PHARMACY

Retailers search for pharmacy technicians

BY Barrie Dawson

Tom Maez, divisional vice president of pharmacy workforce management and staff procurement company Rx Relief, knows the supply of new pharmacy technicians has not kept up with demand — and he understands why.

“When we started coming out of the recession in 2011, pharmacy technician orders led the way,” said Maez, whose staffing firm is based in Fresno, Calif. “That was what signaled to us, ‘Hey, something’s changing.’”

Several reasons why pharmacy technicians are in short supply exists. Maez said the typical pharmacy tech training program runs 6-to-9 months and, at a public university, can cost $8,000. Not only are students not earning any income while in school and incurring debt, they typically will earn roughly $15-to-$18 an hour, or only about $40,000 annually, after certification. For someone who is a family’s primary breadwinner, $40,000 does not go very far.

“The number of people going into those training schools is decreasing, and the number of seats available to train technicians has decreased,” Maez said. “That’s contributed to a shortage of pharmacy technicians in retail and hospital, and just about every other setting they work in.”

Maez also cited the 2015 closure of Corinthian Colleges as being another factor in the pharmacy technician shortage. CCI was a huge network of colleges in the United States and Canada that offered degree and certificate training in many occupations. However, the college went out of business after being assessed $30 million in Department of Education fines for misrepresentation.

From his experience, Maez knows of no colleges that offer both PharmD and pharmacy technician programs, and there is no on-the-job bridge from being a pharmacy technician to becoming a pharmacist. Those who earn PharmD degrees usually need at least six years to complete the program.

During the mid-1990s, pharmacy technicians were plentiful, but pharmacists were not, Maez said. He has seen the number of California schools offering PharmD programs more than quadruple since he graduated in 1985. Is that kind of renaissance on the horizon for pharmacy technicians?

“Techs can be working with some very sophisticated processes for making chemotherapy drugs, making IV medications, and doing nutritional support medications,” Maez said. “Those require a very high skill set, and when you come out of a tech training program, you’re not ready to handle any of those high-end duties. Those technicians are starting to make $25 to $30 an hour now, and they’re in demand.”

If the demand remains strong despite the higher wage, becoming a pharmacy technician should become more attractive. That, in turn, should create a need for more sophisticated training.

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