From Stress to Safety: Addressing Understaffing’s Role in Medication Incidents

Pharmacist in the dispensary looking into the camera with a stressed expression.

Understaffing and increased work pressure can create unsafe working conditions and contribute to medication incidents. A 2022 survey conducted by the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) has shown that 91.4 per cent of pharmacy technicians experienced burnout because of understaffing, high workloads, high expectations, low wages, and productivity quotas. In the long run, understaffing can negatively impact the health and well-being of pharmacy staff.

The results of staff shortages can range from mild patient inconveniences to harmful medication incidents. Contributing factors include: 

  • inappropriate workload;  
  • inefficient workflow;  
  • lack of consideration for adequate work scheduling;  
  • lack of staffing contingency plans to cover illnesses or vacations; and  
  • lack of meal breaks. 

4 Risk Reduction Strategies to Cope with Understaffed Pharmacies

One: Enhance Workflow 


Two: Improve Scheduling 

  • Consider the prescription volume and pharmacist to pharmacy technician/assistant ratios when implementing a work schedule. 
  • Create a realistic staffing plan and consider staff vacations, illnesses and meal breaks. 
  • Establish procedures to handle sudden staffing shortages due to illnesses and emergencies and ensure that staff are aware of these procedures.

Three: Manage Stress Levels

  • Ensure staff plan for and take needed meal breaks. 
  • Provide staff with educational programs on stress management. 
  • Encourage staff to practice self-care, such as relaxation, outside of work.

Four: Identify High-Risk Situations 

  • For example, pediatric dose calculations or areas of vulnerability will benefit from an independent double-check.  
  • Recognize that under-worked (bored) or overstressed employees may have increased vulnerability to medication incidents.


Improving Medication Safety in Community Pharmacy: Assessing Risk and Opportunities for Change. Institute for Safe Medication Practices. 2009. Accessed August 1, 2023.

Malkamaki K. The 2022 Pharmacy Understaffing Epidemic. AssureCare. November 10, 2022. Accessed August 1, 2023.

Unsafe pharmacy conditions put patient safety at risk and spark “great resignation” among pharmacy technicians. National Pharmacy Technician Association. May 3, 2022. Accessed August 1, 2023.


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