Find ‘em, hire ‘em, keep ‘em: 6 tips for recruiting and retaining top pharmacy talent


Michael D. Brown, PharmBS

Vice President
Managed Services
Innovative Delivery Solutions
Cardinal Health

As the nation's largest (non-government) employer of hospital pharmacists, Cardinal Health has implemented and constantly fine tunes proven strategies for hiring and retaining the most talented pharmacists. In this article, I'll share with you some of what we've learned.

Maintaining a strong pharmacy staff is crucial to managing a profitable inpatient pharmacy. The key is thinking ahead. You don't want to start from scratch every time a pharmacist is promoted or moves to another pharmacy. Hiring is something you control, unlike reimbursement rates or the cost of medications. So it's important a hospital's pharmacy hiring, development and retention strategy needs to be a priority.

We believe that pharmacies need to be seen as strategic assets within their hospitals. When you see rising penalties associated with 30-day readmissions, for example, the benefits of a well-run pharmacy become quite apparent. Hospitals need to hire the best talent to strengthen the pharmacy staff's relationship with the clinical care team and help pharmacy staff collaborate with physicians to drive medication use best practices, and define the most efficacious and cost-effective medication therapies.

Top-notch professionals -- especially pharmacists but pharmacy technicians and support staff as well - are what make a hospital pharmacy a robust member of the clinical care team. Here are six key tips to keep in mind:

1. Hire for the right role:

First, you want to hire the most talented, dedicated pharmacists who are right for the role in your hospital. This requires thorough and selective recruiting practices, catering to both experienced hires and new graduates. Create well-defined job descriptions to clarify responsibility, relocation or travel requirements, and the potential for future job growth within your work environment.

Hiring recent graduates should begin prior to graduation. Use school programs, student leadership in societies and on-campus support for pharmacy programs to help students become familiar with your organization. It will motivate graduates to seek employment from you upon graduation. This also will enable your student recruiting staff to recognize top talent and encourage them to work for your hospital.

Follow an equally rigorous practice when hiring pharmacists already in the workforce. Experienced hires may expect a higher starting salary, but they bring real-world experience that is often worth the expense. They offer your hospital knowledge and familiarity with patient care, regulations and partnering with physician and clinical care teams. By using an internal pharmacist recruiting team, you can often find great experienced candidates who are perfect for the role you need to fill.

2. Leverage your internal recruiting team:

The primary tool to ensure you are getting the most talented pharmacy staff is to cultivate an internal pharmacy recruiting team. This team will use resources that are exclusive to your organization to find pharmacy talent, versus using external tools like recruiting firms, placement agencies or temporary hiring firms. Internal pharmacy recruiters need to know your organization and your needs intimately. They have your best interest at heart and are meticulous in understanding job descriptions (quantitative and qualitative elements), evaluating candidates, and identifying the appropriate background experience.

3. Don't overlook orientation and training:

When new hires arrive, make sure you orient them well and give them the resources to answer their questions or concerns. Onboarding must include management training for developing solid pharmacy leadership. A pharmacist who has the appropriate tools and training will see opportunities to contribute to the business and seek to grow his or her career accordingly.

4. Set clear, measurable goals and monitor progress with consistent performance reviews:

Consistent and ongoing performance reviews, with management-by-objective goals for leadership, create a dialogue for ongoing improvement. Even the best employees want to improve. Focus on both personal and professional advancement. Pharmacists feel valued and work toward success when leadership provides career advancement opportunities, such as special projects and job options. Recognizing a candidate's potential for management, manager-in-training, or entry level pharmacy staff, as or other roles can help you set the right goals and stabilize staffing and leadership over the long-term. Through these steps, you can anticipate downside risk and support talent for their benefit and the organization's.

5. Provide resources and continuing education:

New hires aren't the only ones who need resources to develop. So do seasoned pharmacists. They need continual updating on back office resources to stay focused on what's important to your hospital. Your hospital pharmacy needs to constantly emphasize key topics, such as patient care, regulations, hospital staff collaboration, and reducing readmissions. You priorities won't be prioritized if you don't let your staff know what they are.

Continuing education is critical, too. Encourage participation in professional societies, the publishing of articles and studies, and becoming a subject matter expert. Support networking with other pharmacists, and receiving accreditation through the ASHP. This will empowers your team to raise the bar on performance within your pharmacy system.

6. Understand that each hospital and each position can offer unique benefits to potential candidates:

Recognize that your organization is unique and identify what works best. Different-sized hospitals have varying demands and offer different benefits to prospective candidates. Two examples.

  • A small rural hospital may offer a slower work pace but expect a star candidate to make only a 2-3 year commitment. The pharmacist will face multiple challenges and opportunities simultaneously. After the 2-3 years, when the pharmacist is be ready to move on, plan to have a new candidate ready to fill that vacant roll.
  • A large metropolitan hospital system -- with multiple hospitals of assorted sizes -- can offer a longer range career path. A pharmacist will have more options but advance in smaller steps. A pharmacist could move to a larger facility but in a lateral position. You'll have multiple candidates working towards the same opportunities. Use the tools we discussed and maintain open communication. That will ensure a fluid transition within your Inpatient pharmacy structure.

The techniques mentioned here will help you find and retain talented pharmacy leadership no matter what type of role you have available. By recognizing the needs of your organization and understanding the dreams and goals of current and prospective pharmacy talent, a hospital pharmacy can run its business with less frustration, less employee turnover and deliver better, higher quality, more coordinated care.