Pharmacy Professionals Need to Prioritize Their Own Mental Health to Help Patients

Pharmacy leadership remains mindful, connected, and engaged is crucial to support the mental health needs of their staff.

The COVID-19 pandemic placed pharmacies in a vital role on the frontlines of care, but the increased demands for their services also caused a subsequent rise in burnout among pharmacy staff. As such, it is just as essential for pharmacy professionals to prioritize their own mental health as it is for them to help their patients.

“There is a difference between when you’re feeling stressed and when you are ultimately feeling burnt out,” Alex Varkey, PharmD, MS, FAPhA, director of pharmacy services at Houston Methodist Hospital, said during a session at the American Pharmacists Association Annual Meeting 2022. “From a self-assessment standpoint, understanding‘ okay, hey am I just feeling stressed out? Is this kind of based on one particular incidence or… I’m starting to feel burnt out? ‘”Vakey said.

One helpful tool to help identify whether an individual is burnt out is the Pharmacist Well-Being Index (WBI). The assessment allows pharmacy professionals to track their professional well-being and monitor clinical burnout.

The WBI is a 9-question assessment that measures the dimensions on the likelihood of burnout, severe fatigue, meaning of work, risk of medical error, overall well-being, and other factors. The report gives pharmacy professionals an overall score and allows them to compare it with the percentages of other pharmacy professionals.

Part of the WBI is the distress percent, which is a measure of individuals whose results showed a risk of high distress. Professionals with high distress have a greater risk of experiencing burnout, low quality of life, high fatigue, and committing medication errors.

“I’ve had those times when I have felt burnt out and felt disengaged and stuck, and had to pull myself out of that hole and figure out what can I do to get out of this?” Sara Wettergreen, PharmD, BCACP, an assistant professor at the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said during the presentation.

In terms of making changes to burnout, Wettergreen said developing resilience is key. She said that when faced with burnout, changing the response and the environment are helpful to practicing resilience.

Wettergreen added that doing joyful activities outside of work can help pharmacy professionals to bring that same joy and energy into the workplace, and she placed a huge emphasis on mindfulness.

Wettergreen noted that working on “auto-pilot” at work can increase the risk for medication errors, therefore bringing more mindfulness to work would allow pharmacy professionals to really focus on the task at hand. Additionally, mindfulness can help individuals to reflect on their burnout and fatigue, which can also reduce the risk of medication errors.

From the environmental standpoint, Varkey said the organizations need to support the mental health needs of their pharmacy staff.

“Leadership matters,” Varkey said. “We went into this because we wanted to help people. There is a moral significance in that work, in helping our communities, in helping our patients. We have to help folks that are in our profession rekindle that connection. ”

As part of these efforts, Varkey said it is essential to reevaluate the resources these professionals have. The presentation also listed 4 steps to help leadership identify which resources would be useful for their staff in general.

The first step is to talk with their staff to find out what matters to them from their day-to-day. Then, identify which changes should be made, implement them, and lastly, use improvement science.

Varkey said being mindful, connected, and engaged with the pharmacy team is crucial because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a problem the scope of which the modern health care landscape has never confronted before.

Varkey said that leadership needs to better understand not only what is going on in the workplace, but the challenges their staff faces at home.

Furthermore, he said it is important for leadership to set an example by focusing on their own self-care as well, to enable them to be the best resources for their teams.

“I think we’ve gotten to a point where the word‘ joy ’seems trivial. It’s like, ‘you’re not supposed to enjoy work.’ Yes, you are, ”Varkey said. “There’s a sense of fulfillment we’re supposed to get out of our work, day-to-day. That’s why we went into the positions we did. “

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