Calling for help: Part 2


We take a look at a couple of real-life stories of pharmacists who have experienced workplace pressures, customer abuse and more

This is the second installation of a two-part series about difficult workplace situations for pharmacists.

Part one looked at calls encountered by Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) volunteers including:

  • a hospital pharmacist dealing with an accusation of bullying;
  • a community pharmacist reeling from an interaction with a racist customer; and
  • a young pharmacist struggling to get along with shop assistants.

“It’s about listening and giving those who call coping strategies,” says PSS Executive Officer Kay Dunkley, whose team of 25 trained volunteer pharmacists and retired pharmacists man the lines 365 days a year.

Here are some further scenarios that PSS volunteers have encountered.

Lack of supervision and pressure to sell

A call was received from a pharmacy intern working in community pharmacy with two months to go until registration. The pharmacy had changed hands and the new owners were very different to the previous ones.

They do not check his work (he is terrified that he will make a mistake) but he has been carefully scanning all his dispensing. The new owners also do a lot of companion selling and put pressure on him to do so.

One of the new partners had criticised him, saying “If you want to succeed in pharmacy you will need to learn to sell products or the business will go bankrupt.”

He is feeling very stressed and is experiencing significant anxiety about going to work and had to call in sick on the day of the call as he couldn’t face work.

He just wants to get through the next two months and become registered so that he can leave, and in his words, “find a more ethical pharmacy to work in.”

How PSS took the call:

  • The PSS volunteer listened and empathised with the intern, and they discussed the legality and ethics of the situation.
  • They discussed how the intern might manage the situation and whether he feels he can approach either of the owners to raise his concerns, especially in relation to having his worked checked.
  • The intern was not confident to approach either of the new owners but was willing to talk with the coordinator of his intern training program.
  • In addition, the volunteer and the intern discussed some stress management techniques and relaxation practices.

Customer abuse

The caller is a young female pharmacist in her first year after registration. When she called initially she was sobbing, but when she calmed down she described an unpleasant interaction with a rude and abusive customer.

Based on the dispensing history she was concerned about a medication interaction and explained to the customer that she would need to ring his doctor to check the safety of the prescription.

The customer responded angrily, saying “What would you know, how dare you question my doctor? Just give me the prescription and I will take it somewhere else you stupid little bitch.”

As the customer left the pharmacy he pushed over a display and spat on the floor near the front door. Her colleagues were supportive and her manager sent her on a break to calm down, but they were too busy to stop and talk to her. This is when she rang PSS.

How PSS took the call:

  • Initially the PSS volunteer provided the caller the opportunity to cry, acknowledging her distress.
  • When she was calmer the pharmacist detailed her unpleasant interaction and the volunteer reassured her that she did not deserve to be treated like that and that her actions were by her account appropriate.
  • They discussed why the customer may have reacted the way he did (noting that he may have mental health issues as per his medication history).
  • The pharmacist ended the call with appreciation at being able to chat about her experience with the volunteer.

On the treadmill

The PSS caller is a female pharmacist in her early 30s. She has two children – one in kindergarten (full-time day care) and one at primary school. Her husband is currently working full-time and studying for his MBA. They have a large mortgage and are saving for their children’s education.

She has called PSS because she has been asked to submit her CPD records to the Pharmacy Board of Australia. She finds it very difficult to participate in CPD and has not completed enough “hours”.

She is working full time in hospital pharmacy; hours are 8.30am to 5.00pm (with a 30 minute lunch break). She is also expected to work one weekend day (8am to 4pm) every four weeks and be on-call after hours for 7 days every 12 weeks.

During the conversation she confides that she is thinking about giving up pharmacy altogether, as she “just can’t seem to keep up with the CPD requirements” and would like to find another role which doesn’t involve any after-hours commitments.

As the conversation unfolds she admits feeling exhausted from looking after her family and working full time, with little opportunity for relaxation or to do things she enjoys. Weekends fill up with the children’s activities and extended family commitments, plus household chores. Weekdays are about surviving the drop off and pick up routine with the children, homework, washing, cooking and cleaning. She rarely goes to bed before 1.30am and gets up at 6.00am on weekdays.

She and her husband do have a regular evening out together once a month (grandparents babysit the children) and her marital relationship is good. However she has little time to herself or the opportunity to attend CPD events. “I can’t see an end in sight and there seems to be nothing to look forward to in life. I just feel like I am a mouse on a wheel and I want to get off,” she says.

How PSS took the call:

  • The PSS volunteer listened and expressed empathy, asking about who the pharmacist can call upon to get to bed a little earlier and free up some time.
  • They also discussed what things the caller would like to do if she had spare time and what she enjoys about her work as a pharmacist.
  • The discussion moves to CPD and the various CPD options to gain the necessary points, including opportunities in her workplace such as journal club.
  • In addition, she acknowledged that maybe she could combine a family holiday with attendance at a conference.
  • As the call drew to a close she said she felt better having talked to somebody about her feelings. “I do enjoy my work and although I may not have all the answers I can see some possible ways to change my lifestyle,” she said.

The PSS helpline – 1300 244 910 – is open all year round from 8am to 11pm.

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