Skills for Effective Training and Mentoring

Over the years, the roles and responsibilities of pharmacy technicians have changed. Today, the duties of the pharmacy technician can depend on practice setting, state requirements, and employer. Pharmacy technicians are getting more involved in higher-level responsibilities, such as training and supervising others, dispensing meds via telepharmacy, medication reconciliation, and even vaccine administration where allowed by state law. For more on the evolving role of the pharmacy technician, check out our CE, The Roles and Responsibilities of Pharmacy Technicians.

Pharmacy technicians may be involved in training and mentoring others. Depending on your state laws, this can include training new pharmacy technician employees, students (both pharmacy tech and pharmacy school students), pharmacy interns, or even new pharmacists. Even if you don’t have official training responsibilities, there may be opportunities to help teach and guide others as you work side-by-side in the pharmacy. Having well-trained colleagues is essential for helping your pharmacy run efficiently and safely. “Soft skills,” such as communication, leadership, and teamwork, are important pillars for helping you develop your training and mentoring skills. This tutorial will review these skills and other techniques to help you train and mentor others.

What is the difference between training and mentoring?

Training is a process where a trainer teaches a trainee the skills necessary to complete their job. It involves teaching and developing others to achieve specific competencies. The goals of training are to improve a trainees’ capability, capacity, productivity, and performance either for initial job qualifications or to maintain, upgrade, or update a skill. For example, a trainer may be responsible for teaching a trainee how to return prescriptions that haven’t been picked up back to stock. The goal of this training would be for the trainee to be able to perform this task on their own in the future.

Mentoring represents a relationship in which a more experienced individual (the mentor) helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person (the mentee). Mentoring is more career-focused on professional achievement and development, rather than on teaching tasks necessary to complete a job. For example, a mentor might help a mentee set a vision for their pharmacy career, identify the steps needed to get there, and provide emotional support for the journey ahead. It’s recommended to have a mentor to help guide one’s long-term professional development and protect against burnout. Burnout can be defined as a syndrome in which one feels a low sense of personal accomplishment and a high degree of emotional exhaustion and cynicism towards their job. Mentors can serve as a sounding board and guide to help a mentee overcome their frustrations.

If you are in a position to train an individual, you may also consider taking on the role of mentoring them as well. Mentors are individuals who reflect the values of the organization, enjoy sharing knowledge, are approachable and willing to answer all questions, contribute to a learning environment, take pride in the organization and their job, and know the job and want to do it right, every time. Mentees should feel comfortable coming to their mentor with questions or problems, without fear or a feeling of inadequacy.

How will good communication help me be a better trainer/mentor?

Ineffective communication between pharmacy team members can negatively affect patient safety and cause overall dissatisfaction in the workplace. Being able to communicate well when training someone can be the difference between developing a trainee who is well-equipped to perform the functions of their job, versus one who struggles to get a task done.

Use these communication best practices when training or mentoring your colleagues:

  • Be aware of your body language. Body language is nonverbal communication that tells others a lot about how well you are listening to them. Having negative body language can make trainees hesitant to ask you questions or share information with you. Remember SOLER for maintaining positive body language:
    • S – Squarely face the person speaking (e.g., face person directly to show you are listening)
    • O – Open posture (e.g., avoid crossed legs and arms that can be interpreted as lack of interest)
    • L – Lean towards the person (helps demonstrate interest)
    • E – Eye contact maintained (helps express attention, interest, and reassurance)
    • R – Relax (helps put the speaker at ease; avoid fidgeting which can indicate you’re impatient)
  • Give trainees/mentees your full attention. Politely ask them to wait if you’re in the middle of a task. Communicating in the absence of distractions or interruptions will help guarantee your message is clearly understood, which is especially important when training someone.
  • Maintain and encourage open communication with trainees/mentees. Take time to listen to what your trainee/mentee is saying, acknowledge their point of view by putting yourself in their shoes, and recognize if you are applying any biases or assumptions.
  • Make sure written communication used as part of training is clear, concise, and easy to read.
  • Use active listening and open-ended questions to clarify that the trainee understands the information you are providing. Active listening can be accomplished through reflection and clarification. For example, once you’ve finished explaining something to a trainee, ask them to summarize what you’ve just discussed so that you can check for understanding and clarify any discrepancies. You can do this by saying, “I know there was a lot of information presented. Do you mind going over the highlights of what I covered?”
  • Avoid rolling your eyes or sighing heavily as this can indicate to the trainee/mentee that they may be bothering you if they ask questions.
  • Avoid using abbreviations and medical jargon when training new employees. If you do use them, make sure to clearly explain what they mean.

