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8/21/2000

Pharmacists Weigh in on Technician Workforce Issues

Cheryl A. Thompson

Pharmacy technicians in hospitals tend to receive higher wages than counterparts in community pharmacies, even though the primary task in both settings is to helping to dispense medications.

Recent surveys of pharmacists and certified pharmacy technicians provide long-overdue updates on the characteristics of this part of pharmacy's work force. 

From an informal sampling of pharmacists, 600 of whom returned their questionnaires, Drug Topics determined that community pharmacies, but not hospital pharmacies, tend to give technicians a pay raise when they pass the exam given by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). Certified pharmacy technicians in hospitals still earned more, however. 

PTCB Executive Director Melissa M. Murer said that some employers link the pay raise to more complex tasks for the technician—and not solely to passing the national exam. 

A 1998–99 task analysis by PTCB found that helping to dispense outpatient prescriptions or inpatient medications is the main job of technicians regardless of setting. In this survey of a scientifically valid sample of certified pharmacy technicians, those working in home health, long-term care, managed care, and mail-service facilities accounted for 19 percent of the 281 respondents. This group of technicians tended to focus less on dispensing than their community and hospital counterparts. 

The effect of a national shortage of pharmacists on pharmacy technicians is not readily apparent from the data on wages. "Chain drugstores are really pushing to hire technicians," said Lorna G. Woods, CPhT, dispensing pharmacy technician at Evans U.S. Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson, Colo. Woods, who chairs the ASHP Pharmacy Technician Advisory Group, said that chain drugstores have been aggressively recruiting certified pharmacy technicians, offering $5 an hour more than the typical wage at independent drugstores and competing directly with hospitals. 

Pharmacy technicians, said Woods, fall into two groups: "professionals," who want to take on the challenge of new tasks, and "nonprofessionals" who consider their current work to be just a job to hold until a better-paying one comes along. Pharmacy technicians in the first category are not glorified clerks, she said, since a lot of knowledge is needed to "protect the safety of the public." Murer said PTCB wants to gather data on such technicians. 

The survey of pharmacists appeared in parts in the Nov. 15 issue of Drug Topics and the November and December issues of Hospital Pharmacist Report. PTCB's task analysis was published in the November-December issue of the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association