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Exhaustion. Indifference. Tense muscles, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. Irritability, anxiety, relationship problems, and depression – this is what burnout looks like, and it may have reached a critical juncture for today’s pharmacists. What can be done to help?

Let Me Off, Please

Tighter margins, increasing patient expectations, regulatory frustrations, personnel issues, and struggles to juggle work and family can make pharmacists feel like they’re on a constantly inclining treadmill to nowhere. Although things may be worse for employees of large chains, independent/LTC pharmacy is far from immune. Unpredictability of workflow can create a sense of lack of control, which is a major contributor to burnout.

The most recent National Pharmacist Workforce Study shows long-running trends continue – many pharmacists say their workload has negative or very negative effects on job performance, work motivation, job satisfaction, and mental and physical health. Steady from the last survey were ratings of highly stressful events, particularly having so much work to do that everything cannot be done well. Generally, compared to 2014, the results related to work attitudes suggest that full-time pharmacists’ quality of work-life was lower in 2019.

Sound familiar? You might want to try a quick online tool to see if you’re experiencing burnout. If so, recognize that you are most certainly not alone, and that there’s growing evidence that resilience, the way some people have of always bouncing back from adversity, can be cultivated.

Breaking Point?

Realizing that pharmacy may have arrived at a critical juncture when it comes to work stress, leading pharmacy organizations have produced recommendations to enhance well-being and resilience among the pharmacist workforce. These changes are intended to address moral distress, work overload, and burnout.

Areas of improvement include:

  • Pharmacist work conditions and patient safety
  • Payment models
  • Relations between pharmacists and employers
  • Pharmacist and student pharmacist well-being
  • Well-being education and training
  • Communications
  • Data, information, and research on pharmacist well-being

Many recommendations speak to large employers, but they also include calls to take personal responsibility for well-being. This advice speaks directly to independent pharmacists and owners, who often work much harder to ensure well-being for their patients than for themselves.

Cultivating Resilience

What makes a person resilient? It involves mental work, not magic. Factors include optimism, emotional regulation, and seeing failure as helpful. Optimism blunts the impact of stress, letting you take a more reasoned approach to what’s going wrong and consider alternate behaviors that might be more productive.

So how do some of the industry recommendations apply to you? Let’s start with expanded roles for pharmacy technicians. It’s a question to ask yourself – are you using your techs to their full potential? Experts also recommend pharmacists assume their professional responsibility to proactively identify personal stressors, learn self-care techniques, and consistently apply strategies that address well-being and help prevent burnout. How are you doing in that area? Do you give your well-being the focused attention it deserves? These well-being resources from the APhA are one place to start.

And certainly not least are the recommendations related to payment models. As an individual, think about cultivating a greater sense of control by working with groups to expose and eliminate detrimental PBM reimbursement policies (these ASCP comments on DIR fees are just one advocacy example).

Aside from the action items above, there is some common sense involved. Remember that your job isn’t your whole life. Don’t neglect the hobbies and relationships that make you who you are. They may just be the restoration you need to continue being a pharmacist.

X Factors to Cultivating Resilience

  • The first step in any strategy to avoid burnout is to take time off. It’s crucial to recharging and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
  • Tackle exhausting staff conflict by finding a common purpose or cause to unite around, maybe a local fundraiser or sprucing up the office.
  • Take just a few minutes daily to have simple small talk with a customer – it can undo a lot of frustrations.

Do you feel burned out? Is anything really helping? Leave a comment on how you’re managing.

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Written by: Emily Smith

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