It’s time to acknowledge the epidemic of pharmacist burnout

I realized I was suffering from a burnout after I have snapped at my patient. This occurred after I have already worked an 8-hour shift in a fast pace 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 that 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. I also recognized it was not healthy for myself. At some point, the burn out 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:

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 burn out 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 burn out.

I am no expert at managing burn out but below are few things I have found helpful:

  • Acknowledge it. The moment I acknowledged I had a burn out, I felt an immediate relief. This is because once I have acknowledged the problem, I was committed to finding a solution to address the burn out. .
  • Identify things within my control.  Often 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 favourite 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 a 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 everyday, we lose perspectives on how life can be different. Venturing out to do something different can help to bring out a new perspective and perhaps a solution to deal with the burn out.

If you are experiencing a burn out, I hope you will find a healthy way to deal with it.

Thank you for reading my post.

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drugopinions

My name is Cynthia Leung and I am a practicing pharmacist in Kingston Ontario, Canada. This blog is for me to share my ideas, opinions and perspectives on how medications are used in our health care system. Note that these posts are my own opinions and do not represent the opinions of my current or former employers and / or organizations that I may belong to. Any possible case scenarios described in my posts would be modified to maintain patient confidentiality. This blog is not a platform for professional advise for patients or health care providers and the content is not meant to support any clinical decisions or replace professional opinions. Also the images are either taken or created by the author, or adapted with permission. I hope you will enjoy reading my posts!

5 thoughts on “It’s time to acknowledge the epidemic of pharmacist burnout”

  1. Well said, Cynthia. As a fellow pharmacist, I can certainly understand. I hope you are taking your suggestions to heart and are feeling better. I am re-posting in the hope more pharmacists will heed your words. ~nan

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  2. Not a pharmacist, but I couldn’t agree more about the overwhelming burden of patient demands. Frankly, people are just rude. As a rule of thumb, and unless one has just left a doctor’s office with an immediate concern, people should be willing to wait 1-2 days for their meds, and treat the refill accordingly.

    We do errands all the time in the neighborhood. Is it that difficult to give the pharmacist time to do their job? I don’t think so.

    Meanwhile, take care of you.

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    1. Thank you! This post has gone “viral” which speaks to how it relates so well to many pharmacists. It is also nice to have patients who are understanding and give pharmacists more time to do their work.

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