Patient-facing health workers exhausted

young pharmacists: bored blonde pharmacist yawns as she dispenses meds

More than half of healthcare workers in this study were found to be suffering burnout

A multi-country study conducted between March and June 2020 has found 67% of healthcare worker respondents screened positive for burnout.

The PLOS One study was conducted across the United Kingdom, Poland, and Singapore, with healthcare workers invited to participate using a self-administered questionnaire to evaluate safety culture, burnout, anxiety and depression.

A total of 3,537 healthcare workers responded to the questionnaire.

Among these, 1,590 (45%) responses were from nurses, 684 (19.3%) from doctors, 517 (14.6%) from other clinical staff including pharmacists and allied health professionals, and 746 (21.1%) from non-clinical staff.

Of the sample, 2,364 (67%) screened positive for burnout, 701 (20%) for anxiety, and 389 (11%) for depression.

Burnout can be defined as “a syndrome of exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced professional efficacy”, explained the researchers.

Significant predictors of burnout included patient-facing roles such as being a doctor, nurse, or any other clinical role such as a pharmacist; being redeployed; anxiety; and depression.

Meanwhile they found an inverse relationship between COVID-19 testing and burnout, which the researchers said was an “unexpected finding”.

One reason for this finding may be that provision of testing reveals a well-run organisation with staff who feel well supported and who are, in turn, less likely to develop adverse mental health outcomes, they suggested.

Conversely, it could be that staff suffering from burnout, anxiety or depression were less likely to seek out testing, possibly due to disengagement, physical or psychological symptoms.

During the pandemic, 777 (22%) respondents had received at least one test for SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Significant predictors of anxiety included female or undisclosed gender, and burnout, while for depression, predictors included being redeployed, burnout and anxiety.

Results showed that the COVID-19 pandemic, or changes as a result of the pandemic, may have led to an increased rate of burnout among staff, said the researchers.

“Our results demonstrate that clinical roles confer a higher burnout risk compared with non-clinical roles,” they said.

“Particular challenges might have included adapting to a new method of working, increased service demands, prolonged periods wearing personal protective equipment, feeling ‘powerless’ to manage patients’ conditions, and a fear of becoming infected or infecting others.”

Aussie pharmacists burning out

A recent Australian study of 647 pharmacists during April and June 2020 found high rates of burnout, associated with absenteeism, self-reported errors, reduced patient care and in some cases, pharmacists leaving the profession.

A number of respondents reported that working overtime, medication supply issues and patient incivility had adversely affected their work during the pandemic.

Calls to the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) during the acute phase of the pandemic in March, April and May 2020 reflected the findings of both studies, with increased calls revealing the stress in the pharmacy profession at this time, PSS Executive Officer Kay Dunkley told AJP.

“This increased number of calls has continued into 2021, though not at the same levels as during the early stage of the pandemic,” she said.

“In Australia, in response to the pandemic, in addition to the actual risk of infection, there has been other factors causing stress in pharmacy such as changes to legislation around the supply of some medications such as Salbutamol inhalers, the introduction of electronic prescriptions, requests for home delivery of medications and more recently generic prescribing.

“All of this has impacted on pharmacists in community practice,” said Ms Dunkley.

“For pharmacists in the hospital environment there are also ongoing changes to workplace practices to minimise risk of infection among staff which is also impacting on pharmacist wellbeing, for example, working in discrete teams and some staff working from home.

“In addition hospitals are now facing heavier workloads as there are efforts to catch up on delayed elective surgery and delayed presentation and diagnosis of patients with serious medical conditions.”

Ms Dunkley suggested that in order to prevent burnout, it is essential for pharmacists and pharmacy staff to take holidays despite not being able to travel overseas.

In addition, keeping a balance in life with adequate rest between rostered work, avoiding long shifts, and having interests outside pharmacy.

“Hobbies and time spent pursuing other interests such as sport or creative activities is very important to enable us to relax and refresh and keep meaning and purpose in our lives outside of work,” she said.

“It may seem hard to set aside time but by having outside interests it will be easier to manage the stress of work. We become burnt out when we place all our eggs in one basket and focus our lives only on work.

“Those leading a balanced life will also work more efficiently and effectively at work as they can see the big picture, be more creative in problem solving and have more energy at work as they are able to really relax when not working,” said Ms Dunkley.

“This can be hard for parents of young children who are juggling home responsibilities as well as work and can feel as if they are working all day every day. Parents must set aside some time for themselves to do something they enjoy.”

Read the PLOS One study here. Read the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy study here

Previous Pharmacists rate high on ‘ethics and honesty’
Next World news wrapup: 29 April 2021

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.


  1. Tamer Ahmed

    One of the biggest challenges that I have faced while working is trying to balance my intrests with the intrests of an employer.Health professionals have this unusual burden that they have to deal with.Which is the rights of the employers to decisions that are profitable while trying to maintain their licenses.In an ideal world an employer wouldnt take any decisions that will endanger a health professional’s license.In reality a for profit employer will try to cut any corners to make more money if the supply of health professionals guarantees him an endless amount of health professionals.The rights of the employer to draft whatever work conditions they desire is no difference in healthcare compared to any other industry.The laws unfortunately dont discriminate between a contract made with an salesman or a health professional.Although the risk in both scenarios are different.As the worst thing that could happen to the salesman is that he can loose his job.While the health professional can loose also his license.

    • Sean Gannon

      Unionising is the most practical way I can see for pharmacists to countervail the force of indiscriminate profit-seeking in healthcare. Where the interests of big business vs employee pharmacists and patients diverge (e.g. wages, deceptive advertising of complementary medicines, proper oversight of taxpayer funded services, just to name a few), employee pharmacists need to be able to come together and use collective leverage to push back against the influence of the Pharmacy [Owners’] Guild. Until then, I won’t be surprised if workload continues to increase and wages continue to stagnate. The people making millions of dollars out of community pharmacy will always be able to strong-arm any individual pharmacist that tries to disrupt the status quo. Could they strong-arm 35,000 pharmacists though?

Leave a reply