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Rx for Resilience: Navigating Pharmacist Burnout Amidst Appreciation

March 20, 2024

March is Pharmacy Awareness Month, and this year there is plenty to celebrate. Pharmacists today are arguably more involved and more vital to Canadian healthcare than they have ever been before. Without the active role taken by pharmacists across the country in administering vaccines and test kits, the COVID-19 crisis would undoubtedly have been far worse.
Pharmacists are no longer just in the business of dispensing medication; they are also, increasingly, clinicians delivering services, making them a crucial front-guard in the nation’s healthcare system. They have earned the right to be recognized for all the important work they do.
But here’s a less celebratory reality: for a growing number of pharmacists, it’s all just too much. Job burnout for pharmacists is real, and it deserves to be recognized, too.
A survey published in late 2022 in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy found that more than half of U.S. pharmacists were experiencing professional burnout. Based on our own experience meeting with and advising pharmacist-owners in Canada, we can’t imagine the numbers are much different here.
In fact, we hear surprisingly often from pharmacist-owners who are struggling with their own mental well-being, who feel dissatisfied, stressed and anxious, who increasingly feel like they just can’t cope.
Or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all, because there are certainly plenty of pain points.

Burnout Awareness

There’s the chronic shortage of qualified staff, particularly technicians, meaning more work for everybody else. There’s the ever-present and seemingly ever-increasing regulatory burden on pharmacist-owners, which can be a drain on attention, money and time. Meanwhile, expanding roles for pharmacists means there is just more to do, making you wonder whether you’re running a pharmacy or a primary-care clinic. (Sometimes it seems like both.) And many pharmacists are probably experiencing post-pandemic mental exhaustion – the feeling that now that you made it through the crisis, you have nothing more to give.
And you can safely add to the above a host of other pains and challenges, big and small, that are too varied and too numerous to list here.
Beyond the effects on their quality of life, as well as the people (staff, family, customers) around them, burnout can have a financial impact on an independent pharmacy owner, too. Namely, it can lead them to just want to pack it all in and sell the business – the sooner the better.
That can be a very bad decision, financially, because it often means selling at precisely the wrong time.

Time to Sell?

Ideally, you want to exit a pharmacy when market conditions are favourable and you have maximized the business’s profitability and value. Selling because running the business has become too stressful is often a recipe for financial disappointment.
This is not at all to minimize the mental and physical toll of job burnout. But if you want to sell your business on your own terms, trying to prevent burnout – or mitigating it if you feel you have it – can lead to a much more successful outcome than running for the exits.
So how do you do that? We are certainly not mental health experts, but we do have some ideas for taking some of the stress out of running and owning a pharmacy. Here are a few things to consider:

Are you too involved in the day-to-day operations of the business?

Have you delegated enough responsibility to other team members? Can you delegate more? If not, why not? If you can’t trust your employees to take on at least some of the tasks that are slowly driving you out of pharmacy, then perhaps you need to find new ones or invest in training. And if you can trust them, why aren’t you delegating more? By the way, taking the “you” out of the business – that is, ensuring that it can continue to run efficiently when you’re not there – can go a long way towards enhancing its market value, too.

Are you making full use of technology?

There are a host of recent innovations that can help take the drudgery and chaos out of the dispensary. Appointment-based models can vastly enhance scheduling and dispensing routines and make your customers happier. Patient care software designed for pharmacies will help you and your staff keep track of dispensing and services delivery. Robotics can ease the workload for the entire team, including yourself, and can even make up for staff that you cannot find. In short, the technology is there, and it’s more accessible than ever – so why not use it?

Do you like the people you work with?

One of the biggest causes of job burnout is a so-called “toxic” workplace, where people don’t communicate well, don’t support each other emotionally and/or don’t trust each other. Be honest with yourself: Does that describe your pharmacy? If it does, then maybe you should consider renovating your team – or, perhaps, your own HR practices. Sometimes, a boss can create a happier workplace with better communication, more equitable compensation and promotion policies, and maybe an occasional all-staff get-together after work.

Can you take a break?

It sounds simple, but there can be nothing harder for a pharmacist-owner than to step away from the business and take a vacation. But we all need a break from work occasionally, and that includes you. So plan for it, make the arrangements you need to make, and rediscover what the world looks like outside your pharmacy.

Do you have the right advisory team?

Most entrepreneurs rely on outside experts to some degree, so make sure you can actually rely on them. Your accountant is, of course, a key member of your team, and you should be able to trust them to keep your books accurate and up to date, as well as to provide the financial metrics you need to make good business decisions. As well, the advice of a qualified strategic wealth advisor who can help plan your pre- and post-retirement financial journey can take a lot of worry out of your everyday life. Nothing keeps a person awake at night like stressing about how they are going to make ends meet in the future.
If you are stressed out or dissatisfied on the job, then it might be a wake-up call that something in the way your pharmacy is being run is just not right. So take your negative feelings seriously and try to address their causes before they become major challenges.
And finally, a reminder that none of the above should be taken as mental health advice. The symptoms of job burnout – stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness – can be related to serious health issues. So, please, get help if you need help.
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