Kelli Johnson says she became a pharmacy technician by chance, when she took a part-time job as a cashier at Rite Aid and was soon asked to participate in a technician training program. With her high attention to detail and quick learning style, Johnson has since taken on a variety of technician roles with progressively more responsibilities over the past 24 years.
Today, she oversees technician training for employees in Oregon, Washington, Montana, California, and Alaska as a senior program manager for pharmacy technician education and clinical services at Credena Health Pharmacies in Portland, Oregon.
“I facilitate growth and opportunity for all the technicians that are within our department,” she said. “I also just recently implemented a technician career ladder.” Her advice for new technicians and learners? Take every opportunity to discover something new.
It’s worked for Johnson. When she started at Rite Aid, she was in her 20s and also working as a server/bartender. She saw the technician opportunity as a good way to move from food service to healthcare.
“At the time, there was a huge shortage of pharmacists,” she said. “I really considered going to pharmacy school, but it was just too expensive. There are a lot of opportunities as a technician.”
After three years at Rite Aid, she moved to Bartell Drugs, which was then a local family-owned chain. Her boss at the time was a nationally recognized preceptor at the University of Washington (UW). He wanted technicians working at the top of their capabilities, and he offered Johnson lots of responsibilities. She took on tasks such as hand billing for immunizations and assisting pharmacists who prescribed contraceptives through programs at UW.
From there, Johnson moved to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she worked in medication safety and took medication histories, worked in the outpatient pharmacy, learned IV room and hazardous drug compounding, and became a billing specialist and purchaser. She then worked at an inpatient psychiatric hospital supervising pharmacy technicians and coordinating day-to-day assignments.
In 2018, Johnson moved to Credena Health to become the pharmacy technician supervisor, overseeing 30 direct reports within a specialty pharmacy. Three years later, she took on her current role in pharmacy technician education.
Before joining the Pharmacy Technician Forum (PTF) Executive Committee, Johnson had served in other roles for ASHP, including chairing the Patient Care Quality Advisory Group in 2022–2023 and serving on the Professional and Career Ladder Development Advisory Group. In 2020, she became the first pharmacy technician to serve on the governing board of the Oregon Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Johnson said she has enjoyed learning from her fellow PTF members. “It gives you opportunities to bring additional ideas back to the table to your leadership team,” she said. “There are so many great things people are doing that you might not have a pulse on, since we’re so spread out throughout the country.” She sees herself as an advocate and voice for better wages for technicians, especially for those with advanced responsibilities.
“They’re taking so much workload off of pharmacists that it’s a win-win for everybody,” Johnson said.
She also wants to continue encouraging technicians to seize every available opportunity on the job and through continuing education and certificate programs. She said technicians who complete advanced specialty certificate programs can have new opportunities, such as working as controlled substance diversion prevention officers.
Johnson predicted a bright future for pharmacy technicians.
“I think anything that does not require clinical judgment, eventually, is going to potentially be put onto a technician,” she said. That includes areas such as vaccinating, running travel clinics under pharmacist supervision, and working up medication therapy management reviews for pharmacists.
“Technicians are going to start to be seen more as colleagues with a pharmacist and very much on a peer level.”
She noted that the shortage of technicians and, sometimes, low compensation, are barriers that need to be overcome.
“Also, not everywhere has a technician ladder, so we need more opportunities for advancement where people don’t feel like they’re stuck in the same level of pay or position perpetually,” she said.
Johnson said she’s encouraged that many organizations, especially within hospitals, are moving toward ladder implementation to encourage retention of technicians. “The availability of advanced education and certification also has been a great thing,” she said. “That is a way to really recognize specific skill sets that people have, or specialties that they’re really interested in.”