With so much negativity around the profession at the moment, how can early career pharmacists stay positive and look after their own mental health?
The National Stress and Wellbeing Survey of Pharmacists, Intern Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students found that pharmacists are as stressed as other health professionals: and early career pharmacists were the most stressed of all.
Those who had practised for less than 10 years had a slightly higher (but statistically significant) stress score than those who had practised longer.
Respondents under 30 years of age also had a higher stress score than the older pharmacists.
PSA Young Pharmacist of the Year and partner at the Wanniassa Capital Chemist Elise Apolloni told the AJP that it’s very important for pharmacists to take control of their own mental health.
“We go out into the community every day and we’re expected to be well and happy to be there, but we all have our own stuff going on,” she says.
While Ms Apolloni is well known for her positive attitude, she has been affected by changes to community pharmacy as much as any member of the profession, she says.
She told the AJP about her happiness at becoming a partner in the Wanniassa Capital Chemist – only weeks before Simplified Price Disclosure was announced.
“I remember elation and excitement about becoming a pharmacy owner, and a great sense of pride, only to be told a couple of weeks later that two years down the track, things weren’t looking good and we didn’t know if we’d still be open,” she says.
“I’ll never forget it. I was still learning, but I looked at my partner and thought, ‘If you’ve owned this pharmacy 12 years and you’re stressed, maybe I should really be stressed’.
“We crunched the numbers and I just broke down. I’ll never forget how distraught I felt at the time: all these changes happening to my staff and my community and I felt I had no ability to change it.”
Recognising that there was nothing she could do to change price disclosure, Ms Apolloni and her partner decided to change the pharmacy instead, implementing the suite of professional services for which it has become renowned.
“Four years in, we’re not complacent, but it’s not so scary any more,” she says. “We still get nervous every time the next price cuts come around, but the difference is that now we feel we’re in control of what’s happening, in the sense that we have the ability to make it up in other ways.
“Perception of control is really important in some of these situations.”
Breaking down barriers
Shefali Parekh, NAPSA’s former president, says the stress survey is important because it sheds much-needed light on the struggles faced by pharmacists and students.
“I think the stress and wellbeing survey did a good job in demonstrating how Australian pharmacists, interns and Students cope with the pressures associated with today’s challenging economic and regulatory environment,” she says.
“And although the findings were largely negative, it teaches us an important lesson.
“As a student, I feel moderately prepared to manage workplace related stress because I am taught basic strategies at university, but until I am exposed to real-life scenarios, I can’t really be sure of my resilience.
“There are often barriers to seeking assistance such as shame and the fact that we are often bombarded with articles and social media posts about the negativities of the profession in terms of over-worked, under-paid, undervalued.
“But there is a lot of good in pharmacy and looking forward to the future, there are limitless opportunities open to pharmacists for fulfilment and pride in our work.”
Vaccinating and working with GPs are a good example, she says, “which 10 years ago was not in a pharmacist’s job description.
“I think the profession can definitely do better to support pharmacists’ health and wellbeing, which is important not only for the benefit of the pharmacy profession but ultimately the patients and communities we serve.”
Elise Apolloni told the AJP that it’s important for pharmacists to look after themselves as much as they do their customers.
“I’ve been very lucky throughout my career to be in pharmacies that allow me to uphold and maintain my professional standards, and I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to not be able to do that.
“We all need to create time and space for ourselves to help ourselves,” she says. “It might mean calling the PSS and sharing your experience at work and seeing if there’s anything that can be creatively negotiated and worked out; it might just be catching up with friends and sharing some strategies around that.
“It could be for some people that they just don’t enjoy their job as pharmacists. That’s sad, because it’s a long course and we put a lot of heart and soul into pharmacy but like any career, there’s never going to be 100% retention.
“Even that decision though, to leave your chosen career, is stressful: the self-doubt, the financial hardship that you might experience from becoming a student again. So I think professional help is really important. There’s no shame in seeing a psychologist and making sure you have appropriate support.”
She says that talking to owners, particularly if they may not be aware that a pharmacist is struggling, is often a good step.
For example, staff at the Wanniassa Capital Chemist were concerned that their one-and-a-half day weekends didn’t give them enough consecutive time off, so it was negotiated that they could work four long days followed by a three-day weekend.
“We’ve been doing it for a month and a half and it’s made a phenomenal difference,” Ms Apolloni told the AJP.
“My new weekend is Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but it’s not so much about when the days are happening, but about that block of time off. So I can do something different with my career or busy myself with something else or just focus on doing nothing for a few days if I want to.
“Sometimes you don’t know if that kind of roster flexibility is available unless you ask about it.
“Sometimes it’s really nice to socialise with workmates outside work, too, because you all get it: you get the stress, the pressure.
“As a pharmacist, I owe it to my customers for them to realise that I’m human as well. It’s okay to not be okay, and we want them to talk to us when they’re having tough times so we can help them, but we also deserve that level of help so I’m passionate about making sure we stick up for ourselves as well.”
AJP is reporting on stress affecting the pharmacy profession. Readers are invited to tell their stories, either by leaving comments below or getting in touch with the AJP team.
Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.
PDL members can contact PDL on 1300 854 838.