Scores of pharmacists across the country are experiencing burnout related to the increased workload from the COVID-19 pandemic. Requiring already overworked pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccinations has led to higher burnout and increased patient risk. To decrease this risk, pharmacies need to shift their focus on the main needs pharmacies can fulfill, such as filling prescriptions, rather than administering vaccines.
I have worked in a pharmacy for three years now, and managing stress is something I have always had to consider. Pharmacies are fast-paced, detail-oriented and, most of all, stressful. Patients can be irritable due to their ailments, the wait times, the cost of the medication or any other factor that is out of my control.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” and the symptoms include feelings of exhaustion, negativism and decreased professionalism. Speaking from experience, these feelings hold true for many pharmacists.
Unfortunately, pharmacist burnout is not new.
According to a study published in 2017, 67% of pharmacists experienced high burnout. A more recent study conducted by the Journal of American Pharmacists Association in Sept. 2020 reported that about three in four pharmacists were experiencing a “high degree” of burnout.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, pharmacies have seen a drastic shift in patient expectations and workload, according to a report by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. Adding COVID-19 vaccine administration on top of prescriptions, extended working hours due to company quotas and inadequate technician staffing due to COVID-19 cutbacks has left pharmacists feeling fatigued and drained.
Pharmacists are responsible for checking all prescriptions before they are given to the patient to ensure that vital details like the medication, dosage and strength are correct. Normally, only one pharmacist operates the store with two or three technicians, and hundreds of prescriptions are distributed every day. Added vaccine administration detracts from the amount of time each prescription is allotted for being checked for interactions, allergies or errors. If the pharmacist had fewer vaccines to administer and more time to properly check the prescriptions, they would be able to pay attention and catch any issues before they adversely affect the patient.
In most community pharmacies, vaccination appointments are allotted 20 minutes per shot, with appointments stacked one after another. This fails to account for the preparation of each shot, which requires thawing, diluting and drawing into syringes. Then, patients have to wait fifteen minutes after administration to be monitored for potential adverse effects. This causes ridiculous wait times that delay people’s prescriptions as well as their vaccine appointments.
Furthermore, when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, utilizing vaccine clinics instead of pharmacies would benefit the pharmacists, for it would lessen the need to dedicate such a large amount of time to administering vaccines that could be redirected to fulfilling prescriptions.
While there are not many ways customers can help alleviate the added pressure on pharmacists during this time, utilizing one’s primary care physician for ailments would help divert the responsibilities from pharmacies and onto doctors one already has a history with.
In recent news, starting Feb. 28, CVS announced that their employees would be allotted “‘pre-scheduled, uninterrupted’ lunch breaks between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. … for pharmacy workers.” Dedicating a time for pharmacists to have a break, even if just 30 minutes to eat, is a step in the right direction to treating these workers with the respect they deserve. If we are to rely on pharmacists so much and place such responsibility on them in regard to our health, the least thing we can do is attempt to decrease the stress and pressure they feel at work.
With the increase in pharmacists’ responsibilities and burnout, pharmacies need to find ways to balance all the necessary duties pharmacies are tasked with in order to decrease burnout and allow everyone to do their job thoroughly.