The #PizzaIsNotWorking: It’s Time to Rethink Pay for Pharmacy Technicians

Drug Topics Journal, Drug Topics November 2021, Volume 165, Issue 11

This occasional “reward” hardly makes up for the belligerent customers, insurance issues, and—yes—stressed-out pharmacists.

Editors note: In our November issue of Drug Topics, we neglected to credit Bled Marchall Tanoe, PharmD, as the creator of the #PizzaIsNotWorking hashtag. We sincerely apologize for this oversight.

Authors note: We pharmacists are frequently overlooked with our efforts in providing excellent patient care. I would also want to make sure that the efforts of Bled Marchall Tanoe, PharmD—the creator of #PizzaIsNotWorking—gets all credit due for her leadership in promoting the profession of pharmacists and their technicians. Our profession needs more pharmacists like Bled to direct the causes of our profession.
—P. Kreckel

As a kid, growing up, my mom always baked bread, usually on Mondays. The smell wafted through the house as we enjoyed her handiwork fresh out of the oven.

The only way we could be more excited was when she took the leftover dough and made us pizza with Velveeta cheese and pepperoni. We had pizza at home, long before the first pizza shop opened in our town in the late 1960s. One of my clerks—an Italian woman—had another view of pizza.

Antonia hated pizza because it reminded her of her childhood in the 1930s. Antonia said that when they had pizza at her house, it meant things were bad. Her mom would roll out the leftover bread dough and top it with tomatoes and leftover cheese, or maybe some pepperoni, salami, or soppressata—anything she could scrounge up in the refrigerator. Not a good day at Antonia’s home when pizza was served.

Somewhere between my childhood and adulthood, pizza became not only a treat but also a reward. Little League teams had a pizza party if they won a big game. Kids who won fundraising competitions at their schools had a pizza party. Cub Scouts celebrated a successful Pinewood Derby with a pizza. Even an occasional drug sales rep might drop o. a box of pizza to his pharmacies for hustling his vaccines.

So, what’s a 100% German guy doing writing about pizza?

All over social media, we are seeing the hashtag #PizzaIsNotWorking, created by Bled Marchall Tanoe, PharmD, an Oklahoma pharmacist. It’s a catchphrase to show that pharmacy staff is not motivated by an occasional pizza. At one time in my career, pharmacy technicians were just a step up from a clerk. Most pharmacy techs did the mundane jobs: counting pills or filling out the occasional third-party triplicate claim form. After a couple months of training, a pharmacy tech in the early 1980s was fully trained and capable.

In the 40 years since I kicked o. my career, the pharmacy technician profession has changed—possibly even more than the pharmacist profession. Today, technicians may do the data entry for the pharmacist, as well as the preparation of the prescription. Today, the pharmacy technician might do everything from receiving the prescription (either on paper or electronically) to bagging the completed prescription.

The pharmacist needs to be onsite to do the verification, but other tasks fall on the technicians. Today, it takes at least a year of intensive training to create a proficient technician.

For all these tasks and duties assigned to technicians, their pay has in no way kept up with their workload. Pharmacy technicians, especially in retail, have the most stressful job in the service industry. I’ve seen local convenience stores offering salaries $3 to $5 more than our techs are offered to operate a cash register, make sandwiches, and stock shelves—with significantly less stress and significantly more pay. Is it any wonder that our community pharmacy techs are leaving in droves?

Handing them a pizza once a year on Pharmacy Technician Day hardly makes up for the belligerent customers, insurance issues, and—yes—stressed-out pharmacists.

There is not one topic I have addressed more often than staffing issues in the pharmacy. I’ve been called a staffing guru by a hospital pharmacist who read my comments as he was researching how to staff his hospital’s outpatient pharmacy. I’ve always said that the difference between a good day on the bench and a miserable day is the quality and quantity of staffing.

The big chains have made massive amounts of money with vaccinations. They got almost $40 for each COVID-19 shot given, along with all the other vaccines we administer. All this money has been made on the backs of the pharmacist and their technicians. The chains need to give at least a $5 per hour increase to everyone in their pharmacies. The money is there—we’ll be glad to order our own pizzas.

Peter A. Kreckel, RPh, practices community pharmacy in Altoona, Pennsylvania.