By Michael Boivin, BSc.Phm.
Photography by Patrick Gilbert
Whether you own one store or a chain of pharmacies, staffing is likely to be your largest expense, but also one of the major drivers of patients to your pharmacy.
Rick Brown, president at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions and director of operations of a chain of independent pharmacies in Northern Ontario, works diligently to ensure his staffing is optimal and balances the need for high productivity with excellent customer service.
“Staffing is a work in progress,” he says. “Many owners will set a staffing schedule and never adjust it. Staffing is your most valuable resource, and like other resources I am constantly adjusting it to meet the needs of my staff and my patients.”
Although Rick has a base number of employees for a set prescription volume, he ensures he has enough staff in the pharmacy when he truly needs them. He uses his prescription volume report, but he relies heavily on the hourly prescription report to really dive into the data. “Overall prescription counts are not necessarily a true reflection of how busy your store really is. Sometimes you can do all of your volume at one point of the day, so you need to staff accordingly.”
Hiring and training the right people can lead to huge dividends. “At our pharmacies we train all frontshop staff members to help in the dispensary,” Rick says. “By having staff who can work in a variety of areas, we can rely on them to help when the pharmacy becomes busy or when there is staff illness or vacations. This flexibility provides us with many more options to deal with both planned and unplanned issues.”
Rick is just as rigorous in ensuring he picks the right candidates for his team. “No matter if the hire is a part-time student or a full-time dispensary staff member, you need to find the right person for every interaction with your patients. A poor employee can impact both your short and long-term business through any negative interaction.”
He recommends that owners check at least two references when hiring. “We invest a tremendous amount of time before we hire any employee. It is not about finding a body, but about finding that stellar person who can help to grow our business.”
When he has narrowed the search to two candidates, he pays for them to work a two- to four-hour shift with a senior staff member to see if they’ll be a good fit.
Although Rick trains certain staff members to handle specialized services such as blister packaging, he also has backup people who can step in if required.
He encourages pharmacist owners to listen and have open discussions with staff. “Our staff are generally flexible with the hours they work, but we are flexible as well. Work is only one aspect of our employees’ life,” he says. “We work with them to accommodate family commitments and come up with a compromise that meets our needs and theirs as well.”
Rick has one recommendation for all owners: work in your stores regularly. “It is easy for an owner of multiple pharmacies to make staffing decisions based strictly on numbers. It is not until you work some shifts in the store that you can truly see where you need more, or potentially fewer, staffing hours.”
Rick Brown’s top staffing tips:
- Run your prescription volume and prescription per hour reports daily. Look for patterns and try to adjust quickly.
- Hire the right people. The person must have a positive attitude and enthusiasm level.
- Emphasize there are no set hours. Staff must be flexible.
- Look for ways to help improve your efficiency. “When we are busy we have our patients cash out their prescriptions at the front cash. This allows us to fully use our frontshop staff and not have to hire another person for those times when we are busy.”
- If you buy a pharmacy, do not make any changes for three to six months. Take the time to evaluate staffing levels and adjust accordingly.