Monday, March 16, 2015

Preventing Burnout Among Pharmacists

Pharmacist Awareness Month 2015, also known as PAM, is upon us! Every March brings pharmacists into the public eye with a wonderful campaign celebrating them for what they are: trusted and knowledgeable healthcare professionals. Without campaigns like this, you’d be hard pressed to see the profession move forward the way it has. Expanded scope would remain at a standstill and the “pill pusher” stereotype would remain ever present. It’s vitally important for the public to realize the value pharmacists have and PAM  is a great way to showcase our abilities. 

Pharmacists are known to be ambassadors of health, but this got me thinking; pharmacists do a fantastic job promoting health to their patients and public, but are they “practicing what they preach”? In other words, are pharmacists remembering their own health?

This brings up an issue often forgotten and under-addressed. Although you see it almost all professions, the highest prevalence is in the world of healthcare; burnout. The fact is that the world of pharmacy is fertile ground for burnout, which impacts physical, emotional and psychological health of pharmacists, not to mention professional viability1,3.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of exhaustion; it encompasses mental, emotional and physical health often relating to the workplace.  It’s a slow brewing, multidimensional syndrome made up of three core domainsIt is commonly caused by excessive and prolonged stress, inability to meet constant demands and disparity between expectations and reality. Multiple individual and environmental factors have an effect on an individual's risk and ability to cope with burnout.

3 domains of burnout1:

  • Cynicism - negative job and workplace attitude (can lead to depersonalization)
    • A distinguishing characteristic of burnout
  • Exhaustion - feeling physically and emotionally depleted 
  • Ineffectiveness - devaluing one's own accomplishments

It’s also important to understand that stress and burnout are different. They have common features but ultimately differ in that stress, involves too much whereas burnout is often about not enough2The following table helps to differentiate these two concepts:

 Emotions are over-reactive
 Urgency and hyperactivity
 Loss of energy
 Primary damage is physical
 Emotions are blunted
 Helplessness & hopelessness
 Loss of motivation
 Detachment and depression
 Primary damage is emotional

What does burnout look like?

Burnout is an indolent process that happens over an extended period of time. Recognizing the signs early can help prevent complete collapse.

       Signs of burnout include1,2:

  • always feeling tired and exhausted
  • frequent back pain, headaches, muscle pain
  • feeling trapped
  • detachment, helplessness, self-doubt
  • loss of motivation, extreme boredom
  • isolating yourself from others, withdrawal

5 tips for preventing burnout1,2: 

1. Eat healthy, exercise and sleep well
It is well documented that healthy living builds energy and resilience to life’s daily demands. As pharmacists we know this and preach it, though not easy, it’s time to adopt the advice we so readily deliver.

2. Set boundaries
Learn how to say “no”. You can't do it all and overextending yourself will set you up for failure. Saying “no" means you can say “yes” to things you truly want to do, which will keep you engaged and happy in your profession.

3. Take a daily break from technology
Separate yourself from email, voice mail and phone calls to free your mind of stress and worry. Disconnect and take time for yourself.

4. Nourish your creative side
Try something new, start a fun project or hobby. Choose things that you love and have nothing to do with work.

5. Effectively manage stress
Stress is heavily implicated in burnout, thus effectively managing stress will significantly reduce your chances of burnout. Stress management comes in many forms, check out this resource for strategies.

It's been shown that young professionals in their first 5 years of practice are particularly at risk for burnout1. New grads may refrain from discussing issues with managers, confuse feeling overwhelmed with personal inadequacy and attempt to prove themselves by taking on too much, all factors leading to burnout. As new grads, we have to be on the look-out for signs of burnout and use things like PAM, continuing education to remind us of our value and keep us engaged in order to remain healthy and impactful clinicians.

1. Zanni, GR. Roundup: Burnout: When everyday irritations ruin your career. [Accessed March 12, 2015]
2. Smith M, Jaffe-Gill E, Segal R. Burnout: signs, symptoms, and prevention. [Accessed March 12, 2015]
3. Mott DA, Doucette WR, Gaither CA, Pederson CA, Schommer JC. Pharmacists' attitudes toward worklife: Results from a national survey of pharmacists. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2004;44(3):326-36.