Photo of hospital pharmacist Erita Habtom in front of Machu Pichu

Hospital pharmacist Erita Habtom advises young pharmacists to build in time for moments that bring joy

Erita Habtom (1T4) is a hospital pharmacist, instructor, and preceptor who is passionate about pharmacy. But she also understands the importance of stepping back to build resilience and recharge her love for the profession.

“Having pockets of joy built into your schedule not only gives you something to look forward to, but they also act as quick ‘pick-me-ups’ and give you the energy you need to tackle your goals and responsibilities wholeheartedly,” says Habtom, a clinical hospital pharmacist at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket.

Habtom started at Southlake Regional Health Centre in 2015, after completing a combined Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and Doctor of Pharmacy program in 2014. She has had the opportunity to work in a variety of departments, from pediatrics to cardiovascular surgery to rehab, and in her current role, she covers the general medicine ward and intensive care unit.

Habtom’s clinical responsibilities include medication reviews and counselling, drug monitoring, and antimicrobial stewardship, and she also handles some of the operational work for her floor, such as drug distribution and ordering.

It’s a challenging role that requires constant multi-tasking to prioritize requests and manage orders under a constant flow of admissions and discharges, as well as working with drug access restrictions and shortages. But Habtom enjoys the problem-solving aspect of pharmacy.

“Whether it’s a drug coverage issue or talking through drug alternatives with doctors and nurses due to side effects or drug interactions, the challenge and satisfaction of solving drug-related problems makes every day different and keeps things interesting,” she says.

On top of her clinical responsibilities, Habtom is also an instructor and preceptor for the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. She became a clinical instructor for the medication therapy management course shortly after graduating from the Faculty, which she says allowed her to discover her love of teaching early in her career. She has also been recognized as a Preceptor of the Year, nominated by her students, twice.

“I enjoy guiding students while they translate their theoretical classroom knowledge into practical and real-world skills and seeing those light-bulb moments happen,” says Habtom. “I push them to discover and make the most of how they learn best, while also finding ways to gain competency in areas that they struggle in.”

 The best part, says Habtom, is that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. “As a mentor, I am also growing as I am prompted to re-evaluate my own opinions and knowledge with every new mentee.”

Hospital pharmacist Erita Habtom showing off matching socks at work
"Fun socks were how I infused some fun into my work attire during the pandemic, to entertain myself and my work colleagues."

Stepping back to rekindle joy and build resilience

As much as Habtom loves the pharmacy profession and teaching, in 2022 she realized that she was burning out. The strain of working in the hospital pharmacy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress of her work responsibilities were taking a toll on her mental health. She decided to take a year away from work to travel and find more balance in her life.

“Travelling in particular has allowed me to get fresh perspective and inspiration on what I personally need to make a balanced and fulfilling life. It’s rekindled my passion for the creative arts, graphic design specifically, and I’m working on ways to incorporate this, along with my teaching experience, into my pharmacy practice, perhaps creating infographics and educational materials for patients and medical professionals,” she says. “Overall, this year off has made me excited about pharmacy again and all the potential career paths I can carve out for myself. By the end, I’ll be ready to jump back into work with fresh energy and enthusiasm that I can maintain.”

“People tend to think recharging or building resiliency only means resting, but it's really about finding ways to create energy."

Habtom is already planning to find ways to recharge in her daily work when she returns later this year. She says that she blocks time in her schedule for activities she enjoys, whether that’s a few hours for creative pursuits on the weekend or shorter workouts or social visits during the work week. And she advises students to do the same.

“People tend to think recharging or building resiliency only means resting, but it's really about finding ways to create energy. Often, when work, school, and life become hectic and stressful, we tend to let those responsibilities take over our schedules, and we only do the things that bring us joy if we have time and energy left over,” she says.

“The key is scheduling these moments with the same priority as your responsibilities, so they aren't an afterthought. And because you know your responsibilities are still being taken care of, you can truly enjoy them guilt-free.”

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