On the edge

40% of pharmacist readers say they have experienced burnout in the past, while a further quarter are undergoing it right now… so what are pharmacy organisations doing to help?

“Burnout” is a psychological term that refers to the consequences of severe stress, particularly work-related stress.

According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, there are three main areas of symptoms that are considered to be signs of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion
  2. Alienation from (work-related) activities, and
  3. Reduced performance.

Recently the BBC broadcast a report that heard from pharmacists working for the UK pharmacy chain Boots, who said their teams were struggling with work pressures and understaffing.

“Some days you would describe the team as being at breaking point,” said the first insider.

“That’s because simply the amount of work that has to be done can’t physically get done, safely, and can’t physically get done without working longer hours or working after the store’s closed.”

The second pharmacist said: “You don’t have the correct amount of time. You don’t even have the correct amount of staff to do things on time. At best you’ll barely have enough staff to just cope.”

We asked readers in a web poll: In your pharmacy career, have you ever experienced burnout? Voters could only choose one option.

Out of more than 500 votes:

  • 39% said they have experienced “total burnout” in the past
  • 26% said they are experiencing overwork and burnout right now
  • 26% say they have experienced overwork and moderate-high levels of stress but not burnout
  • 7% say they have experienced some stress, but not anything serious
  • 2% of pharmacist readers say they are “not really stressed” in their role at all

Kay Dunkley from the Pharmacists’ Support Service says the numbers reflect the results of the National Stress and Wellbeing Survey of pharmacy staff that was undertaken last year, which revealed that members of the pharmacy workforce currently report more perceived stress than has been reported for the Australian population.

However this level of stress was no greater than the level reported by other health professions.

And while many are able to cope with that stress, some can develop “burnout”.

“There is certainly a correlation between stress and burnout,” Ms Dunkley told AJP.

“Prolonged stress does lead to burnout. And we do have calls from people who feel they are burnt out and they’re really unsure about whether they want to continue in pharmacy profession, because they don’t feel like they’ve got a lot left to give.

“It is an issue for concern, and I know that a lot of the pharmacy organisations are starting to take this on board. SHPA are offering their wellness webinars over the next 12 months, the first of their webinars is next Tuesday. That’s an organisation that’s responding to the fact that they recognising their members and I also think the PSA are moving into this space, they’re looking at various initiatives to improve the wellbeing of members.”

The poll reveals that heavy workloads are an issue that needs to be sorted, says PSA National President Dr Shane Jackson.

“These polls, and the PSS workplace stress survey, highlight that we’ve got to be trying to address workloads of all health professionals including pharmacists.

“There’s absolutely no doubt, certainly with pressure on the healthcare system, increasing levels of chronic disease, people expecting more of their health professionals, sometimes governments expecting more for the dollar that they’re spending, that the people at the forefront – which are the pharmacists – feel like they’re overworked because they’re expected to do more.

“And often they’re expected to do more for the same remuneration,” Dr Jackson tells AJP.

“That creates an expectation gap and a disconnect between what they desire to do – they desire to have a workload that’s manageable, they desire to have a work environment that supports them.

“When that’s not in play, there’s that expectation gap between what they want to do and what they’re actually able to do, it highlights those existing issues within the profession that we need to address – across hospitals and also across the community workplace as well.”

The ability to cope

Ms Dunkley highlights that the National Stress and Wellbeing Survey found many in the pharmacy workplace do not have coping strategies in place to deal with stress.

It also found that members of the pharmacy workforce were mostly unprepared to deal with stress-related issues in their workplaces, particularly upon entering those workplaces for the first time.

There is a need to raise awareness about stress and self care, says Ms Dunkley.

“It’s one of these things where services need to be provided, but people also have to be willing to address issues within their own lives. There is a need to develop a resilience to be able to address the stress in their workplace,” she says.

“With burnout itself, that’s more of an individual thing. That will vary between individuals, and that’s where self-care comes in, it becomes more important.

“You have to look at individuals’ ability to leave work behind when they go home and relax, and look after themselves with the usual strategies and having an outlet to release stress, such as exercise and health eating, getting outside in the fresh air… modifying your lifestyle and making sure you have some downtime, not working excessive hours, because if you look after yourself you’ll cope better.”

Dr Jackson says the PSA’s Career Pathways program is structured to support pharmacists to learn coping strategies to deal with workplace stress along their career journey.

“Those pathways are all about actually having the support structures in place – not only from an education and training point of view, but from a leadership point of view, the ability to manage stresses in the workplace, and also the collegiality that comes from the practice environments and being able to talk to your peers.

“There’s the ability to be able to talk about issues that are in the workplace, and issues that people are coming up against on a daily basis.”

He says members have been able to learn from peers and people who are in similar work environments about how to overcome such issues.

“Our career pathways are absolutely a way that we try to support our members in their professional journey, from graduation through to lifelong learning, and being able to support them with these stresses that can be in the workplace as well.”

SHPA is also offering targeted support to hospital pharmacist members.

The cornerstone of a new SHPA/PSS alliance begins next week with ‘Managing Stress’ – the first of seven in the 2018 Wellness at Work webinar series – broadcast nationwide, free to SHPA members.

Chief Executive Kristin Michaels says the organisation has recently renewed its commitment to holistically supporting pharmacists’ health and wellbeing.

“Pharmacist roles continue to evolve and, in hospital pharmacy in particular, pharmacists are entrenching themselves in multidisciplinary medical teams, working in increasingly complex environments.

“We are proud to grow our partnership with Pharmacists’ Support Service in 2018 and deliver a range of new and improved initiatives and services to support the wellness of hospital pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and assistants both on and off the clock.”

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