‘I was the pharmacist that found herself stressed and burnt out.’


A community pharmacist unravels the reasons why those in the profession spiral into burnout and job dissatisfaction—and shares her personal “tipping point”

Community pharmacists are no strangers to stress.

Calls to the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) have been increasing in number in recent times, according to PSS Executive Officer Kay Dunkley.

This includes numbers of calls related to stressful encounters with patients or doctors, and interpersonal conflict among pharmacy staff or with management including bullying.

PSS also receives calls about pharmacists concerned about the lack of a career pathway and low salary, as well as workload and stress from taking on additional roles.

“I personally think that the pressure of working on the frontline during COVID-19 has exacerbated the level of dissatisfaction as pharmacists and pharmacy staff are feeling exhausted, undervalued and unsupported in some (but not all) pharmacy working environments,” Ms Dunkley told AJP.

“The prolonged nature of the pandemic and pharmacy being on the frontline are taking their toll.”

Chantelle Turner was one of those stressed community pharmacists trying to keep things together.

A pharmacist manager for over nine years, Ms Turner was working a minimum of 55 hours a week in a high-functioning store.

However although she had a career that looked great on the outside, she was struggling on the inside.

“I was the pharmacist that found herself stressed and burnt out,” she told AJP.

“I was good at my job. I had a great relationship with my staff, my superiors and my customers.

“I was a ‘yes’ person and considered myself a ‘fixer’. If you needed something done … I would take it on and inevitably, a little more of my time would be eaten away.

“If the business was succeeding, so was I. I thought that was what drove my job satisfaction. I began the spiral towards burnout, but of course, I denied it and soldiered on for about 12 months. Little flags kept showing up that showed me I needed to slow down or adjust how I worked but, in my head, asking for help was a sign of weakness.”

Ms Turner said she eventually reached a “tipping point”.

“I was reading an article called, ‘The 11 Questions Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Ask Themselves’. There was a multitude of questions, but number one got me: ‘who are you without your accolades?’

Chantelle realised the importance of pharmacists developing ‘soft’ skills. Image: Supplied.

“I couldn’t answer the question. I had lost myself in the job I had wanted all my life. I call it my early mid-life crisis and I am so glad it happened! After reaching this point, I went about putting the pieces back together. I actively pursued increasing my emotional intelligence and my leadership skills.”

She is now a mum working as a pharmacy leadership coach, as working within a community pharmacy currently doesn’t fit her life’s needs and her family.

“So, through my lived experience and leadership coaching, I help other pharmacists improve their soft skills to navigate their own journey through this crazy, empowering and vitally important job we call being a community pharmacist,” she said.

Ms Turner started her business TURN Pharmacy Leadership for two main reasons.

“One, I hear time and time again about pharmacists struggling to cope with the day-to-day demands of working in community pharmacy. Two, I have seen the effects that poor leadership has on everyone’s quality of life at work as well as a pharmacy’s functionality and profitability.

“My advice for any pharmacists wanting to take care of their wellbeing is acknowledging what you need to feel whole. Balance in our lives has never been more important and harder to achieve than now due to the external pressures placed on us through the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Balance in our lives has never been more important and harder to achieve than now due to the external pressures placed on us through the COVID-19 pandemic

A study published in BMJ General Psychiatry this month found that Australian frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic are experiencing high levels of psychosocial distress.

“To me, the biggest challenge that community pharmacists on the frontline face is two-fold,” said Ms Turner.

“The first part of the challenge is that there are so many elements of community practice that feel uncontrollable. On the frontline, we are always ‘reacting’ and working in an acutely time-sensitive setting.

“This can leave pharmacists feeling on the back foot, constantly hustling and restricted in their ability to change their circumstances.”

Secondly, she said, these circumstances don’t allow time for reflection and personal development of soft skills and emotional intelligence.

Ms Turner believes that “through the practice of self-reflection … we ensure that we keep in focus that work is only one aspect of our lives. To be happy and productive, minimise burnout and improve job satisfaction, it takes a far more holistic approach than just working hard. Listen to what your body needs mentally and physically.

“I can hear people saying that is so much easier than done! You’re right, I would never disagree. This is where upskilling comes in. Just like improving your clinical skills, improving your soft skills and emotional intelligence takes guidance and upskilling. Invest in upskilling your soft skills just as you would invest in your clinical ones.

“I am passionate about this because we have community pharmacists leaving this sector. A lot are leaving not because they don’t like community pharmacy anymore, they are leaving because they can no longer cope with the stress,” she said.

“While I commend them for taking steps to protect themselves, I believe we need to give these people the tools to prevent them from getting to this point in their career in the first place.”

Some of Ms Turner’s tips for balance and wellbeing include:

  • Acknowledging what your body is telling you and then making the investment in what you need to fulfill those requirements. For example, if work has been hectic, the investment may be organising an afternoon or even an hour for yourself to slow down, practice some mindfulness and do something that brings you joy.
  • A quick exercise to identify possible imbalance is to consider your life in the form of five buckets. Work, Family and Friends, Recreation, Personal Growth, and Health. The exercise sees you colour in each bucket in relation to how much time and energy you’re investing. You might find that you colour in one bucket to the point of overflowing, and another is empty. This identifies that you may need to develop strategies to lower the level of one bucket. It also highlights where you may need to prioritise energy to fill a bucket to create more balance.

