Pharmacists and their staff are displaying incredible courage every day, and this should be recognised and acknowledged, says Curtis Ruhnau
noun: courage: the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.
We frequently hear of footballers and other sportspeople displaying courage on the sporting field. Never do we hear about the courage required to work in a pharmacy.
Yet here we are, in the midst of a pandemic which has engulfed almost every aspect of our lives for a year and a half. We might not have thought about it but just turning up to work in a pharmacy is an act of courage.
Courage in the face of uncertainty. Courage in the face of the certainty that there are cases of COVID in our local community. And trust in each other that we are doing everything we can, both at work and in our private lives, to minimise the chance of bringing COVID into our workplace.
Is courage too strong a word to use in this context? I don’t think so. Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery”. Surely turning up to work under the conditions we have faced day after day is an act of courage?
Dealing with the impact
It is all too easy to wonder what life would be like if we had the kind of career which would allow us to work somewhere with no personal contact with anybody and still be paid. It’s sad that I find myself becoming jealous of those whose work has just closed down, and who now have time to make sourdough, take up old crafts and have zoom meetings with friends and family.
And then there’s the feeling of guilt which sometimes accompanies these wishes. Guilt that we are feeling ungrateful about having to work when millions of others are wondering how they’re going to pay their bills.
None of this addresses the fracturing of our family lives. The missed milestones as family members turn 21, take their first steps, lose baby teeth, start ‘big school’ affect us too as we try to keep up with the seemingly endless changes. Changes to scheduling, dispensing/purchasing limits, vaccination standards, age- and ADR-related vaccine recommendations, not to mention whether we are even allowed to go to our local supermarket for supplies.
All of this ramps up the pressure on us, and of course on our ability to cope with uncertainty in any and all other facets of our lives. It’s well documented that alcohol consumption, mental health issues and domestic violence have all seen spikes in concert with the restrictions placed upon our lives. Our coping mechanisms are being overwhelmed just by the need to stay alive and working.
A question of trust
The issue of trust is one which weighs heavily on me as a pharmacy owner. I ordinarily would be in the pharmacy as much as possible, side by side with our team and going through everything with them. But as I write this I am at home on a Monday, having worked the weekend as part of ‘Team B’.
Splitting the pharmacy into Teams seemed a good insurance against some of the uncertainty, and we believe it’s the right choice for this period of time in western Sydney. But it stops us being there with our team as they deal with the uncertainty that exists in every day in a community pharmacy. We are available for them by phone, by FaceTime and we have started meeting via Zoom to help with cohesion and communication. But it’s not the same as being able to be there with them when the next cranky patient turns up, or the next problem needs to be solved.
And through all of this we have had zero absenteeism. None. Every staff member has turned up day after day to support each other and their/our patients. They have coped with all that the world and pharmacy in Australia has thrown at them.
They’ve done it with courage, with grace, with patience and with good humour. Looking after each other like a family. We have thanked them individually and as a team and will continue to do so, but it feels tokenistic when we are not working side by side with them.
The right kind of courage
So I find myself muttering at the television when I hear someone mention courage on football field. They are doing a job which is designed for them to be able to do it and go home safe and intact afterwards. While they may have to mentally prepare for a tough game I don’t think it’s the same as the courage required to turn up in a customer-facing role at the moment. Whether it’s as a pharmacist, a pharmacy assistant, or even a barista doesn’t make much difference. It is a role which demands courage, and that is something which I find wears on the psyche.
So, to all those of you reading this who are doing this day in and day out, I salute your courage. I hope you find some time for activities and connections which bring you solace. And most of all I hope this all ends soon, so that the simple act of turning up to work can go back to just that- turning up to work.
Stay safe, and look after yourselves and each other.
If you are feeing distressed or struggling with your wellbeing and mental health during the current pandemic, or indeed at any time, support is available. Reach out for help by accessing resources such as
The Pharmacists’ Support Service 1300244910 every day of the year from 8am to 11pm AEST www.supportforpharmacists.org.au
The Essential Network for Health Professionals (Black Dog Institute) https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/the-essential-network/
Protecting your mental health and wellbeing as a healthcare worker (Beyond Blue) https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/impacts-on-my-work/essential-services/protecting-your-mental-health-and-wellbeing-healthcare-worker.html
Lifeline 13 11 14 https://www.lifeline.org.au/
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
Your trusted personal GP and/or psychologist is also a great place to start seeking support and if needed treatment.
Curtis Ruhnau is a pharmacy owner whose pharmacy is in one of the heavily locked down areas of western Sydney. See our profile of his pharmacy, and listen to our webinar where Curtis discusses mental health in pharmacy