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Burnout and Work-Related Stress in Pharmacies: How to Mitigate Risk

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Work-related stress (where a person responds too much) and burnout (where a person responds too little) in pharmacies is off the charts after two plus years of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A quarter of pharmacists (25 percent) report being “very stressed at work”, an approximate doubling in 2021 from previous years. Community pharmacists appear to be the most affected. This data from The Pharmaceutical Journal annual salary and job satisfaction survey “paint a disturbing picture of a profession drowning in rising demand, staff shortages and shifting expectations.” 

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

Based on a survey of American pharmacists in 2021, in self-ratings, 47 percent of respondents had current burnout and 81 percent self-rated as having a history of burnout. Based on Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL) scoring, 65 percent of respondents were identified as having moderate or high likelihood of burnout, a prevalence higher than that indicated by respondents’ self-ratings. Additionally, 51 percent of respondents were identified as having a moderate or high probability of secondary traumatic stress (STS). 

These results are not limited to North America. 

An original research article published in 2022 explored professional burnout among pharmacists in Portugal. The authors found almost half of the respondents were concerned about mental health (41.5 percent), well-being of their colleagues (41.3 percent), and professional burnout (41.1 percent).

A cross-sectional study to evaluate burnout among pharmacy staff in Saudi Arabia during the COVID-19 pandemic found 59 percent of pharmacists had clinically relevant burnout levels. Burnout levels were significantly higher among pharmacists who were younger, female, less experienced or worked in a community pharmacy. 

Overworked and under pressure

A C+D survey revealed that increased workloads and reduced funding are a toxic mix for pharmacists. Practitioners reported stress-related problems including insomnia (43 percent), depression (27 percent), excessive drinking (11 percent) and suicidal thoughts (6 percent).

Comments from pharmacists included: “I have to multitask to the point of it being unsafe” and “Shifts in poorly-managed branches are hell to deal with. Redundant pharmacy software, misfiled scripts, poor communication, overworked and stressed staff… and over-exploited, yet underutilised pharmacists.”

Pharmacists said they had experienced serious stress-related medical conditions such as heart problems, worsening diabetes and depression as a result of the stress.

Stressed pharmacists risk patient safety

It should come as no surprise that if pharmacists are feeling the strain at work, they will be more prone to making pharmaceutical errors. While occasional bouts of stress can help us rise to meet challenges, long-term chronic stress has the opposite effect.

According to the Stress Management Society, prolonged stress can cause loss of concentration, demotivation, difficulty in making decisions, irritability and feelings of being overwhelmed — hardly desirable characteristics for a pharmacist.

Manage stress and reduce the effects of burnout

The conditions facing pharmacists and the people who work in pharmacy, now and post-pandemic, are likely to continue. Fortunately, there are proactive steps to take to manage stress and mitigate burnout. 

As with many things, early recognition of the signs of burnout is the first step. 

The World Health Organization characterized burnout by three symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feeling of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Taking control and prioritizing your own welfare will help you better care for patients. Look for support from family, friends and colleagues, practice meditation, and get enough sleep. 

Other ways to help switch off include leaving work at a sensible time, taking regular breaks to eat and hydrate, and taking holidays to switch off properly and provide you with time to spend with your loved ones. Last but not least, think about how you can restore pleasure in your work. Remind yourself of your values and purpose, and how you can reconnect with the positives of your job.

Remember you can always ask for help from your colleagues, they’ll appreciate you reaching out and it helps encourage others to do the same. Talk to your employers to help make sure you have your say in how your work is done and you can always speak up if something’s bothering you. 

Technology a key part of reducing pharmacist stress

Pharmapod’s platform provides a way to record medication-related events in practice, providing valuable insights into where, how and why events are taking place within a pharmacy.

The transparency provided by Pharmapod means that errors caused by pharmacist stress cannot be overlooked. Rather than wait for an adverse event to occur, problems can be spotted and appropriate action taken to reduce risk and prevent patient harm.

Is it time your pharmacy adopted a safer way of working, for both patients and pharmacists?

Talk to the team today to find out how we could help your business.

Pharmapod is a member of the Think Research family.