The role of the pharmacy technician has evolved over the past 45 years—but pay hasn’t caught up
Back in 1979, I was in desperate need of intern hours. The pharmacies in my town had no room for an intern, so I headed off to Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, about 8 miles from home, where my dad worked at the paper mill. One of the boys my dad grew up with owned an independent drug store; Louie Rinovato had operated this pharmacy for over 20 years and took me on as an intern. The store was open from 9 am to 9 pm. Louie and his associate both worked 8-hour shifts, overlapping from 1 pm to 5 pm.
They had 3 shifts for clerks (as they were called back then). Audrey worked mornings from 9 am to 1 pm, Margie worked afternoons from 1 pm to 5 pm, and Betty worked from 5 pm to 9 pm. They had most of their responsibilities in the front of the store and helped in the pharmacy when necessary. They differed from today’s technicians in terms of their reason for working.
Audrie, Margie, and Betty took those jobs—which paid just a bit over minimum wage—because they wanted something to do. Their kids were grown; Audrey’s husband worked in the lab, Margie’s husband was a machinist, and Betty’s husband was a foreman. They were happy to make a few bucks, and interact with customers. And they were very capable on their Sweda cash registers, long before the days of computerization.
Today’s pharmacy employees are entirely different. Pharmacy technicians need excellent computer and people skills. Many of them are certified and provide assistance in the pharmacy. The pharmacy technician role is its own profession, with continuing education requirements. These are not the pharmacy employees of 40 years ago; many of them work to earn the income to pay for rent, utility bills, and make car payments.
I always say that the difference between a good and a bad day is not based solely on prescription volume. The difference depends on the quality and quantity of your technician help. If you have enough highly trained technicians working on a busy day, time flies and the day can be enjoyable, as the tech can “take the heat” off the pharmacist. Conversely, any day you see a pharmacist answering unscreened phone calls, counting pills, or typing nonstop is a bad day—a failure. It is a failure of upper-level management, district managers, and leaders all the way up to the top of the chain.
Drug Topics® published an excellent article in December 2022 on pharmacist and pharmacy technician job and salary satisfaction.1 I was impressed to see that over 70% of pharmacy technicians are making more than $30 an hour. In the world of community pharmacy, this number seems to be quite high; I feel, though, that it was reasonable based on their level of responsibility and skill. If not appropriately remunerated, technicians will walk and take their skill set elsewhere.
When technicians walk, pharmacists are usually right behind them. We pharmacists cannot possibly do our jobs without the help of skilled and experienced pharmacy technicians. The major chains are closing stores for an evening or weekend due to “lack of staffing.”2 They are short on staff because they are not willing to pay employees what they’re worth. The salary of Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer is $8.13 million plus stock awards, totaling $28.33 million a year.3 Karen Lynch, CEO of CVS, receives $1.4 million in salary plus stock awards and other compensation totaling $20.38 million,4 which seems low compared to Larry Merlo’s 2019 salary of $36.5 million.5
When I see $50 million sign-on bonuses for CEOs even as technicians are being paid $10 an hour, I have no difficulty in understanding why staff are so willing to look for greener pastures. To Roz and Karen—and to the other retail chain CEOs—a lot has changed over the past couple of decades. Pharmacy employees aren’t just working to fill the time; they’re working to support the financial health of their families. These highly paid CEOs need to take one for the team, reducing their own salaries and keeping stores open in Grantsville, Uniontown, Altoona, and beyond by paying technicians adequately. Audrey, Margie, and Betty are no longer available.
1. Biscaldi L. 2022 pharmacy salary survey. Drug Topics®. December 14, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.drugtopics.com/view/2022-pharmacy-salary-survey
2. Valinsky J. CVS and Walmart cut pharmacy hours, close some locations earlier, citing staffing shortage. CNN Business. January 27, 2023. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/27/business/cvs-walmart-pharmacy-hours/index.html
3. Taylor H, Wells N. Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer was the highest paid female CEO in 2021, according to a new report. CNBC Make It. April 18, 2022. Updated April 21, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/18/walgreens-ceo-roz-brewer-was-highest-paid-female-ceo-in-2021-new-equilar-report.html
4. Emerson J. CVS Health CEO pulls in high-ranking payer salary. Becker’s Payer Issues. Updated April 26, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.beckerspayer.com/payer/cvs-health-ceo-pulls-in-high-ranking-payer-salary.html
5. Reuters Staff. Brief: CVS Health CEO’s 2019 total compensation was $36.5 million. Reuters. April 3, 2020. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/article/brief-cvs-health-ceos-2019-total-compens/brief-cvs-health-ceos-2019-total-compensation-was-36-5-million-idUSFWN2BR1E4