How to Hire Pharmacy Technicians: The Posting

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Have you seen job postings for a pharmacy technician/assistant? Despite pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants having different qualifications, role expectations, scope of practice and supervision requirements, hiring managers continue to recruit this way. Not only does it negatively impact the integrity of the pharmacy technician profession but it may be the reason why employers’ attempts to recruit pharmacy technicians are unsuccessful.

Attracting Qualified Candidates

As a hiring manager myself, I know it’s not always easy to attract the right candidates for a position. The starting place for any recruitment strategy is drafting a detailed job description and posting. The more accurate and specific the job description is (title included), the more likely you’re going to attract qualified and interested candidates. Every time I need to hire a new employee, even if I just want to add more of the same position, I review and refine the job posting to match the type of employee I’m looking for and the current recruiting environment. If I need a pharmacy technician with sterile compounding experience, I’m going to include that in the posting. If I’m willing to help a provisional pharmacy technician complete their structured practical training, then I adjust the required experience and registration status accordingly. This not only targets your search but helps potential candidates know if the available job is a good fit for them. I don’t know about you, but I would never consider applying to work for an employer who is recruiting a pharmacy technician/assistant. My first thought when I see this is that the hiring manager does not know the difference between pharmacy technician and pharmacy assistant roles.

Supervision Requirements

In Alberta, and most of Canada, pharmacy technicians are regulated healthcare professionals. This means that pharmacy technicians must complete accredited diploma programs as well as successfully pass national entry-to-practice and provincial jurisprudence exams. Unregulated pharmacy employees, including pharmacy assistants, do not have to meet any of these requirements. They don’t even have to be formally trained. You may ask, how is this allowable in a profession that is tasked with meeting the public’s health needs related to medications and disease management? It’s permitted by supervision provisions in regulations and standards of practice. Pharmacy assistants must be directly supervised by a pharmacy professional (pharmacy technician or pharmacist). This means that the supervising pharmacy professional must observe the work of the unregulated employee and be able to promptly stop the actions of the individual if needed. Ultimately, the pharmacy professional is accountable for the pharmacy assistant’s work. Pharmacy technicians may practice independently provided there are policies and procedures in place and a pharmacist is available for the pharmacy technician to consult with. More information about supervision requirements is available on the Alberta College of Pharmacy’s website.

When unregulated pharmacy employees are utilized it must be done within clearly defined limits to ensure the quality of pharmacy services and the safety of patients. When adding a pharmacy assistant to the team, licensees and managers must not only have the policies and procedures in place to comply with standards of practice but also consider how, and by whom, direct supervision will be provided. The way in which supervision is organized and delivered should be appropriate for the task, role and setting.

Appropriate Tasks for Pharmacy Assistants

In my experience, pharmacy technician and pharmacy assistant recruitment practices can reflect how well pharmacy teams comply with standards of practice. It is important that we don’t misrepresent the qualifications of a non-regulated employee to be that of a healthcare professional. There are tasks that fall within the pharmacy technician’s scope of practice that pharmacy assistants should not complete even if direct supervision can be provided. When it comes to patient care, most activities require professional judgement and for the pharmacy professional to enter into a relationship with the patient. These tasks are more appropriately performed by pharmacy technicians and pharmacists. There are other tasks that pharmacy assistants are not authorized by legislation to complete. You can find more information about appropriate roles for pharmacy assistants here: Pharmacy Assistant Roles – PTSA. It is important to understand that every decision about what activities a pharmacy assistant will be allowed to perform should be preceded by a risk assessment. The level of the risk assessment should be determined by the nature of the task; some will need to be formal and written, others may need on-the-spot professional judgement.

Staffing Mix

Staffing mix often plays a role in task assignment and how supervision is applied. There is no definitive evidence to suggest the ideal ratio of pharmacy assistants to pharmacy technicians to pharmacists. Ratios of unregulated employees to pharmacy professionals are not part of the Canadian practice framework. Other countries, such as the United States address ratios of pharmacists to pharmacy technicians. In the U.S., pharmacy technicians may be certified but are not licensed health professionals.  Ratios vary from 1:2 to 1:6 with 1:3 being the most predominant ratio in states that require it. When addressing the issue of staffing mix, the challenge is finding the balance between providing the pharmacy professional with assistance while not overpowering the pharmacy professional with too many unregulated employees to supervise.

When it’s Hard to Hire

As the pharmacy practice environment continues to grow in complexity there remains a place for pharmacy assistants in our profession. The shortage of pharmacy technicians can make it even more challenging to hire qualified candidates. There are about 1500 licensed community pharmacies plus more than 100 hospital pharmacies in Alberta and only 1700 pharmacy technicians. This makes it even more important to have a clear understanding of roles and expectations along with an effective recruitment strategy. I’ve been there too – unable to hire a pharmacy technician despite trying. Like many other managers, I resorted to hiring a pharmacy assistant. Before I did, I reviewed our pharmacy’s services and workflows to determine if it would make sense. I evaluated those workflows against the practice framework and identified how the other pharmacy technicians on the team could provide direct supervision to a pharmacy assistant but still get their own work done. Because a pharmacy assistant was a new addition to the team a new job description and updated procedure documents were needed. In addition to that, I had to create a detailed training and evaluation plan for the role and new employee. Only then was I ready to create a job posting for a pharmacy assistant that aligned with the new role expectations.

Despite being able to modify work temporarily utilizing a pharmacy assistant, I knew I still needed another pharmacy technician on the team. I kept a separate job posting for a pharmacy technician active and was eventually able to hire a qualified candidate. A pharmacy technician/assistant job posting was never an option! While some of the tasks that the pharmacy assistant would be expected to perform were the same as those that a pharmacy technician would complete, there were still too many differences.

How do you feel about pharmacy technician/assistant job postings? Do you have other tips for how to recruit pharmacy technicians? Share them in the comments below.


About the author: Since receiving her pharmacy technician diploma in 1998, Teresa Hennessey has practiced in front-line and leadership roles in both community and hospital pharmacies. Teresa is dedicated to helping pharmacy technician practice evolve and will share her ideas and opinions on this topic with whomever will listen.

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