Image Credit: Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health

With the ongoing pressures surrounding COVID-19, it’s important to address burnout in healthcare workers including pharmacists.

Experts at U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy are studying the impact of occupational burnout and creating resources for pharmacists to help build resilience.  In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as primary care shut down, public reliance of pharmacists was never greater. Pharmacists have stepped up to care for patients and be key vaccine providers in our communities, but we’ve also seen high levels of occupational stress and burnout.

“Being a pharmacist – like being a physician, nurse, or any other health professional – is challenging but rewarding,” said Zubin Austin, Professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and co-director of the Centre for Practice Excellence. “That said, as a profession we are also seeing high levels of occupational stress and even burnout. We need to address this and start to build pharmacy-focused solutions,” he said.   

Burnout in healthcare workers is especially concerning as it can possibly lead to errors and affect patient safety. At the same time, Austin says it can be particularly challenging for healthcare workers to recognize and act on early warning signs of occupational stress or burnout because of a prevailing culture of self-reliance that might not necessarily allow people to reach out for support themselves.

Supporting resilience in the pharmacy workforce

One key strategy to help prevent burnout in pharmacists is to help build resiliency. The Centre for Practice Excellence (CPE) at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy has developed a suite of tools and resources to help build resilience including a resilience and emotional intelligence inventory for healthcare professionals. 

Last week, the CPE Speaker Series also hosted a virtual session on promoting mental health and resilience among the pharmacy workforce.

Beyond the individual: workplace factors that can contribute to burnout

Recent research examining occupational stress and burnout in pharmacy has highlighted the ways in which broader system-level issues – for example, regulatory policies, workplace design, and workflow – can directly influence individual pharmacist’s mental health and well-being. 

Austin says that traditionally, the focus on resilience in health professions has been on individual strategies (such as meditation, yoga, or journaling) designed to support psychological equilibrium; while these are helpful and important, recent research has highlighted the greater impact of system-level changes in addressing the complexities of a typical, interruption-driven, busy community pharmacy practice.  Considering practical managerial strategies like shift scheduling, targeted use of technologies, and workflow changes to reduce interruptions, cognitive and emotional load can be better managed, ultimately leading to enhanced resilience.

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