In 1989 Steven Covey published his now famous “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It quickly became a best seller and remains one of the all time most influential business and self-development titles on the market. I have read it myself and highly recommend it. As the title implies, there are certain habits, certain characteristic ways of thinking and doing things, that effective people tend to develop. While his book applies widely to people of different careers and lifestyles, it got me thinking about the habits of effective people that I work closely to, namely pharmacy technicians.
I’ve worked in retail pharmacies for more than 20 years. During that time I have had the privilege of working with some outstanding pharmacy technicians. I’ve also worked with some duds. But most have been good. Some have been great. And what I have learned over the years is that there are several key characteristics or habits that the great pharmacy technicians have in common. I thought it might be helpful to share some of them with my readers here at The Honest Apothecary.
By the way, although I think becoming a certified pharmacy technician is a GREAT goal for virtually every technician, I don’t believe certification alone makes someone more effective. I do, however, recommend it. Read “Becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician” for more information on that. But this article is more about the professional habits and personalities that, in my opinion, make for excellence and effectiveness in a retail pharmacy technician. This article is also a tribute and thanks to the many fantastic pharmacy technicians who truly help deliver extraordinary care to patients every day.
Feel free to add your own insights and opinions in the comment boxes below! I would love to hear from other pharmacy technicians and pharmacists about their perspective on this topic.
HABIT #1: The Team Habit
Great pharmacy technicians are team players. In a busy retail pharmacy there is a work-flow that requires individuals to often wear multiple hats (drop off window, drive through window, inputting, filling, managing rejections, phone calls, pick up, etc.). In such an atmosphere, the ability to see areas of need and jump in is essential. Great techs are team players. They have what I like to refer to as “global awareness.” They see the big picture. Some techs (and some pharmacists too) are afflicted with a sort of “tunnel vision” in which they can’t see anything but the item right in front of them. They don’t see the waiting patient at the window or counter. They don’t hear the phone ringing. They are stuck in their corner and that is all they will do.
Great pharmacy techs help build success in others. They aren’t threatened by teaching others to do things, and realize that helping others learn helps the team. This team habit shows in their great work ethic. When they are in the pharmacy they are there to work, help out, get stuff done. They are mindful of the importance of efficiency. They aren’t lazy. They show up on time. They help the team and aren’t always criticizing everyone else behind their back. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important factors in the making of an effective tech.
HABIT #2: The Knowledge Habit
Great pharmacy technicians are committed to learning. This encompasses every aspect of running the pharmacy operation. A few examples of areas of knowledge that great techs tend to accumulate include:
Health Plan Knowledge – Knowing how to input various health plans, split-billing, workman’s comp, Medicare, discount card, manufacturer coupons is no small job. Effective pharmacy techs need to be masters of insurance plan transmissions to excel. Yes folks, it is more than counting pills.
Drug Knowledge – Great pharmacy techs know the various strengths that drugs come in, the names of drugs (brand vs. generic), the dosage forms (tablets, capsules, suspensions, ointments, etc.). They also know a lot about OTC drugs like where they are located, dosage forms available, etc.
Software Knowledge – Ultimately our effectiveness and efficiency depends a lot on knowing how to use all the computer resources and software. The best pharmacy techs I’ve worked with are committed to fully understanding how to run the Rx and POS software their store uses. For those unfamiliar with this industry, I assure you this is no small feat. Claims processing in pharmacy isn’t easy. There is billing and re-billing and split-billing. There is filling and re-filling and partial filling. There are, it would seem, an almost infinite number of reasons a claim will reject and each requires certain steps, codes and overrides to manage..
I include in this “knowledge” habit the fact that effective pharmacy technicians, in my opinion, know when a pharmacist needs to get involved. Drug recommendations and counseling on medication is typically best directed to the pharmacist on duty. But this is tricky. Often the patient starts by just wanting to know where something is…and then begins asking more clinical questions about dosing, safety and efficacy. Experienced technicians recognize this shift and carefully direct such questions to the appropriate person.