For more information on effective communication, check out our CEs, Healthcare Professional Communication – How to be More Effective and Strategies for Effective Communication: Tips for Technicians.

What leadership skills should I work on to help me be a better trainer/mentor?

Pharmacy technicians who have been tasked with training or mentoring others should recognize their role as a leader in the pharmacy. Just because your title or position does not give you the formal authority to oversee others, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader. Be aware that there are two types of leaders: formal and informal. A formal leader is one who has a responsibility to hire, fire, demote, reward, etc. These are typically managers and supervisors. Informal leaders are individuals who achieve success through influence and motivation, as a result of their relationships and experience. If you have a particular area of expertise, have been employed in your position for a long time, have a special skill, etc, be aware that others may look to you for training and mentorship. For example, someone who has expertise as an inventory specialist is in a great position to train other employees on inventory management.

Whether you are a formal or informal leader, it is important to have the skills necessary to be able to lead effectively when training or mentoring others.

It’s critical to identify your strengths to become a more effective leader, trainer, and mentor. You may have strengths you’re not aware of. Or you may not use your strengths to their fullest potential. If you’re not sure of your strengths, think about things you’re good at. Are there things you enjoy doing and look forward to doing again? Think of activities you do that cause you to lose track of time. What is it about the activities that you enjoy? Are there activities that stimulate your intellectual curiosity? Ask your friends or co-workers to help you identify your strengths. They may be able to see positive attributes that you’re not able to recognize in yourself. You could also search online for tools that are free or available for purchase that can help you identify your inventory of personal strengths. By identifying your strengths, you can hone in on the skills, knowledge, and abilities that you are best suited to train others on. Let your supervisor know that you would be interested in training/mentoring others in the areas you’ve identified as strengths.

Leaders not only recognize their own strengths, but also pull them out in others. A leader will help others see how they can use their strengths in their daily activities to help them excel. Spend time observing trainees and mentees to identify their strengths. Use the same types of questions and resources you used when you determined your own. When you help others see their own strengths, you empower them to develop these strengths. You also help them see areas that may have room for improvement.

It’s also important to be aware of your leadership style, as this can impact your approach to training and mentoring. Everyone’s leadership style is different. Sometimes these differences are based on the situation and whether the goals are task-oriented (e.g., entering a prescription, placing an inventory order) or human-oriented (e.g., interacting with patients, communicating). For example, authoritarian leadership styles (sometimes called autocratic or supervisory leadership) may be useful for training a new employee to help them achieve task-oriented goals. However, authoritarian leaders can be seen as demanding and domineering. If you have an authoritarian leadership style, consider if it’s appropriate for all situations and individuals. While newer employees may do well with this type of leadership, more seasoned employees may not. In some cases, such as when mentoring someone or training an experienced employee on a new skill, you may find that a participative leadership style is a better approach. A participative leader recognizes that each member of the team has responsibilities and their own unique skills or strengths. These leaders encourage teamwork and empower others to develop their skills and try new skills. Participative leaders encourage equal participation from everyone in a group and provide honest praise and criticism. These are the types of leaders that will focus on the strengths of others, and use those strengths to assign responsibilities within a group.

Knowing which leadership style to use when training someone is important because if the wrong approach is used, the individual may not be receptive to the training being provided. It’s ultimately for the benefit of the pharmacy team that everyone is trained appropriately, whether it’s a new employee or an existing employee who needs to learn how to do something new.

Also, keep in mind that being a good leader means being receptive of constructive feedback from others, including trainees and mentees. If a trainee or mentee knows more about a particular subject than you do, welcome their feedback and input. The more knowledge individuals on the team have, the better it is for the team as a whole.

For more details on other leadership styles and more tips on being an effective leader, check out our CE, Pharmacy Leadership: Developing Leadership Skills.

How can I use teamwork to improve my approach to training?

Teamwork is an essential component of a healthy work environment, and a healthy work environment is important when training others. You want to set a good example, especially for new employees, on how to work together as a team. Utilizing other team members to assist with training can also help you achieve training goals. For example, you may delegate the training of specific tasks or skills to certain individuals with strengths in those areas. You can also ask other team members to cover your responsibilities for an hour or two to help free up time so you can train or mentor others. Work with your supervisor to communicate to the entire staff that employee training is the responsibility of the entire team. This way everyone will be on the same page in regards to working as a team to help with training.

