What it’s like to be a PSS Volunteer

Doctor on the phone

What’s it like to volunteer for the Pharmacist Support Service? A pharmacist describes the experience of helping your peers needing support

Training to be a PSS volunteer is not only thorough but also enjoyable, and represented beautifully in this article so we will move on to the next step of putting training into action.

An annual roster is circulated by email and frequently updated. Volunteers are free to choose when they would like to be on duty and how many shifts they would like to do throughout the year on a first in, best  dressed basis according to empty slots on the roster.

Currently one volunteer is on duty at a time. Shifts are one week in length, from Thursday to Wednesday, 8 am – 11 pm.

There is flexibility, some volunteers share the weekly rosters to accommodate their work/family commitments and if an urgent matter arises during the week it is possible to arrange someone else to cover the shift  as necessary.

Before a volunteer’s first shift a package will arrive in the mail which includes the PSS phone with clear instructions how to use it and a resource manual that clearly lays out a range of organisations and services that might be handy to signpost during calls.

Each first time volunteer is buddied up with a more experienced volunteer who is at the ready to offer support and guidance, and to debrief with throughout the week if needed.

The first shift

That first shift is a special time. Jittering with excitement first time volunteers have been known to remain poised at the ready, clutching the phone to their chest and wondering if it’s safe to take a shower or duck into the loo. After a few shifts that same volunteer will still have the PSS phone mindfully in reach, but are easily able to get on with their day to day lives.

Sometimes the on-duty volunteers have even been known to call the line, if it’s been a really quiet shift, to make sure everything is working: “oh no, did I just engage the line while some one was trying to get through!?”

If a call is missed, which is bound to happen from time to time, the caller is encouraged to leave their number for a call back or to try again shortly.

Covering the spectrum of events

The types of calls volunteers expect to receive vary. A lot of calls are received from students and interns describing the arduous journey they are on, and sometimes the other circumstances in their life they are juggling.

Interns and early career pharmacists often talk about the difficulty of finding their place within the profession, feeling valued for nothing more than their ‘cheap labour’, or dealing with intimidation tactics from other staff, customers and even other health professionals.

There are calls regarding bullying, concerns about dispensing or practice errors, there are sometimes calls about disciplinary action or investigation. Some callers talk of feeling disillusioned with the profession, asking ‘what should I do next?’

Some callers have experienced suicidal thoughts and occasionally the caller is experiencing an immediate crisis.

PSS has support measures in place to support volunteers including a clinical psychologist for debriefing and facilitating ongoing support.

Next are the team meetings, which are held once every two months. The meetings are a valuable opportunity for training and important for team building purposes as most volunteers would have no other opportunity to connect with each other.

Meetings also provide a valuable opportunity to reflect upon the major issues troubling members of the pharmacy profession as reflected in PSS calls.

When a large portion of calls received pertain to one kind of issue, it’s time to ask ourselves as a professional body: “why is this occurring?”

Let’s raise some awareness about this issue, let’s see how we can improve (Isn’t that what domain 4 of our competency standards is all about?)

Being a PSS volunteer has been a very profound experience. I have learnt we really are in this together, we are all facing different struggles and we all need someone to listen.

The anonymity is crucial

Anonymity is at the heart of this service, not least because it protects the caller from any kind of ramifications. The benefits of anonymity run so much deeper, however.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to confide candidly in the people around us, even our nearest and dearest. Our friends and family are not always available, sometimes we need a fresh perspective, sometimes we are so deep in the throes of despair we have lost sight of the love around us.

Waiting on the other side of the phone for someone to reach out when they need it most is an honour, and it wouldn’t happen if the relationship between the caller and myself was burdened with familiarity.

Answering the phone is not about who I am, and it’s not about your social identity. It is about creating a space for you to express what you need to, when you need it most. That’s the best way I can help this profession, and it has nothing to do with who I am.

The Pharmacist Support Service is here for you.

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