HABIT #3: The Communication Habit
The best techs I have worked with have learned the art and skill involved in communicating BOTH with patients and with their co-workers. As far as patients go, effective technicians are able to talk in “normal people” language. They recognize that certain terms and lingo that we frequently use among ourselves in the pharmacy are virtually meaningless to the average patient. Saying things like “Sorry, that script needs a P.A.” typically means nothing to most customers. Effective technicians put such phrases into words that are easy to understand. They’ll say “Mrs. Jones, your insurance company needs to get a special approval from your doctor for that medicine. We’ll call you when it is all set.” They are winsome, recognizing that grumpy attitudes typically just make communication that much harder.
And effective technicians communicate well with their co-workers. For example, if a prescription has some problem, an effective technician will leave a clear note or otherwise effectively communicate the situation to others. Effective technicians are usually polite in speaking with others, they don’t have to yell. They can leave “personal” issues aside and handle things professionally with co-workers, even if there may be some tension in their relationship with them.
HABIT #4: The Adaptability Habit
Great technicians find a way to adapt themselves to the various working preferences of each pharmacist. If you haven’t worked much in a pharmacy, you may not be aware that all pharmacists are not all created equal. Every pharmacist has his or her own little peculiar ways of doing things. Some are more peculiar than others! Even within the somewhat rigid and structured workflow of many large retail pharmacies, there will be room for variations depending on what a particular pharmacist is comfortable with. And for all you techs out there that have to endure the sometimes absurd preferences of some pharmacists…well…all I can say is thank you.
Effective pharmacy techs are mindful of these things and can adapt because they know that this will help keep things moving smoothly and efficiently. I’ve seen some techs get very angry about this. Any little change from what they are used to and things fall apart. But the ability to adapt to different working styles is a key to the success of truly effective pharmacy technicians in my opinion.
P.S. As a pharmacist I’ve always tried to adapt MYSELF to the workflow of the store I’m in that day (when I floated). But I know that isn’t always the case.
HABIT #5: The Accuracy Habit
There are no perfect pharmacists and there are no perfect technicians. Mistakes can happen, and it is why most pharmacies have multiple checks built into their dispensing process. But accuracy does matter, and effective technicians care about this. The best technicians I’ve worked with are keenly aware of how important accurate instructions and drug selection is. They take it seriously. They understand that a mistake in the pharmacy may have terrible consequences, and so they don’t guess or simply hope that someone else will fix their mistakes.
Accuracy involves taking enough time to do things right. They are concerned about details (there is a difference between an “mg” and an “ml” for example). Prescription instructions should make sense, and they will take the time to clarify orders that don’t.
HABIT #6: The Focus Habit
Things can get crazy in a pharmacy. Effective pharmacy technicians manage to stay calm under pressure. They remain focused. They keep their heads about them. They develop the habit of doing what needs to get done, remaining sharp and organized, and don’t allow the long lines to get them flustered. Retail pharmacy can be quite unpredictable. And depending on the area of the country you work in, weather issues can make it even harder.
Effective pharmacy technicians stay focused through the storm. There may be long lines, phones ringing, insurance issues and software glitches…but they don’t let this impact the quality of their work. They stay in the zone. They don’t take out the pressure they are feeling on their patients or co-workers. An effective pharmacy technician recognizes distractions. They don’t chat for 10 minutes with a drug rep or store manager in the midst of a rush. They see what needs to get done, and they do it.
HABIT #7: Pharmacist Awareness
The final habit of effective technicians I simply call “pharmacist awareness.” I don’t know what else to call it. But by this I mean that the effective pharmacy technician is mindful of the workload on the pharmacist and helps him/her stay on track. There are parts of the prescription filling and patient counseling process that only the pharmacist can do. If the pharmacist gets trapped ringing a register or scanning in prescriptions or taking refill numbers from Mrs. Smith…the workflow comes to a grinding halt.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to do just about everything that needs to get done inside the pharmacy. But when prescriptions get backed way up it is valuable to have a technician who sees what it going on and jumps in to help you get back to what needs to get done.
These then are what I call the 7 Habits of Effective Pharmacy Technicians. I guess my next article will have to focus on the habits of the effective pharmacist. Maybe I should ask one of my great pharmacy technician friends to write that one?
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