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It’s time to acknowledge the epidemic of pharmacist burnout

It's more common than we are willing to acknowledge.

Towfiqu Photography/ GETTY IMAGES
Towfiqu Photography/ GETTY IMAGES

I realized I was suffering from burnout after I snapped at my patient. This occurred after I had already worked an 8-hour shift in a fast paced specialty pharmacy, processing orders that were needed for severe infections, cancer patients, or patients in palliative care. All of these orders required special attention. After a day of exhaustion, I was called to help out a local retail pharmacy.

That evening, it felt like every patient with a prescription came in with a problem bigger than I could solve myself. Either there was no more repeat on the prescription or the prescription needed a clarification for which the physician was not readily available. Or there was a shortage on the seizure medication and I didn’t know how to explain to the mom we have nothing in stock. You have angry patients not willing to wait for at least 5 minutes for their prescriptions and you have patients who have come in with disappointment because their prescriptions were not prepared the way they had requested. And they all showed up at the same exact moment with one relief pharmacist and one technician holding the fort down.

I don’t quite remember what I said. But I blurted out something unpleasant. I was also unable to rationalize things, process any additional information. I was ready to quit.

I recognized that I was having a burnout moment. I also recognized it was not healthy for myself. At some point, the burnout would turn into a safety concern for patients.

Alex Barker, the founder of the Happy PharmD has written a number of articles on this topic. I encourage you to check them out:

– 5 External Reasons Pharmacists Feel Burned Out, and What They can do About it.

Burned out pharmacists: Understanding the Job’s Negative Health Effect

The Science Behind Pharmacist Burnout is Scary: Here is What to Do about it

I believe pharmacist burnout is occurring more frequently than pharmacists are willing to acknowledge. When a pharmacist is not performing at the expected competency, we immediately think of pouring in additional resources for training. But I think, in some cases, these pharmacists need a break, some space to reflect and to reconnect with why they have chosen this career path. They desperately need some support from their supervisors or managers. When the burnout has evolved a pharmacist to become indifferent and insensitive, that is when more damage is done than just a dispensing error. The pharmacist will spread a negative attitude to the team, patients don’t feel their needs are met and everyone may be walking on eggshells.

Health care professionals need to have the capacity to show compassion and care for their patients. Their contributions to patient care depend greatly on these core principles. But these traits are the first to be affected in an individual experiencing burnout.

Below are few things I have found helpful:


Acknowledge it. The moment I acknowledged I was experiencing burnout, I felt immediate relief. This is because once I have acknowledged the problem, I was committed to finding a solution to address it. 

Identify things within my control. We do not always have control of the work schedule nor the exact team members we will be working with. But we may be able to decide what may make the day go quicker (e.g. bring your favorite treats), resources that may be helpful (e.g. methods to deal with difficult customers) as well as strategies to remain calm when a work situation becomes tense (e.g. focus on the situation and not the individual). When one is prepared, it will help get through the day better.

Schedule down time to recharge. This may be easier said than done. But we all need to have some time to ourselves. Make sure you try your best to give yourself some time. This can be 5 minutes in the car before starting your work day, or a day at the spa. But schedule this time so it will happen.

Do something different. We live in an era where we do not need to commit to one career or job for the rest of our lives. We should be able to explore options. Pharmacists should recognize there are other options. Learn a new skill, go read a book or just keep on thinking. Sometimes when we keep doing the same job every day, we lose perspectives on how life can be different or better. Venturing out to do something different can help to bring about a new perspective and perhaps a solution to deal with the burnout.


Originally published at drugopinions.wordpress.com

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