Fresh out of school, with a new “Pharm.D.” next to their name, most pharmacists feel ready to take on the world. With a pep in their step and a waltz to their walk, they leave the classroom and enter their first real-life pharmacy job with great enthusiasm. After years of learning, training, and testing, they are finally ready to start their careers.
Maybe you remember your first few days, months, or even years behind the counter. You were probably anxious 一 worried about counting pills and giving shots 一 but you were excited. You probably felt that, at last, you had found your place.
Your excitement was never hard to find, but years into your practice, you may have found that it was hard to keep.
For all of the rewarding moments of pharmacy, you’ve learned that there are many that are challenging. As a community pharmacist, you take on a lot: often staying late, working extra, and completing tasks that go far beyond your job description. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, you have probably put extra on your plate. In some cases, maybe you’ve put on too much.
Burnout is common among all professions, but it is particularly common in pharmacy. Recent studies suggest that as many as 66% of pharmacists deal with burnout. Burnout is caused by many different factors (both personal and organizational), but some of the most common causes are work overload, increasing job demands, and fewer resources allocated to meet those demands.
The effects of burnout are cumulative. At first, burnout may cause feelings of dissatisfaction. Over time, those feelings can lead to mental distress and sometimes even mental health issues. And, when combined with situational factors, burnout can eventually cause a pharmacist to leave the profession altogether.
When one pharmacist decides to leave, there is a concern. When multiple pharmacists decide to leave, though, there is a crisis. With burnout on the rise, pharmacy staff retention drops. Retention 一 which refers to the number of pharmacists who start working in the field and keep working in the field 一 is an area that is often overlooked, but it is one of the most important concerns facing pharmacists today.
To put this problem into perspective, 10.4% of all licensed pharmacists are not working in a pharmacy right now. In other words, over 30,000 pharmacists are out of a job or have left the field once and for all. With widespread staff shortages, remaining pharmacists are forced to pick up the slack, creating additional stressors that lead to more burnout, and eventually, even lower retention rates. The cycle continues.
This is why burnout and retention are not just individual problems: they are team problems, and they require team solutions.
If you’ve noticed that you or your team are showing signs of burnout 一 expressing stress, dissatisfaction, or disinterest in their jobs 一 it may be time to speak up. Taking the time to connect with your team and collaborate on how you can address the issue is key. After all, individual efforts are important, but group efforts are powerful.
To get the conversation started, here are 10 ways that you can fight burnout and boost staff retention in your pharmacy. Whether you are in a position of leadership or not, you can implement (or suggest) these simple practices to keep your team together:
Burnout can never be solved if it is never addressed. Before you can make any improvements in your pharmacy, you must make an honest evaluation of yourself and your team. Set aside time for a team meeting in which your pharmacists, techs, and support staff can share how they feel about their jobs. Foster a supportive space, then ask about their thoughts, feelings, stressors, and especially their level of burnout. Encourage each person to share so that everyone is on the same page.
After identifying the issue, you can start working towards a solution. The fastest, and most effective, way to restore your passion for pharmacy is to think back to where it came from in the first place. When you were first getting started, what motivated you? Was it the desire to learn, to innovate, to help others in your community? Determine your sources of motivation and think about how you can reintroduce them today.
Another practical way to keep yourself motivated is to find new ways to grow in your practice. Take part in continuing education programs, go to conferences 一 like PioneerRx’s upcoming Connect conference (more details to come!) 一 and find resources that can help you stay inspired, like the Catalyst Pharmacy Podcast. When you feel like you’re moving forward rather than staying stagnant, you will experience greater satisfaction.
Speaking of satisfaction, you are most satisfied at work when you get to work on things you love. Think about your interests, then brainstorm ways that you can incorporate more of those interests in your day-to-day responsibilities. Maybe you want to interact with more patients; maybe you want to help with behind-the-scenes work; maybe you want to venture into a new clinical service. Your options to expand are endless. Don’t forget about your team, either. Ask about their interests and find out how you can merge them together to make a more cohesive team.
71% of pharmacists say that their workload is “high” or “excessively” high. Feeling overworked (and overwhelmed) greatly contributes to pharmacy burnout. To combat these feelings, try delegating tasks. First, find out what your team is supposed to be doing in their positions, and then find out what they are actually doing. Chances are, they do much more than they are required. To level this out, try adjusting each person’s workload. Find out who can step back and who can step up so that everyone has an equal share. For an added bonus, incorporate step #4 and delegate tasks your team is interested in.
Another way to reduce your workload is to lean on more resources. Resources can be tangible items, like particular products or equipment, or they can be intangible things like time and energy. Among these resources, an innovative, efficient pharmacy software system is one of the most important; so don’t skip out on it.
When it comes to completing everyday tasks, make sure that you have all hands on deck by way of buy-in. Buy-in is a term used to describe when employees are committed to their company’s growth. When your team feels committed to your cause, they will experience fewer feelings of burnout. And even when they do face burnout, they can effectively fight back. To learn more about how to increase buy-in in your pharmacy, listen to Episode 5 of the Catalyst Pharmacy Podcast: Maximizing Your Pharmacy’s Potential.
Among all of the ways that you can boost retention in your pharmacy, appreciation is one of the most simple. When your team feels valued, respected, and appreciated, they will be more likely to stay. A strong team culture is at the heart of retention, and strong team culture starts with appreciation. Plus, when you give appreciation, you get appreciation. Learn some practical ways that you can share it.
Sometimes the best way to spark your love of pharmacy is to take time out of the pharmacy. With so many responsibilities on your plate, you may neglect to take time to yourself. However, time off can offer you the opportunity to recharge and do an even better job when you return. Plus, time off gives you time for other sources of satisfaction in your life: your friends, family, and hobbies, all of which you should never neglect.
You can’t help your team if you don’t first help yourself. Practice self-care in and out of the pharmacy to feel more satisfied in your career and in your life as a whole. When you feel good, you will continue to do good; and you will set an example for your team to follow.
Burnout is one of the most pressing problems in pharmacy right now, as shown by falling retention rates. At one point or another, you have probably dealt with burnout. Your team probably has, too. Feeling burnt out doesn’t mean that you should quit, though. It simply means that you should press in and work to return to your original passion. With your team by your side, you can make it happen.
And remember: the young, fresh Pharm.D. you once were is (and always has been) inside of you. You just have to let them out.