Being a retail pharmacy technician is a challenging endeavor.
Why? There are many reasons, which we’ll describe here.
We recently were contacted by someone about to go into their first job as a retail pharmacy technician.
“I am currently a pharmacy tech student and I believe I may be hired into a CVS Pharmacy soon. I’m pretty nervous about it at the moment because I haven’t had much experience besides the 5 months of pharmacy tech school I’ve had. What could I expect while working retail? Do you have any tips to help ease my nerves?”
Here’s our expert’s response.
It’s all about the customer
Firstly, the consumer lacks a level of control and the circumstances frequently elevate emotionally.
Secondly, drugs are expensive, dangerous if taken incorrectly, and addictive. People who come to the pharmacy arrive with illnesses, addictions, and chronic disease states.
Third, many consumers don’t have a clear picture of their prescription benefits.
So, this combination can create an unhappy customer right off the bat. A good retail pharmacy technician displays finesse, and manages difficult customers and situations with maturity and efficiency.
The retail pharmacy technician job is a difficult job to learn. A topnotch performance in school or on an exam doesn’t render a new tech job-ready.
It appears to be absolute chaos to the onlooker. It takes 6 months or more for most people to learn the process.
Here are some tips to make it easier:
Study names and codes
- Study the drug names. In the large chains, they are alphabetized by generic name. Prescriptions will be written by brand name, followed by generic name. Hospitals will generally use the chemical name.
- Know your sig codes and if you don’t understand something, ASK. It’s quicker than a redo.
- Learn how to handle insurance issues.
Don’t gloss over the legal stuff
Then, there are legal issues. When you hold a license/certification, it’s your responsibility to know the law. For example:
- It’s NEVER okay to tweak the rules.
- Respect what you do at all times, even if your environment isn’t perfect.
- Now you are on the other side of HIPAA. NEVER talk about a patient.
You’re judged on speed AND accuracy
Speed is critical in retail pharmacy. You are timed on everything — answering the phone, going to the drive-thru, counting the pills, filling the prescriptions. It’s not just minutes, it’s also seconds.
Accuracy is also critical in retail pharmacy.
Both speed and accuracy can be achieved with teamwork. A great pharmacy is a great team.
Here are tips on mastering speed and accuracy:
- Accurate and aware techs equal accurate pharmacists.
- The large chain pharmacies have top-of-the-line software, which help to ensure accuracy and efficiency. As you learn to navigate the software, keep reading the prompts on the screens. Your mastery will come more readily.
- Procedural protocols are in place to yield the highest degree of accuracy. Please follow them every time.
- During busy times, you often feel understaffed and therefore unsafe. Count on each other.
- Do your best to stay calm, focused, and realistic.
Tips on filling prescriptions
Then, there’s prescription filling.
Here’s what filling prescriptions is like…
When you are at the drop-off station (where prescriptions are filled), you are required to fill the prescriptions while the patient waits in front of you.
So while you are engaging with the customer, you are adding insurance information, inputting prescriptions, and resolving rejections.
Then the labels go to the tech in the counting area. Even though techs are at a specific station, they back up other techs. There are no uninterrupted tasks. (Get used to it, you hyper-focused folks!)
Every tech needs a rescue — be a team player.
It’s not just filling prescriptions. Inventory looms large in the pharmacy: management, ordering, returns, and recalls. There are endless calls to and from doctors, patients, and insurance companies.
As a retail pharmacy technician, everything is time sensitive.
Make it your business to learn everything. It’s often easier for the pharmacy manager to let a new tech linger in one place. Be your own advocate, and strive to learn other areas.
The survivors will forge ahead, and others will find a different path. Which group will you be in?
Ellen Schaefer is a CPhT, RMA, CPT and PTCB item writing specialist.
Was one of 50 writers chosen from a pool of nearly 500 applicants to prepare questions for the National Certification exam for pharmacy technicians. Further, of those 50, fourteen were chosen to finalize the exams at a conference in Washington, D.C.