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Why hiring is pharmacy’s biggest problem and what to do about it

You are the average of the 5 people you hang around with most. But what does that mean for a pharmacy dispensary if people are too hard to come by?

We have a few problems in the mix right now. 

Pharmacy is a tough, grinding job. Minimum wage continues to grow, putting all local entry-level jobs on the same scale. A pandemic conditioned society to work from home or in hybrid models. Society expects to be paid top dollar with social media job titles, right away.

Building a perimeter, a sustainable, durable, high-performing support staff around the pharmacist has always been a challenge, but the future feels more negatively compounded. We can solve this complex problem three ways:

First, automate the hiring process. We need to have a higher volume pool to swim in. How much time and energy does the pharmacy decision-maker spend on the daunting hiring cycle? After doing countless interviews over the past decade I have realized that many steps from posting an ad, gathering and reviewing resumes, scheduling meetings, interviewing and analyzing are all quite repetitive. As a result, I have systemized these to prevent reinventing it over and over again. I now use a pre-screening questionnaire that I email out to candidates you submit resumes. This saves me the time-consuming, awkward and procrastination-prone task of cold-calling with crossed fingers. That one-pager tells me a ton about their response time and their personality by seeing font, tone, grammar and word choice. I now also use a one-page template of questions that have been fine-tuned to guide me during the interview. It keeps the interview concise and thorough at the same time. Finally, I now use a 2-min, 1-page “quiz” of one-liners that I ask Pharmacy Assistants to grade themselves on from 1 to 5, helping me assess exactly where they would fit into the current skill mix today. They circle the values that represent them before leaving the interview. It also keeps people honest where they cannot “cheat the interview’ with white lies. I now pull out this interview kit each time the process starts, saving me abundant time and energy as an automated process for recruiting. 

Second, hire outside of pharmacy. The pool is tiny on the inside and if you are waiting for a pharmacy expert with years of experience who speaks your language and knows your software, you’ll be retiring before finding them. Use your established and automated hiring philosophy to develop a pipeline of candidates. Based this on finding great personalities instead of experienced pharmacy workers. Explore ways of capturing local community members who want to work, who will stick around for a long time, who appreciate what they have and find joy in being part of the community around the pharmacy. With time, your pharmacy can also become known as friendly to people are have recently moved to the area.

This might mean staffing a dispensary via the front shop, building skills like attention-to-detail, communication, service, empathy, systems-learning and confidentiality.

It could mean a relationship with your local employment office to help you screen resumes and capture funding they have available. 

Perhaps it means applying for summer student grants, pharmacy school preceptorships or high-school co-op programs to take advantage of motivated people and the subsidies they come with. 

Finally, design your systems to offload entry-level work. Your pharmacy systems design will need to have entry-level components like Rx pick-up, sending and receiving orders, answering phones and emails, inventory management and blister pack prep to be able to bridge the entry-level with the experienced. Make sure these tasks are simple and avoidant of redundancies and one-offs. They are the building blocks for the more complex dispensary teachables like Rx filling and billing, blister pack changes, batching and support during your clinical service offerings. The core team will need to be able to flexibly teach on the fly and be compensated to do it. This is a repeating, frustrating, error-prone phase, yet you cannot have omelettes without raising chickens. 

Finding pharmacy greats will only get harder. Pharmacists’ clinical demands and expectations will only deepen. We need to be constantly working at maintaining our strong perimeter of people around us. Our results are the average of them. To do this, develop an automated hiring system, hire outside of pharmacy and build entry-level task systems. Or don’t, and be left without a perimeter, alone and exposed. If you liked this article, keep the fire burning.


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