Anonymous and confidential crisis support counselling is available through the Pharmacists’ Support Service by phoning 1300 244 910 between 8am and 11pm (EST) every day of the year.

Connect with Chantelle and TURN Pharmacy Leadership on her website or Facebook page.

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12 Comments

  1. pagophilus
    14/09/2021

    55 hours a week. Of course she’s burnt out. I know some pharmacists think working such hours is normal, but it shouldn’t be. (Doctors also take note.) People need time for themselves, to have a life.

    I also remember reading the British Pharmaceutical Society’s newsletter when my colleague was still a member. Most of the job ads seemed to say “5 days a week, 5 weeks holidays, no weekends, no paperwork” whereas the typical job ad in Australia says “pharmacist required for busy pharmacy”, as if we worship busyness. That word, busy, seems very prominent in pharmacy life here. Go figure.

    I know there’s more nuance in there, but these are just some observations.

    • Paul Sapardanis
      15/09/2021

      I like the ads that say professionally rewarding. Code for we do everything and never say no. Everything we do is a professional service

    • Michael Post
      15/09/2021

      Pharmacies are busy because location rules drive people to limited shopfronts. Less shops, more scripts, less consultation time , less community benefit but lots more money generated for the lucky few. Location rules are not evidence based in promoting community health and were introduced to reduce administrative burden of manual PBS claiming at the first community pharmacy agreement . Manual claiming is gone and so too should location rules.

  2. jack7711
    14/09/2021

    Work balance in community pharmacy….What a utopian concept…
    Your primary purpose is to make money Son and that’s that. Patient interaction?
    Only if it involves making us money Son. Work faster with less help– yep much faster. You’ll work 6 days maybe 7 days. You’re lucky to have this job, plenty of others desperate to take your spot. Work baby work, forget lunch, forget toilet breaks, forget time off, forget your family. ‘Excuse me’ will be your calling card. Maybe down the track you can buy in… Maybe…

  3. Vanesh Nayak
    14/09/2021

    This article so much resembles my own feelings at the moment.
    I have been working in community pharmacy quite long and I still love it, and I am very good at it.
    However, now the work load is so overwhelming that I am now about to quit the community pharmacy.
    since the pandemic began, our workload increased so much due to faxes and emails plus patient calling multiple times to check if their script has arrived.
    I asked owner for a dedicated person for answering the calls. Request was not approved (staff budget issue).
    Pharmacy Board and Guild not seem to be doing much either. And I find PSA absolutely hopeless for such issues, no power, not teeth. the only think PSA can do is lend you sympathetic ears.
    So, hopefully, I will be selected for a role as a production pharmacist.

    • James O'Loughlin
      15/09/2021

      The sudden surge in phone calls and delivery requests really killed any ounce of joy I had left for pharmacy.
      The owners refused to hire any additional stuff for us as well and decided to also rollout AZ vaccination.
      We were doing 40-50 vaccines per day which meant a single pharmacist had to dispense/check over 400 scripts per day since one pharmacist was vaccinating all day!

      • Paul Sapardanis
        15/09/2021

        Where is the relevant regulator!! This workload is unacceptable and dangerous.

  4. TALL POPPY
    15/09/2021

    Pay pharmacists appropriately for their level of qualification, responsibility and expertise. It’s incredible pharmacists haven’t utilised their position as vaccinators to their advantage regarding negotiating a higher pay. I already advised this well over a year ago. It was your best and perhaps last chance. In any profession: more workload, higher responsibilities = higher pay. You being sent to the frontline of the war on COVID for goodness sake!

    If you were being paid $150k-$200k/annum I am sure half the ‘stress’ would simply vanish! Any still beating their head on the wall in the profession…well…good luck!

    • James O'Loughlin
      15/09/2021

      I tried to negotiate a better pay before AZ rollout and got laughed at and ridiculed. There’s no point fighting in the trenches. $37/hr is apparently too high a wage in pharmacy world!!!

      All community pharmacists should aim to acquire new skills and kickstart a new career just as Chantelle has done in the article above.

      I literally hung up my lab coat 3 weeks ago and got a better paying job working as a research assistant at uni in under a week and I’m also completing my engineering degree.

      Engineers earn well over $140,000/yr 2-3 years postgrad. Don’t waste your youth making rich people richer in community pharmacy.

      • TALL POPPY
        15/09/2021

        Congratulations mate! You are an assertive leader. You aren’t a sheep; your employers should have realised that you are well above average in this regard & they should have fought to keep staff like you (all things equal). This decision would have taken serious thought, but your mind was clear enough to act logically. You are destined for much greater things. Within a short time you will outpace your former pharmacist colleagues in pure earning capacity and respect. Each year of stagnation that goes by for them is, in effect, a loss. By acting now, it seems you have secured a bright future. PHARMACISTS – TAKE NOTE! Again James, big congratulations!

        • James O'Loughlin
          15/09/2021

          Thanks Tall Poppy. I thought I’d share how I made it out to show it can be done. Anyone can do it.

          Don’t put it off. You will regret it.

  5. Paul Sapardanis
    15/09/2021

    Thank-you for sharing your experience with us Chantelle. To many pharmacists are altruistic in their need to feel professionally rewarded. eg dropping deliveries on their way home, staying back ( unpaid) to finish tasks etc. Until we change our mindset to be a little less giving then I’m afraid your story will continue to be common. Work should not define you as a person, the relationships we have with our family and friends define us.

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