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Pharmacy, Burnout and Me - why are pharmacists prone to burnout?

Us pharmacists are a rare breed!


I say this 'tongue-in-cheek' all the time but never has this been more apparent than right now.

The recent Royal Pharmaceutical Society's Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey uncovered that 89% of pharmacist respondents were at high risk of burnout (https://bit.ly/3oV44Sd). Now you could argue that maybe only the burnt-out pharmacists actually completed the survey...maybe. But I don't buy it.

As someone who suffered long term work place stress and burnout as a pharmacist, I can tell you that I'm not surprised that the majority of the pharmacist workforce is on its knees. And it is not just the current pandemic situation, nor the continued lack of funding or support for pharmacists 'on the ground' (albeit these don't help).

It's actually the nature of the job.

No matter where you may work now, your job will more than likely have started off in a dispensary of some kind. Think about this for a minute....our very job is to check the accuracy of everyone else.

We are the last failsafe before the medicine is given to the patient/sent up to the ward and so it is in our very DNA to be accurate. We have to be. It is made very clear to us at the start of our careers that we must check, double check and TRIPLE check everything we do (was anyone else terrified into submission by talk of the 'Peppermint water' case?!!)

The problem is that this fear that is instilled in us; that we have to be accurate and that the buck, firmly stops with us, can cause certain behavioural characteristics. Hands up who is a bit of a perfectionist?! Of course you are. You are not allowed to make mistakes and have to ensure no-one else has, so is it really a surprise that you are a perfectionist? And that's okay in the work setting. It's when it spills over into your personal life or where it starts to impact all you do, that it becomes a problem. You see, perfectionists tend to have very high, unrelenting standards of themselves and of others. They find it hard to accept failure and everything has to be 'just right' with a huge focus on attention to detail. And if they don't meet those standards themselves, they are HUGELY self-critical and beat themselves up. A lot. I have never met a pharmacist who isn't unnecessarily harsh on themselves.

And if others don't meet these high standards, they end up wading in and taking over the job they had asked them to do because, "it's easier to do it myself and I will do it right". This, coupled with the fact that the 'buck stops with them', means they can struggle with delegation and 'not being in control'.

And let's not start with failure! If you work in a job where you can't make mistakes because you are that last failsafe and any errors can lead to some possible quite harsh punishments, failure isn't really an option. And if you do fail, that harsh self-criticism and immense guilt appears. How could I have done that? I should have done this. I could have done that, it's all my fault etc.

Sound familiar?

I have spoken to and worked with hundreds of pharmacists in my time at two national organisations and now as Founder of The Mental Wealth Academy* and they all share this in common. No exception. And it is these traits, mixed with the ever growing demand for medicines, the increasing lack of resources and the never ending paperwork that leads to long-term stress.

But stress is not the same as burnout.

Burnout can occur from long term stress and usually occurs when you are continually forcing yourself to do something that you don't want to do (i.e. working in a particular role), and which may go against your own individual values. In addition, you may feel unsupported in your role which lacks autonomy, recognition and /or acknowledgement. This is rife within our sector. Pharmacists also tend to be risk averse (because of the fear of failure as above) and so will usually stick-out a job they are unhappy in for longer than most. So what can we do about it?


If we really want to start tackling the burnout problem in our profession, it is a two-pronged approach. It will require time and investment from both management and the individual pharmacist because lets face it, the external circumstances (funding, lack of resource etc) are not likely to change any time soon.

So what does that look like? Well for organisations it means aligning the wellbeing of their teams with their business strategy and objectives. It should be at the core of all they do. Some of the most successful businesses in the world are successful because their people are clear about what the business does, what it stands for, how they do it and what their individual part is. These employees then really want to be there to perform that role (and not just for the paycheck) and will put in additional discretionary effort to do so.

For individuals it means doing some work on yourselves. This self-leadership 'stuff' is really important. I had to sadly learn that first-hand. It is only through recognising what you do and why you do it that you can hope to change it. Your organisations can offer you as much training as you want but the real work is within. You have to give yourselves the time to unplug from work, focus on yourselves (yes I know this is hard for you who has so much time for helping others, but none for yourself) and commit to real change. If you are ready for that, I can help you - get in touch. *The Mental Wealth Academy works with pharmacy organisations and individuals working within pharmacy, to help strengthen mental health through the building of self-leadership and self-regulation skills.

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