by Mimi Lo, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP
Council Member, BPS Specialty Council on Oncology Pharmacy
The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be realized, even as the world moves forward, equipped with vaccines and treatments for the illness. One especially negative effect of the pandemic is the exacerbation of health care worker burnout. In May 2022, the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory which highlighted the need to address the high levels of burnout that is overwhelming health workers (1). Although this issue preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, the significant strain to the health care system has worsened burnout further.
Burnout is seen as a state of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low sense of personal accomplishment at work. Burnout impacts many realms of health care including pharmacists. The consequences of burnout may have a negative effect on pharmacists’ mental health, as well as patient care and safety. In my own career, I’ve found professional engagement as an effective way to mitigate feelings of burnout and re-energize myself. Through my volunteer leadership involvement with the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS), I’ve connected with other pharmacists experiencing similar difficulties in the profession.
Over the last few years, several studies examined burnout across pharmacy practice areas. Self-reported burnout rates among health-system pharmacists have ranged from 61% pre-pandemic, and up to 84% since the start of the pandemic in 2020 (2, 3). Contributing factors can be divided into personal stressors (e.g., health, family dynamics, financial hardship) and work-related stressors. Work-related stressors contributing to burnout include increased job demands with decreased support, lack of autonomy, high stress work environment, decreased system efficiency, perceived underappreciation, lack of advancement pathway, and decreased professional fulfillment (4).
These issues and more can contribute to low morale and premature pharmacist attrition. Leaders in health care organizations should collaborate with their staff to identify and address system issues that can improve the workplace environment. Continued and proactive evaluation of burnout risks should also be an institutional priority to help maintain pharmacy staff well-being and strengthen work culture. However, there are steps a pharmacist can take to address their mental health outside of the workplace.
To combat the effects of burnout, this may require more than the removal of the stressors. Wellness in healthcare has been described as ‘being challenged, finding meaning, and achieving success in various aspects of personal and professional life’; however, this can look different for everyone (5). Creating a healthy work-life balance, prioritizing regular physical activity, spending time with loved ones, doing things you enjoy, and getting adequate rest can all improve mental health. Establishing professional well-being is also important to maintain motivation. One way I was able to overcome professional burnout was by participating in the BPS Oncology Pharmacy Specialty Council. I enjoy being a clinical pharmacist, but after many years of clinical practice, I found myself in a repetitive cycle and my professional development felt like it had plateaued.
My involvement with the BPS Oncology Pharmacy Specialty Council allows me to create collegial relationships with other oncology pharmacists across the United States and help establish the standards for the next generation of board-certified oncology pharmacists. During the two terms I have served on the Oncology Pharmacy Specialty Council, I’ve valued the opportunities I’ve had to collaborate with and learn from other outstanding pharmacists. I am very proud to be part of an organization that ensures that individuals who earn board certification have the knowledge and skills to provide the best patient care.
I recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to overcoming burnout during these stressful times. It is important for individuals to decipher their unique methods to address burnout and prioritize mental health. My experiences on the BPS Specialty Council gave me a greater sense of purpose, the opportunity to grow professionally, and helped mitigate my feelings of burnout.
- Jones G et et. Factors associated with burnout among US hospital clinical pharmacy practitioners: results of a nationwide pilot survey. Hosp Pharm 2017; 52(11): 742-751
- Mohammad R et al. Changing patterns of the prevalence of burnout and secondary traumatic stress in health-system pharmacists throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. JACCP 2022; 5:674-681.
- Hagemann T et al. Burnout among clinical pharmacists: causes, interventions, and a call to action. JACCP 2020 3(4): 832-842.
- Shanafelt T et al. The well-being of physicians. Am J Med 2003; 114(6): 513-519.