Use these teamwork best practices to help streamline training:

  • Communicate clearly and regularly with your co-workers regarding upcoming training and training timelines, including training of new employees or required training for existing employees. Consider using memos or huddles to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Establish roles and responsibilities as it pertains to training among your team. Make sure everyone who will be involved with training is clear on their responsibilities.
  • Discuss who will be responsible when training is taking place for completing tasks that the trainer and trainee will not be available to complete. Dividing responsibilities will help balance workload and ensure the job gets done while allowing the trainer and trainee to focus on training.
  • Encourage the sharing of new ideas and ask for honest opinions during training. For example, new employees may be able to provide different perspectives since they haven’t yet gotten used to doing things a certain way. Their input can help you identify new and better ways of doing things. Asking for their opinion also shows that you consider them to be valuable members of the team.
  • Get to know your colleagues better. For example, ask about hobbies or favorite movies during breaks to build relationships and make the training process more enjoyable for both you and the trainee.
  • Be sure to use “we” instead of “I” language and don’t blame colleagues, especially in front of new employees. This can destroy morale and others’ trust/respect in you, making it difficult for you to serve as an effective trainer or mentor.

What are some methods I can use to help train others?

Before you start training anyone, take some time to get organized. Being organized can help you be a more effective trainer. Define your expectations upfront to help keep both you and the trainee on track. What do you want the trainee to learn and in what timeframe? How will you evaluate the trainee to ensure they have been successfully trained? Develop a training plan and consider creating a checklist or calendar to outline the various training tasks. Gather and provide resources to the trainee to help supplement your training. Communicate your expectations and training plan to the trainee.

It’s common for pharmacy employees to get much of their training “on the job.” There are a couple of different training strategies you could use when providing on-the-job training:

“See one, do one, teach one” – With this method, you, the trainer, serve first as leader, then as partner, and finally as observer. You start off this approach by showing the learner the “model” skill(s) you want them to achieve. Take time to communicate your actions and reasoning when appropriate, and debrief at the end. Next, you would act as a partner, allowing you and the trainee to perform the skill(s) together. For example, the next time the skill is performed, you would briefly explain what needs to be done, outline a plan for how it will be done, ask the learner if there’s anything specific they want you to observe, and then allow the learner to take the lead while helping to guide them through the process when needed, with a debrief at the end. Finally, you will act as observer by observing the learner’s performance. Have the learner pretend to “teach” you the skill. Allow the learner to tell you what their plan is for completing a task and watch as they complete it. When acting as an observer, input is given at the end of the activity, unless intervention is required.

To illustrate this method, let’s look at the example of teaching someone to enter a prescription into the dispensing system. You would first act as a leader by showing the learner how to do the task, providing explanation during the action. Then, you would act as a partner by explaining what the learner needs to do to enter a prescription into the dispensing system. You would then have them take over performing the task, but walk them through step-by-step as needed. Finally, you would act as an observer by allowing the learner to “teach” you how to enter a prescription, pretending as if you are a trainee and they are the teacher. You would wait until the learner has finished entering the prescription to provide your input on what they did right/wrong.

One-minute observation – this approach utilizes repeated, brief periods of observation to help form an assessment over time. It’s a way to identify skills you want to observe and allows you to give immediate feedback. This process can be broken out into five steps:

Step 1: Get a commitment – get the learner to commit to what they think they need to do to solve a problem or complete a task.

Step 2: Probe for supporting evidence – why does the learner think that?

Step 3: Teach general rules – advise learners, wherever possible, to follow certain rules whenever they see a similar scenario.

Step 4: Reinforce what was done right – share what the learner did correctly and why it’s important.

Step 5: Correct mistakes – let the learner know what they need to do next time to be more successful.

Let’s illustrate the one-minute observation method with an example. Assume you are teaching another employee how to make a topical diaper rash cream compound. You’ve already gone through the “see one, do one, teach one” training method. But in order to form an assessment over time, you decide to perform a one-minute observation with the first “real” prescription compound the employee will be making. Before the trainee begins making the compound you ask them to describe what they will do (Step 1 – Get a commitment). They explain that they will first measure out all the ingredients and then mix them together using geometric dilution. You ask the learner why they will use geometric dilution (Step 2 – Probe for supporting evidence). They explain that geometric dilution is used so that each drug is evenly mixed together. You let the learner know that this is correct, and that they will want to perform geometric dilution with all topical compounds (Step 3 – Teach general rules and Step 4 – Reinforce what was done right). The learner then proceeds to make the compound. You notice that the learner did not zero the scale after placing the weighing paper on the scale. Before the learner begins measuring the first ingredient you correct the mistake (Step 5 – Correct mistakes).

How do I provide feedback and evaluation when training others?

