Within pharmacy, workforce strategy this past year has focused on pharmacy technician recruiting and retention. In the coming year, the impact will broaden as the labor market pressure on health systems continues to grow and will also include pharmacists and pharmacy leaders. Those who act creatively, decisively, and quickly in 2023 will experience significant challenges and opportunities.
The low-wage healthcare labor (e.g., pharmacy technicians, medical assistants, nursing assistants, home care aids) shortage projections are nothing short of dire. Mercer predicts that by 2026 we will be short 3.2 million low-wage healthcare workers who provide essential services to patients. Pharmacy technicians have struggled in the same three areas for decades, confirmed again by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) survey data in 2022: low wages, lack of career opportunities and high workload. Making the market even more competitive, large retailers increased pharmacy technician wages significantly. For example, Walmart increased pharmacy tech wages twice in 2022 while also implementing scheduled pay increases to directly compete with many health systems’ recruitment and retention strategies.
To recruit and retain pharmacy technicians in the coming years, system leaders will need a multi-faceted approach, including:
1) Leveraging technology, automation, process improvement, centralization, and system integration as aggressively as possible to reduce pharmacy technician labor demand;
2) Advocating for regular re-assessment of pharmacy technician compensation structures and career ladders to remain competitive;
3) Growing the pipeline of new pharmacy technicians through the creation of apprentice or technician training programs where the health system pays the trainee a living wage;
4) Aligning as a profession on the entry level requirements for health system technicians, including requirements for registration, licensure, and certification to demand higher entry level wages; and
5) Deploying innovative engagement strategies and redesigning roles and responsibilities to improve job satisfaction and workforce flexibility.
The stress of serving as a front-line clinician is not limited to physicians and nurses. Burnout among pharmacists was high prior to the pandemic and only intensified as pharmacists were expected to take on new roles, work with less, and juggle at-home demands with high levels of stress at work. That stress has led to many pharmacists leaving health systems and looking for opportunities outside of direct patient care. It also has caused many remaining front-line clinicians to question the leadership and administration they felt were responsible for creating the conditions they endured. Health system leaders should consider the following suggestions:
1) Empower pharmacists with transparency about the organization’s pressures and create structures for them to openly contribute to solutions;
2) Engage in frequent leadership rounding, listening and acting on the feedback received;
3) Re-design care models to include more flexibility with work from home and shared roles;
4) Plan to invest in development and growth strategies for the new clinicians that onboarded during the pandemic as the time, energy and effort provided was likely inadequate for a successful orientation to the department’s roles and culture; and
5) Create organization-sponsored programs to build community and a safe place for mental health support.
While some pharmacists may have questioned their leadership – many leaders questioned how much longer they wanted to remain in leadership roles. Often trapped between high demands and low resources, many leaders who could retire, did, and many of those who had considered leaving leadership for other roles, also did. Pharmacists, seeing what was expected of them and their leaders, are staying in individual contributor roles despite the many pharmacy leadership positions open across the country.
Almost every client Visante encounters has needs for pharmacy leadership. The solution, however, is not going to be new graduates, as that pool of talent is shrinking rapidly and generationally. Also, we have observed that many recent graduates demonstrate significant reservations about being accountable for others success and accepting formal leadership positions.
Health system pharmacy leaders should:
1) Prioritize succession planning to prepare for inevitable turnover and to show intentionality in leadership development;
2) Engage in strategic planning. Leaders have been forced to be reactive for more than two years and time to refocus out of the day to day to achieve alignment on priorities will reinvigorate them;
3) Determine what you are going to stop doing. Adding additional priorities without identifying what will be removed will contribute to more burnout. Support leaders in identifying and communicating what is being re-prioritized;
4) Grow the leadership pipeline by partnering with pharmacy schools or internal internship programs, and demonstrate the rewards of a career in pharmacy leadership for student pharmacists; and
5) Leverage the current pressures to show senior health system executives the value of investing in pharmacy and how placing pharmacy leaders in the right siutation within the organization can generate improvements in patient care, quality, service and value.
High pressure can turn coal into diamonds or to dust, depending on how skillfully that pressure is managed. Health systems that create a compelling workforce strategy will propel themselves out of the vicious cycle of open positions that lead to burnout, leading to turnover, leading to leadership turnover, and then leading to more open positions. Bold leaders will be able to take advantage of the opportunities created by other vacancies on the health care team and fundamentally increase the level of influence pharmacy has within their organization. Pharmacy leaders would be wise to focus on workforce and invest strategically in this area.
Visante’s team supports organizations in their strategic plans and efforts to build a high-performing pharmacy enterprise. We help recruit pharmacy leaders and support their development over time. We can also help support service delivery short and long-term, freeing up resources and giving you flexibility. Contact us to learn more at email@example.com or call 866-388-7583.