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Pharmacy Training

Is Dispensary Assistant training useful for all Support Staff?

By July 26, 2019 January 21st, 2020 No Comments

The Dispensary Assistant, also known as a Pharmacy Assistant or DA, is an important member of the pharmacy support team. The DA offer much-needed support to the pharmacist and technicians in the dispensary as well as serving customers at the counter.

However, would the pharmacy team operate more effectively if all staff had a minimum pharmaceutical knowledge? Two-thirds of queries handled solely by medicine counter assistants were deemed unsatisfactory by the 2013 investigation by Which?

So, would pharmacy benefit from training all Medicine Counter Assistants to Dispensary Assistants level? MediaPharm explores the benefits of doing so.

What are the similarities between Medicines Counter Assistant and Dispensary Assistant training?

  • For both Medicine Counter Assistant and Dispensary Assistant roles, training is vocational, gaining the qualification whilst working in a pharmacy.
  • Neither MCA or DA positions have entry requirements other than being employed in a pharmacy.
  • The terms ‘Pharmacy Support Staff’ refers to both the MCA and the DA.
  • Both the Medicine Counter Assistant course and the Dispensing Assistant course takes between 6 and 12 months to complete, depending on the course format.

What are the differences between a Medicines Counter Assistant and Dispensary Assistant?

  • Both the Medicines Counter Assistant and the Dispensing Assistant receive training in selling over-the-counter medicines and consulting on minor ailments. But the MCA is predominantly a retail position.
  • The DA assists in the dispensary, supporting pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. Therefore, their knowledge of medicines and ailments is greater than an MCA’s.

Benefits of training pharmacy support staff as Dispensary Assistants

Staff retention

The cost and the time spent on recruitment is inconvenient at best for any business. But with skills shortages and funding issues also affecting Pharmacy, the impact of recruitment is felt more fully. So beat recruitment costs by training – and therefore retaining – your valuable staff.


Having to follow safe practices and regulations governing dispensing medicines, the Pharmacy Assistant has greater drug safety awareness.

Healthcare vs Retail

Many MCAs come from a retail background giving them a good set of customer service skills. But this lack of specialisation can affect their ability to serve in a healthcare environment. The dispensary assistant has more knowledge of medicine and therefore a greater focus on health.

“A pharmacy’s reputation depends on not just the clinical skills of the pharmacist, but on the frontline support staff who usually see the patient first.” Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Career progression

Whilst the MCA is a recognised qualification, it remains a retail role without as much scope for progression. The Dispensary Assistant offers greater options for career development:  a DA can choose to pursue a Pharmacy Technician career, look at roles within clinical settings plus move into pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Job satisfaction leads to business benefits

Employees feel more valued and engaged when receiving training through their employer. A report by Dale Carnegie showed that businesses with engaged employees outperform those who don’t by a whopping 202%. Engaged employees are more likely to “go the extra mile” for your pharmacy business.

Free up your Pharmacist’s time

Dispensary assistants reduce the pharmacist’s time spent doing admin jobs like stock management as well as receiving and assembling prescriptions. This gives the pharmacist more time for activities only MPharms can perform. The pharmacy benefits from this more efficient and productive use of staff time.

Pharmacies are well-placed to offer some of the most effective learning environments compared to other workplaces. Top firms use the same blended learning style: where training is given both on the job and from formal learning courses. This allows organisations to adopt a development culture from which all staff can benefit.

Better capacity to serve customer’s needs

Pharmacies operate on different service model to a patient appointment system like GPs. Instead, pharmacies have to react to their customer’s requirements. By having more higher-skilled staff, like dispensary assistants, your pharmacy will be able to offer more immediate and satisfactory service.

Easier Shift Management

Scheduling shifts is easier when all your staff are qualified to work in the dispensary. With a good team of skilled professionals in your pharmacy, shift management will be less complicated and your pharmacists will always have dispensing support.  

Strengthen the team

The shared responsibility and knowledge base may also help teams bond. By all team members being able to perform dispensary functions, there is less dependency on higher-skilled staff, greater resilience to absence and more comradery.

Wanting more ways to get the best from your workforce? Join Mediapharm, and get unlimited access to our GPhC-accredited training courses.

This article was written on behalf of Mediapharm by Nicola Hasted from Pharmacy Mentor.