Managing stress and minimising burnout risk as a pharmacist


What are the symptoms of burnout, and how can you protect yourself against it during the busy holiday season? Kay Dunkley from the Pharmacists’ Support Service explains

Research looking at the Australian pharmacy profession has shown that pharmacists have higher stress levels than the general public and similar to other health professionals.

As healthcare professionals we often put the needs of those we provide care for ahead of our own well-being, however this is a fast road to burnout.

Burnout is a combination of emotional exhaustion, de-personalisation and reduced personal accomplishment.

The symptoms include decreased job satisfaction, fatigue, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues and increased use of drugs and alcohol. It can appear as irritability, isolation and withdrawal, absenteeism and inattention to work.

Some of the factors which may contribute to burnout include heavy workload, inadequate rewards and not feeling valued, lack of workplace community and working in isolation, lack of control over the workload and how work is undertaken, feeling unfairly treated and a mismatch between the values of the organisation and the values of the pharmacist.

So what factors protect against burnout?

Positive social interactions reduce the likelihood of burnout as does a fair and supportive leadership style and also personal control over the workplace and work goals.

Likewise receiving positive feedback and having effort and achievement recognised and rewarded reduce the risk of burnout. It is also important that the values of the individual align with the values of the organisation.

Pharmacists are at significant risk of burnout as even in the best workplaces it is difficult to achieve all of the protective factors.

We often work in busy and noisy environments and deal with patients who do not appreciate our efforts to assist them.

Pharmacists often do not have control over workload whether in a community pharmacy or a hospital environment. The pressures within a busy pharmacy or a hospital ward can also result in poor communication including rudeness and incivility.

As pharmacists we must as individuals prioritise our own self-care so that we can continue to care for others. It is important that we “put on our own oxygen mask before helping others”.

Important aspects of self-care include the basics of having rest breaks during our working day and maintaining our energy with nutritious food and drinking plenty of water.

Pharmacy culture commonly does not encourage or support breaks from work during the day. However this must change as breaks are essential to ensure that we can maintain adequate concentration to ensure we can work accurately and efficiently as well as being able to focus on the needs of our patients.

Symptoms of burnout include decreased job satisfaction, fatigue, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues and increased use of drugs and alcohol. It can appear as irritability, isolation and withdrawal, absenteeism and inattention to work.

Outside work it is very beneficial to have interests and hobbies which are enjoyable and absorbing to enable us to relax and forget about work. The possibilities are endless and could include creative activities such as painting, craft, sewing, writing, playing a musical instrument, wine-making and cooking.

Others may prefer sport or outdoor activities such as bike riding, running, team sports, golf, swimming, hiking, horse-riding or skiing. Many enjoy travelling and cultural activities such as theatre, concerts and galleries or fine dining.

At this time of the year, with the rush before Christmas and the end of the safety net year, pharmacists face added stress due to increased workload. In addition for those working over the holiday period we are often are at the front line when other services are closed or we can’t contact prescribers to clarify prescriptions or confirm a history.

Thus it is important that we each take extra care of ourselves and plan how we will relax when we have a day off. We are not machines – we are human, and we do need to recharge rather than risk running out of energy.

If you are feeling stressed and burnt out it is important to take some time to review your personal priorities and goals in life. These questions are helpful to review the other dimensions of life outside work:

  • Personal life. What activities energise me and am I doing them?
  • Physical health. Am I getting enough exercise and eating well? Have I had a routine check-up with my GP?
  • Mental health. What gives me joy and am I doing this?
  • Am I spending enough time with the people I love?
  • Spiritual life. How am I caring for my soul?
  • Do I have a big picture of what I want to achieve in the next 12 months?

For more information the publication, Managing Stress in Pharmacy, is available for download from the website of the Pharmacists’ Support Service.

The Pharmacists’ Support Service is available to provide a listening ear and support over the phone every day of the year between 8.00 am and 11.00 pm AEDST on 1300244910.

The Pharmacists’ Support Service is a charity for pharmacists and you can support our work by making a donation at https://www.givenow.com.au/pharmacistssupportservice

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