The future hospital pharmacy technician

As pharmacists step into more roles, pharmacy technicians are also widening their professional strides, experts told Becker's

Julie Lanza, director of training and education for pharmacy technicians at Beth Israel Lahey Health, said when her career began in the '90s, "being a pharmacy technician was a job; it was not a career path."

Formerly the pharmacy technician manager for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, she started her new role for the 13-hospital, Cambridge, Mass.-based system in September. During her career, she's seen pharmacy techs go from delivery workers and cashiers to executives.

In the last few years, change has ramped up as pharmacy techs were "thrust into roles that they had never prepared before or had never thought that they'd be doing" because of COVID-19, she said. Although they're doing more, "the market hasn't kept up," according to Ms. Lanza.

Money, money, money

The median hourly pay for pharmacy technicians is $17.66, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

"I don't really believe a couple dollars above minimum wage suffices for what you're asking them to do," Ms. Lanza said. 

Pay depends on location: In California, pharmacy technicians are paid the most compared to other states with an average hourly wage of $24.04. West Virginia has the lowest national average with $15.49, and to its east, pharmacy technicians make about $3 more per hour in Maryland.

Salary variations can also be whether a hospital is in a rural, urban or suburban community; a standalone or part of a system; public or private; and it depends on each hospital's budget.

Ms. Lanza said the industry needs to start paying pharmacy technicians for the jobs they do, not the licenses they do or do not carry. 

What they do, where they work

The Bureau describes the job as those who "help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals'' — but that seems to be an outdated description. 

Pharmacy techs work in about 21 different jobs, Ms. Lanza said, including automation, supply chain, controlled substances, regulatory and compliance, sterile products, hazardous drug management, medication therapy management and 340B. 

In a survey of 20,500 pharmacy technicians — which involved 3,786 employed at hospitals — 46 percent of hospital pharmacy techs had a higher education degree, according to data conducted by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board in May 2022. 

"We aren't uneducated," Ms. Lanza said on this data point. 

More pharmacy techs reported their employers offering bonuses for earning certification than maintaining or recertifying them, and William Schimmel, executive director and CEO of PTCB, said this may be because most health systems embed certifications into application requirements. 

Peter Barber, PharmD, pharmacy director of NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst in Queens, recently told Becker's this trend has backfired on hiring enough pharmacy staff. 

"Trying to recruit both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can be a challenge, particularly for hospitals," Dr. Barber said. "Now, there's a New York state law requiring [public] hospitals to have licensed technicians do certain functionalities. It's very difficult to recruit technicians because they now need a license, and getting someone from the retail area, they may not have a license. That has presented a challenge."

Most pharmacy techs work in retail pharmacies; 9 percent of them work in hospitals in the U.S. 

Retain or recruit?

As the market feels a strain in hiring enough pharmacy techs, Mr. Schimmel and Ms. Lanza agreed that hospitals should work to retain rather than recruit. 

Mr. Schimmel said it's a "win-win-win" when pharmacy technicians stay: It's better for the employee, employer and, ultimately, patient care, he said. 

Want to keep your pharmacy technicians? Mr. Schimmel has five tips:

1. Advocate for pharmacy technicians doing more from a regulatory stance. "Techs have shown they can do these things but there are so many states where there are so many restrictions on what technicians can do," he said.

2. Help pharmacy technicians become members of their state health and pharmacist societies so they can self-advocate. 

3. Expand training by paying their tuition. "Put it in the budget," Mr. Schimmel said.

4. Work with human resources to update pharmacy technician job descriptions. 

5. Conduct market analyses to achieve fair pay. 

What's next for pharmacy technicians

Despite efforts to boost this profession, 17 percent of the surveyed pharmacy techs said they did not see their work as a long-term career. Twenty percent said they were unsure, and 62 percent said they did. 

The road to healthcare viewing pharmacy technicians as a career may be long, but the bricks are already being paved. 

"The most exciting thing about becoming a pharmacy technician in 2023 is you can literally do anything you want," Ms. Lanza said. "Changing the perception of what a pharmacy technician does, can do and will do in the future is going to be key to everything."

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