Written by 12:52 pm Pharmacy Operations, Pharmacy Stories

Pharmacy Tales: Tips for the Floating Pharmacist

In the retail pharmacy world, a “floating” pharmacist is one who typically doesn’t have their own regular store to work in every day.  They cover multiple pharmacies, depending on the day of the week, filling in here and there according to the whim and pleasure of whomever controls their schedule.  Though I have almost always had my own store, being pharmacy manager for 3 different companies, I have also done my fair share of floating to help cover vacations or other staffing struggles.

I could share a lot of stories from my “floating” experiences.  For example, I remember when…

It was a snowy day and I wished I hadn’t said yes.  But I did say yes.  I said I would do it.  So there I was driving through the snow to cover a shift at a pharmacy I knew pretty well.  I was ready.  I had my coffee.  I had my phone.  I left with plenty of time to get there early enough.  I arrived safely, in spite of the snow.  Sloshing through the sloppy parking lot I entered the store flicking the flakes from off my coat and stomping them off my shoes.  Just 10 more hours to go and this shift would be over.

I made my way to the back of the facility where the lock box clung to the wall inside the manager’s office.  There it was.  There it always was.  The lock box held the keys to the pharmacy.  You had to know the combination in order to open the box.  Only the pharmacists had the combination to this box.  I knew it.  Or so I thought.

The assistant store managers sat in the office chatting and laughing…hard at work as usual.  I punched in the code.  Then slid open the…oh no.  The code didn’t work.   The box stood there; unmoving, unyielding.  I think I heard it laugh.

No problem.  I probably just entered it wrong.  I took out the little slip of paper on which I had written the code.  Once again, this time more slowly, I punched in the combination.  4-2-7-3.  Once again, it didn’t work.

That little voice of panic started to secretly taunt me inside my mind:  “What are you going to do?  You can’t open the pharmacy.  You have the wrong code.  You idiot, why didn’t you call the pharmacy yesterday like you planned and make sure the code had not changed since 3 months ago when you worked here!”

I sent a text message to the pharmacy manager, whom I knew pretty well.  No answer.  5 minutes went by.  10 minutes.  I asked the assistant store managers if they would be able to find the phone number for one of the other pharmacists who worked that store.  One of them tried, but apparently looking up a phone number was not something they had training on yet.  He couldn’t find it in the system.  They went back to laughing and chatting.

Just when I started once again to give myself the “you idiot” speech in my mind…my phone rang.  It was the pharmacy manager.  I answered.  “Hey Jason,” he said, “I just remembered that I forgot to tell you that we changed the code on the box yesterday…”  I wrote down the code.  The rest of the day, surprisingly, went quite well.



This little incident is one of MANY I’ve encountered while floating to a different store for the day.  I have dealt with problems I could have prevented.  I have also dealt with problems I could never have seen coming.  But over the years I have developed certain practices which I highly recommend if you are a floating pharmacist.

My advice for you if you have just taken a job and will be “floating” for a while is:

1)  Have at least 2 contacts whom you can call in case of an emergency.  What if your car breaks down on the way to the store?  Yep, it has happened to me.  What if the codes you were given don’t work?  What if the staff doesn’t show up?  There are so many variables that it is wise to have at least 2 contacts you can reach out to if necessary.  CONFIRM before your shift that these 2 individuals will be reachable if you need them.

2)  Know all the important store details and don’t leave home without them.  Ensure you have the correct codes by calling the day before your shift to confirm they are correct with the pharmacist on duty.  Depending on the chain you work for, you may have a different process for obtaining access to the pharmacy.  Whatever the steps are…be sure to take them so that you have the most current access info needed to open and/or close the pharmacy.  Because I have 4 different state licenses, I would often be called to travel to another state and cover a shift.  As such, I have made it a habit to always have certain information before I go.  Also, I have worked for small chains and franchise pharmacies, in which case having other stores that you know you can reach out to is critical. 

Here are the details that I like to have handy on a 3×5 card:

  • Full store address, phone and FAX
  • Phone number for FRONT store (if different)
  • Pharmacy DEA# & NPI#
  • Location of important items (keys, alarm, narc safe/drawer, register keys, etc.)
  • Name(s) of whom I will be working with (techs, cashiers, other pharmacists)
  • Two contacts with mobile phone numbers in case of emergencies
  • One contact at a different store who will be working that day

3)  Find out, before your shift, if anything “extra” is going to be expected of you that day.  For example, is the store having an inventory that day?  Do the narcotics have to be counted that day?  Is there some extra project that needs to be done?  Have they just hired a brand new tech who needs training?  Calling ahead and finding out about these expectations beforehand will save you a lot of grief.

4)  Carry a notebook and document whom you worked with that day and anything unusual that may occur.  A “floater” is often an easy target to blame when things go wrong.  Protect yourself by documenting any issues that occur.  Did you arrive to a total mess?  Document it.  Did your staff come late?  Document it.  Did someone call out sick?  Document it. 

5)  Does your floating shift include staying overnight somewhere?  If so, get advice from the local pharmacist on the best place to stay.  I have booked reservations at a motel that was the “closest” on the map to the store I was going to…only to discover that they probably sold rooms by the hour and did not have a very good night’s sleep.

6)  Do something extra.  Can you bring in donuts for the staff?  Treat them to lunch?  Maybe clean or organize something in the pharmacy while you are there?  The floating pharmacist is notorious for being a lazy bottom feeder.   Break that image. 

7)  Be flexible and work WITH your help, not against them.  Some floating pharmacists make working with them a nightmare.  Yes, it is your license that is on the line.  But you will learn that there are more than one way to do some things.  Personally I try to have a quick chat with the opening staff when I arrive at a new store.  I tell them I’ll do everything I can to try and make the day go smoothly.  I remind them that my main concern is patient safety.  I’ll tell them that it is unlikely that I can move as quickly and efficiently as the pharmacist who works that store every day, but that I’ll do my best to keep up and appreciate their help. 

8)  Leave a friendly note.  After your shift is done, try to leave a note for the next pharmacist.  Explain any “situations” that may need to be addressed.  If possible, compliment the staff in the note for their help (compliments are rare these days – be generous).  By the way, a note is NOT the place to complain or accuse anyone.  Be professional and polite.  If an issue arose during the day that requires a more serious conversation, do so by phone as soon as possible. 

Floating between stores can be a rewarding and educating experience.  You may discover that even within the same pharmacy chain, teams operate very differently from store to store.  That experience will likely prepare you for running your own store some day.

©Jason Poquette and The Honest Apothecary.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jason Poquette and The Honest Apothecary with appropriate and specific links to the original content.



Last modified: April 17, 2023