Updated: Apr 25
Pharmacy technicians can work in a multitude of different settings and one of the most versatile is the inpatient setting. Inpatient pharmacy technicians work in hospitals and mainly serve patients who are admitted to the hospital. Job responsibilities of the inpatient pharmacy technician can look much different than those given to retail pharmacy technicians.
Just like retail pharmacy technicians, inpatient pharmacy technicians have a main goal of assisting the pharmacist. One of the largest differences is who you will interact with during your workday. While in the retail setting, your “customers” are your patients – those coming into the pharmacy to receive their medications that have been prescribed to them by their physician. However, in the inpatient setting, pharmacy technicians rarely have the opportunity to work directly with patients. Instead, your “customers” are the hospital nurses, doctors, and other departments of the hospital.
Inpatient pharmacies generally consist of much more staff than a retail pharmacy setting. Most times there are several pharmacists and technicians working together, so it is important that the pharmacy technician works well with a group and be able to communicate effectively. Communication skills are of the utmost importance in such a setting so that important details related to patients and their medications are correctly distributed to the right person.
It is important to note that inpatient hospital pharmacy technicians are serving patients who are admitted to the hospital, and some may be staying in the hospital for care for a prolonged period of time.
For this reason, most inpatient pharmacies are open 24/7, 365 days a year. There are critical access hospitals, which are just smaller hospitals that don’t take on as many patients that have shortened hours. In these cases, medication dispensing machines like an Omnicell or Pyxis machine are stocked with numerous medications and the larger hospital associated with
this smaller hospital covers the queue overnight to verify orders. Nurses call the larger hospital during these hours to speak with the pharmacist and have any of their questions answered.
Inpatient pharmacies have many different positions, and in most cases, there is at least one pharmacy technician working at any given time. You can expect to work multiple different shifts in the inpatient setting; some pharmacy technicians work 6 am-2:30 pm, 7 am-3:30 pm, 9 am – 5:30 pm, 12 pm-8:30 pm, 2:30 pm-11 pm, etc. and often times, these shifts vary day to day. A pharmacy technician might work 2:30 pm-11 pm one day and need to arrive back at the pharmacy for a different shift at 6 am the next day. Some hospitals adjust their schedules so that pharmacy technician's workdays a few weeks at a time and then work evenings for a certain amount of time, allowing the pharmacy technician to adjust their sleep schedules and not have turn around shifts. Another possibility is a pharmacy technician who works overnight hours. Generally, pharmacy technicians will also have a rotating holiday schedule; but most often you can expect to work at least one major holiday (Thanksgiving or Christmas) and 2-3 minor holidays per year. While there is sometimes downtime in the inpatient setting, you can expect to remain busy each day, with each shift looking somewhat different from the last.
So, what will a pharmacy technician spend their days doing in the inpatient setting? Let’s talk about some of the roles you might encounter in this position:
Basic shift: This can be called a variety of different things, but in this role, pharmacy technicians are stationed in the main area of the pharmacy; usually near the pharmacist. In this shift, pharmacy technicians answer phone calls from nurses and doctors and other departments of the hospital, prepare and deliver medications to automated dispensing cabinets on the floors where nurses and patients are, package unit dose medications, assist in inventory and stocking of medications and supplies, and more. In this shift, pharmacy technicians are often responsible for restocking and maintaining crash carts – which is a portable set of rolling trays or drawers that holds emergency medications and equipment and is usually stored in a central station where doctors and nurses can easily access it in an emergency situation to potentially save someone’s life.
IV and Chemotherapy Shift: If you have ever spent any time in a hospital; either admitted or a trip to the emergency room; you’ve likely received an IV medication of some sort. Some patients may not be staying at the hospital but coming to the hospital for several hours to receive their chemotherapy medication.
Pharmacy technicians in the inpatient setting are responsible for preparing the majority of IV and chemotherapy medications for all patients in the hospital. This role is especially important and consists of several weeks of hands-on training. IV and Chemotherapy medications are administered intravenously, meaning that the medications are delivered directly into the patient's bloodstream, increasing their risk for infection. It is vital that the pharmacy technician takes the required steps and precautions to ensure that these types of medications are prepared using sterile aseptic techniques to reduce the risk of patient harm.
Medication Reconciliation/Medication History: If you are someone who enjoys working directly with patients then you will enjoy this role. Most hospitals have a pharmacy technician who meets with patients who come into the emergency room or who are being admitted to the hospital. The goal is for the pharmacy technician to meet with the patient prior to the doctor seeing them so that the data we collect can assist the physician in best treating the patient. Medication History technicians: often called Med History or Med Rec Techs are usually stationed at a computer in the emergency room department. When a patient is given a room, the pharmacy technician meets with them and reviews any medications that the patient has been taking. The information needed includes the medication name, strength, dosage, route of administration, and frequency including the last time the patient took the medication. However, some patients who come to the hospital cannot pronounce or remember all of their medications, and oftentimes do not remember all of the information needed. Therefore, after speaking with the patient, the pharmacy technician calls the patients pharmacy where they fill their prescriptions and speaks with another pharmacy technician to verify the information given. At this point, the information is entered into the computer system so that the doctor can view this while he examines the patient. This process can also happen before a patient goes into a surgery; and this is most often called pre-admission testing.
If you enjoy working with a team, having increased responsibility, remaining busy, and having ever-changing days, the inpatient pharmacy might be the route for you!