.
Here are 4 actionable steps you can take, as leaders or colleagues, to help foster professional identity in burgeoning pharmacy technicians:
- Call your fellow pharmacy technicians “colleagues” – The Respect Method
It is well known that how we perceive an individual’s worth is often displayed in the language we use to describe them as a person or what role they have professionally. Using the phrase ‘just’ a pharmacy technician demeans the role that individual has, in addition to devaluing their identity as a person. The most powerful, and quickest, change you can make as a pharmacist, leader, or fellow technician is recognizing the critical value that these team members provide by labeling them as “pharmacy colleagues.” The first time this was stated to me by a high-level pharmacist leader in my current organization, I was almost taken aback by surprise. The sincerity this individual had when calling me their colleague spoke volumes to how they perceived me as a fellow team member and human being. I felt respected and valued in this simple acknowledgment and it went a long way to developing a strong professional relationship with this leader. We must ensure that every technician feels this way.
- Develop a formal pharmacy technician education and training program – The Education Method
Professional identity is often initially developed in the formative education and training programming completed by pharmacy students, as well as other health care professions. Unfortunately, the reality of our training environments for incoming pharmacy technicians often do not include intentional programming or conversations about being a pharmacy technician as part of a larger profession. The focus is solely on training pharmacy technicians to fulfill the role they have been hired into and/or assigned. The development of a formal education and training program for technicians can help bridge this gap to assist pharmacy technicians in developing this critical professional identity.
- Create a structure for pharmacy technician preceptors in your organization – The Training Method
Possibly the most powerful addition we made to our team in my organization was to instill the concept of precepting into our education and training programming for technicians. Through the utilization of the ASHP/ACPE-accreditation standards for pharmacy technician programs, we were able to create a structure for the identification, utilization, and development of pharmacy technician preceptors within our department. A culture of academia was subsequently brought to our pharmacy technician team and the conversation shifted from “Hi, my name is Matt and I’ll be your trainer today” to “Hi, my name is Professor Rewald and I’m your preceptor throughout your time learning central pharmacy operations. Let’s discuss how we can work together to make this a successful journey into the pharmacy technician team.” The best news is that organizations can leverage the education, training, and structures many have in place for residency precepting and simply tailor it to the pharmacy technician audience. Formal accredited programs are recommended, but also not required – this can be instilled into any training regimen, schedule, or program.
- Check-in…..frequently – The Check Method
As leaders, we are typically instructed to perform 90-day reviews and yearly appraisals of all pharmacy technicians. But what about the time in between? Are we engaging in meaningful dialogue regarding the future direction of our team members ambitions, challenges, and career goals? Or is it merely a box we need to check to ensure compliance? These are serious questions we must examine.
To conclude, I would like to state something emphatically. This is a statement of proclamation that I truly believe from the bottom of my heart after having been in this field for 20 years and having gone through all the ups and downs of being in this profession. From being devalued, passed over, and told I’m not qualified, to being mentored, strengthened, awarded, and recognized. A statement that reads like this:
“I am a pharmacy technician. I provide immeasurable value to the patients in whom we serve. I find value and purpose in the work that I accomplish. I am a leader, educator, trainer, advocate, and colleague for other individuals in our profession. I am a health care professional. My name is Matt and once again, I am a pharmacy technician.”
Do your colleagues feel the same way?