5 leaders' strategies to hire, retain pharmacy workers

With Walgreens offering bonuses up to $75,000 and pharmacists anonymously citing staffing shortages as a factor in pharmacy incidents, health system pharmacy leaders have faced struggles with recruiting enough workers — especially pharmacy technicians. 

Here's what five pharmacy executives told Becker's were their solutions for mitigating the pharmacy worker shortage:

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Melissa Goff, PharmD. Vice President of Outpatient Pharmacy of Avera Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.): Recruiting enough pharmacy technicians to support our pharmacy operations has always been a challenge, especially in a market which consistently has a low unemployment rate. At Avera, we have worked to address this shortage by developing an internal pharmacy technician training program where we can assist individuals with completing their required certification while they receive on the job training. We have also implemented sign-on and referral bonuses for pharmacy technicians as well as increased the starting pay range in the last couple years, which has helped with recruitment and retention. 

Bina Patel, PharmD. Associate Vice President of Acute Care Pharmacy Services at HonorHealth (Scottsdale, Ariz.): Like many health systems across the country, we have experienced staffing challenges for both pharmacists and technicians, but our biggest challenge has been with the qualified trained technician shortage. Our pharmacist residency programs have allowed us to continue to have a great pipeline for pharmacists.

We've taken steps to retain and recruit pharmacy technicians by standardizing our recruiting plan, reconnecting with pharmacy technician schools, creating a technician-leveling program and offering an in-house training program. It was also important that we address creating a pipeline for new talent for pharmacy technicians. We collaborated with Scottsdale Community College to start a new pharmacy technician training program. The program is designed with a more hands-on approach to learning skills. One of our pharmacy supervisors helped develop the training program and is also serving as an instructor. HonorHealth will prioritize placing interns at all of our medical centers.

Chad Hatfield, PharmD. Chief Pharmacy Officer of UC Davis Health: In terms of recruitment, we have begun a new program where we have partnered with technician training programs in the area to allow their students to train with us during their training program. Each program has a practical portion to their training and we provide them with this training. This allows us to recruit from these students as well as our normal channels. Secondarily, the pharmacy department has worked heavily on programs that focus on mental health, work-life balance and workloads that have helped with the constant demand on our technicians. 

Sandy Salverson, PharmD. Vice President of Pharmacy Operations of OSF HealthCare (Peoria, Ill.): Like many healthcare providers, OSF HealthCare finds it difficult to recruit and retain pharmacy technicians across all pharmacy settings: hospital/health system, home infusion pharmacy and community (retail) pharmacy. Pharmacy technicians require technical skills and training to provide safe and effective care for patients. As we experience challenges in finding good candidates, the profession of pharmacy is also raising the bar on training and licensure expectations. In Illinois, regulations are changing to require graduation from an accredited pharmacy technician training program by Jan. 1, 2024.  

To address the challenges in recruitment and retention, OSF HealthCare has offered sign-on bonuses and is hiring at the minimum licensure qualifications. OSF HealthCare then offers on-the-job training to facilitate the appropriate certification. To retain our pharmacy technicians, OSF HealthCare is also exploring the implementation of a career ladder to recognize and reward the progression of gained skills and competency. By 2024, OSF is also exploring partnerships with accredited pharmacy technician training programs and offering this opportunity to individuals who have not yet committed to pharmacy technician licensure, as a way to explore the career.

Suzanne Shea, PharmD. Vice President of Pharmacy and Clinical Nutrition of Sharp HealthCare (San Diego): At our Sharp pharmacies, we have experienced severe staffing issues during COVID-19 surges. Surprisingly, this summer was very hard. We are fortunate to have an in-house Sharp Resource Network where we hire pharmacy personnel who want to work. These are runners, techs and pharmacists. We also have expanded our pharmacist resident program (nine pharmacists) at three hospitals. We have strong relationships with area colleges of pharmacy where we hire graduates when possible. We are not offering sign-on bonuses at this time.

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