It’s important to spend some time evaluating the knowledge/skills gained by the trainee and providing them with feedback to help them improve. One way to do this is by doing a “debrief” at the end of a training session or at the end of the day. For example, you can ask the trainee the following questions to help evaluate what they’ve learned:

  • What did you learn today?
  • What was the most important thing that happened today?
  • What was the one thing that you would like to learn more about?
  • What troubled you today?
  • What might you improve on?

You want to use open-ended questions to help learners self-evaluate their own performance before providing feedback. For example, if you are training someone on how to call an insurance company to clarify a rejection message, you could ask the trainee, “How do you think that conversation with the insurance company went? What aspects do you think you did well, and what do you think you could improve on?” You could follow up their response with your opinions and feedback and discuss different ways of approaching the task. Offer descriptive feedback openly and regularly to help guide the trainee. Let them know when they are on the right track, or when they need to correct something. You could start the conversation with a phrase like, “I’d like to offer some feedback on your experience so far.” If your feedback needs to correct an issue, use the approach of first providing positive feedback, followed by discussing areas for improvement. Close up the conversation by discussing how changes can be made.

In some situations, such as if required by company policy or in cases where assessment of training is critical (e.g., sterile compounding), you may need to provide a more formal training evaluation. In this case, set aside time for a one-on-one discussion between you and the trainee in a private area, if possible. Choose a time that works best for your setting, such as during a very slow time in the pharmacy or when there will be extra staffing. Create a relaxed and supportive atmosphere outside of the pharmacy workflow and out of earshot of other personnel. Outline an agenda for the session, if needed. Be prepared with the feedback you want to communicate, ideas for how the trainee can improve, and activities for how they can demonstrate improvement. If you are using an assessment form to review the learner’s performance, have the learner complete a self-assessment using a blank form. You can then compare your evaluation with the self-assessment to help identify areas to focus on during the discussion. Establish a specific, measurable follow-up plan with additional opportunities to help the learner hone skills in weaker areas. Set clear objectives, deadlines, and specific steps to help the trainee improve their skills.

Regardless of whether you are in a position to formally evaluate a trainee or not, it’s important that when interacting with new trainees you avoid negativity and stay constructive. Remember how you felt when you were training for your position. Imagine how you’d want a good friend or relative to be treated in a similar situation.

Project Leader in preparation of this technician tutorial (351180): Flora Harp, PharmD/Assistant Editor

Cite this document as follows: Technician Tutorial, Skills for Effective Training and Mentoring. Pharmacist’s Letter/Pharmacy Technician’s Letter. November 2019.

─Continue for a training and mentoring skills “Cheat Sheet”─

“Cheat Sheet” for Effective Skills for Training and Mentoring

What is the difference between training and mentoring?

Training is a process where a trainer teaches a trainee the skills necessary to complete their job. The goals of training are to improve a trainees’ capability, capacity, productivity, and performance either for initial job qualifications or to maintain, upgrade, or update a skill. Mentoring represents a relationship in which a more experienced individual (the mentor) helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person (the mentee). Mentoring is more career-focused on professional achievement and development than individual task performance.

What are some general skills I can use to be a better trainer/mentor?

  • Communicate effectively
    • Use positive body language
    • Avoid negative nonverbal cues (e.g., heavy sighs, eye rolling)
    • Give trainees your full attention
    • Employ active listening and open-ended questions to clarify understanding
    • Maintain and encourage open communication
  • Be a good leader
    • Identify your own strengths to help identify areas you are best suited to train others in
    • Help identify the strengths of those you are training or mentoring
    • Be aware of your leadership style and be flexible with which style you use depending on the situation
  • Make teamwork a priority
    • Communicate clearly and regularly with your co-workers regarding training
    • Establish roles and responsibilities as it pertains to training
    • Discuss who will be responsible when training is taking place for completing tasks that the trainer and trainee will not be available to complete
    • Encourage the sharing of new ideas and ask for honest opinions during training
    • Get to know your colleagues better during breaks
    • Use “we” instead of “I” language and don’t blame others

What are some strategies I could use to help with training?

  • Define training expectations upfront
  • Develop a training plan
  • Create a checklist or calendar to outline various training tasks
  • Gather and provide resources to the trainee to help supplement training
  • Use on-the-job training methods, such as “see one, do one, teach one” or the one-minute observation

How should I provide feedback and evaluation?

  • Give a debrief at the end of the training session using open-ended questions for self-evaluation
  • Provide descriptive feedback openly and regularly
  • Communicate positive feedback first, then discuss areas for improvement
  • When providing formal training evaluation, set aside time in a private area, outline an agenda, allow for self-assessment, and establish a follow-up plan to help the learner improve their skills

[November 2019; 351180]

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