Opinion: Hard Work is Inevitable, but Burnout is Not

February 28, 2019
Peter A. Kreckel, RPh

Drug Topics Journal, Drug Topics February 2019, Volume 163, Issue 2

Note the physiological signs of stress and consider necessary changes.

God didn’t waste any time telling us that we must work for a living. Right after God created the heavens and earth, He tells us it is our turn to get to work:

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19 New International Version

Work isn’t meant to be fun, but when it turns into drudgery, we must do something. I feel there are three stages to any pharmacist’s career:

Stage 1: “Show me the money”

Most new pharmacists fit here. With student loans exceeding $100,000 for most, they need to get moving to pay down this dark cloud over them. Once student loans are under control, they accumulate more debt through car payments, house payments, getting married, and starting a family. This group is looking for the maximum salary and other benefits.

Stage 2: “Show me the schedule”

After Stage 1, many pharmacists fall into this group as family life takes hold. This stage includes pharmacists who have been practicing between five and 20 years. Salary is important to fund the family lifestyle, but the hours of family time become more important. “Sorry boss, I can’t work on Sunday. We’re going camping.”

Stage 3: “Show me the conditions”

This stage is where my wife, Denise, and I fit into. The house is paid off, and the kids are educated and on their own. We drive cars with more than 100,000 miles because we don’t have anyone to impress. We hate debt and are busy stuffing our 401ks for eventual retirement. The salary and schedule are not nearly so important as good working conditions. Our group loves the patient interactions and gets involved in patient care. We’re looking for adequate technician help, less prescription volume, and most of all, less supervision and more freedom to practice our profession.

When the wants of the pharmacist in those stages are not met, burnout occurs. Burnout is a chronic condition like hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Like those disease states, it is frequently diagnosed by someone else. The three major dimensions of burnout are cynicism, which is manifested by negative job and workplace attitude; emotional exhaustion, which is feeling emotionally depleted, apathetic, and indifferent; and ineffectiveness, defined as devaluing one’s work, or new tasks that are meaningless.

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Stress, however, is an acute condition, usually causing emotional exhaustion. Stress includes somatic symptoms, such as a racing heart, elevated blood pressure, and a good bit of sweating. The individual pharmacist is aware of stress and can easily diagnose it. But we don’t always identify burnout in ourselves when it happens. The symptoms of burnout-hopelessness, cynicism, detachment from others-might take months to surface. If someone close to you points out changes in your attitude or behavior that are typical of burnout, listen to that person.

But then what do you do? Maybe you need to think about changing something. Pharmacists don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.

Steve Jobs said: “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Perhaps we all need to take that advice to heart as we wipe the sweat from our brows.

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