To provide high quality and safe care, healthcare organizations have to be able to recruit and retain the necessary personnel but current market conditions are making it increasingly difficult to both attract and retain top talent. With escalating pressure to reduce cost, improve patient access, improve clinical outcomes, improve safety and meet expanding regulatory compliance requirements the healthcare industry faces some unique challenges when it comes to workforce management. For 2022 pharmacy workforce issues will be a major challenge-driven largely by these 5 key factors:
Work-related stress and burnout are always a concern for all workers, but healthcare workers are facing elevated challenges in this area. The pandemic on top of normal work-related challenges has significantly increased work-related stress and accelerated burnout rates for healthcare workers and pharmacists are no exception to these issues. Mounting evidence supports the realization that pharmacists are experiencing substantial work-related burnout and stress. Recent survey results demonstrate that 61.2% of pharmacists report experiencing a high level of burnout in practice, and this is one of the highest rates among healthcare professionals. This rate is higher than that found in surgeons, oncologists, and emergency-medicine practitioners. But the reality is that burnout doesn’t only affect pharmacists, it also affects technicians and leads to increases in turnover rates, which can hurt overall patient care. Recent studies showed that the average turnover rate in hospitals across the country was 18.2 percent and we are seeing some pharmacy rates (particularly with techs) in the 20-30% range.
2. Increased demand
The pandemic has fueled increased demand for pharmacists and has contributed to numerous regional shortage situations. With the publicly accepted recognition that the pharmacy profession is receiving nationally as “frontline essential workers” during the current pandemic, plus expansion of a pharmacist’s responsibilities and job duties, the current demand for pharmacists is significant. Couple that with an aging population requiring more prescriptions and with new telehealth roles for pharmacists and the need for pharmacists in many areas of the country becomes critical in 2022. Additionally, this demand also extends to pharmacy technicians and in many areas of the country, the demand for techs is even greater than pharmacists.
3. Candidate-driven job market
Thanks to increasing demand and workforce shortages, in many areas of the country the pharmacy job market has transitioned into a candidate-driven market. This means higher competition to identify, attract, and onboard top talent for 2022. For many pharmacy jobs, there is no longer a talent pool out there to select from. The pool has shrunk to a talent puddle. Organizations would be well advised to increase retention efforts for staff in 2022 and to work on creating a solid reputation as a strong employer to enhance their ability to attract and retain the high-quality, skilled pharmacy staff needed.
4. Workforce mobility
In years past, it was not uncommon for workers to remain with the same employer for extended periods but this is no longer the norm. Workers today are much more open to changing jobs if a better opportunity is available. People are looking for ways to build/enhance skills and move up the career ladder, and they’re willing to switch employers if necessary. Employees are also looking for better work-life balance and the pandemic has created numerous new opportunities for “work at home” or remote options. As hospitals work to attract and retain talent employee mobility and flexibility must be considered.
5. The growing skills and compensation gap for techs
It is well past time that the vital role that Pharmacy Technicians play in the medication use process is recognized and compensated appropriately. No matter the practice site (retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, infusion pharmacy, mail order pharmacy, etc.) the technician workforce is the backbone of any successful pharmacy operation. Yet, despite the importance of the work, invariably we see pharmacy technicians as the lowest-paid healthcare tech workforce across the country. If $15/hour is the new goal for a “minimum wage” nationally, having highly skilled pharmacy technicians essentially close to or below minimum wage is not a viable long-term strategy. We are now seeing pharmacy technician turnover rates and vacancies at unsustainable rates around the country with many organizations experiencing 20-30% turnover and associated technician vacancies with little hope of filling the vacancies. As a result, much higher cost pharmacist labor is being diverted into technician duties and away from a higher return on investment elements, as the work still has to be done.
High-performance pharmacy operations can and should be a significant contributor to addressing hospital challenges but to be effective pharmacy operations need to have the right skill mixes and numbers of personnel available to deliver needed services. A focus on recruitment and retention of pharmacy personnel for 2022 is a sound strategy.