Perhaps it goes without saying, but working in a pharmacy is stressful. The overhead noise that often present in pharmacies, the fluorescent lights, ill patients or ill-tempered colleagues can make for a very stressful work environment.
Unlike other stressful work environments, though, pharmacists are responsible for the lives of the people they serve. Stress at work can affect their emotional and mental clarity, cognitive alertness, and can make it difficult to concentrate—all of which increase the likelihood of accidents. A minor alteration in dosage or accidentally administering the wrong medication can truly mean life or death for a patient.
And not only does stress put pharmacy patients in danger, it’s also detrimental to the pharmacist. It’s well documented that stress contributes to deadly health problems including (but not limited to): high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Why So Stressed?
Amber Cann, PharmD, has been a pharmacist for 19 years and currently practices in the Louisville, KY greater metro area. Over the years, she’s worked at a hospital pharmacy, an independent/compounding community pharmacy, and a big chain store pharmacy. The one thing that’s been prevalent at all three jobs? Stress.
“Retail pharmacy is particularly stressful right now. The metrics on which the pharmacist performance is based does not relate to patient safety,” she says. “Major chains insist pharmacists fill a quota of prescriptions per day, in addition to calling a quota of patients to remind them of refills, asking each patient to get a flu shot, administering flu shots to those patients who agree and completing paperwork related to inventory and controlled substances.”
A problem, Cann says, is chains advertise to patients that prescriptions can be done in 15 minutes or less, when that isn’t a reasonable time when there are many prescriptions in the queue and vaccinations to administer. Plus, many are dealing with physicians who incorrectly write prescriptions, which requires the pharmacist to call to get clarification.
“Patients get angry at—and sometimes even physically threaten—pharmacists when their prescriptions are delayed due to things out of the pharmacist’s control, such as insurance prior authorizations and incomplete prescriptions,” Cann says. “As pharmacist hours are cut, the job doesn’t provide the financial security it once did.”
While working in retail pharmacy, she was threatened several times by patients, including one who entered the pharmacy and grabbed her by the lapel of her lab coat and another who waited until the pharmacy closed and followed her to her car.
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“On several occasions, I was spat on by patients, and had objects thrown at me,” Cann says. “On countless occasions, I was called vulgar names and insulted by patients. These are the sort of working conditions faced daily by many pharmacists I know personally, too. Is it any wonder pharmacist stress and burnout are at an all-time high?”
The Roads to Stress
Hussein El-Khatib, PharmD pharmacist and owner, Toledo Family Pharmacy in Toledo, OH, says the pharmacy business is a stressful job for the sole fact that pharmacists are dealing with patients’ lives and the margin for error should be zero, but that’s virtually impossible.
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