“Mommy, why are you yelling?” my son said to me one day. I realized I was suffering from pharmacist burnout when I started flying off the handle at home in the evenings for no good reason. Even worse, I witnessed RJ mimic this behavior. Seeing this anger in him brought me to tears. I firmly believe that burn out amongst pharmacists is much more common than those in our profession prefer to admit. Are you suffering from pharmacist burnout? Keep reading to learn the signs of burnout and what you can do about it.

What is Pharmacist Burnout?

Burnout syndrome (BOS) occurs when someone experiences consistent and high levels of stress, and this results in feelings of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Naturally, this type of professional fatigue is most common in caregivers like teachers and health care workers. By definition, the three clinical indicators of burnout are:

  • cynicism and detachment
  • overwhelming exhaustion
  • sense of dwindling personal accomplishment

Scientists have proven that burnout rewires the brain. The brain neurons adapt to repeated stressors as a survival mechanism. The new stress response relies less on problem solving or perspective. As a result, the burned-out pharmacist is less equipped to deal with other non-work related stressors.  

So often, BOS symptoms aren’t confined to work hours. More pressure at work can mean more stress at home. Therefor, burnout leads to depression, loss of enjoyment, and irritability, which negatively affects those to which we are closest. This exhaustion can also cause physical issues like headaches, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, and decreased immunity, to name a few. Anger is also a sign of burnout.  

Is Pharmacist Burnout Common?

A recent study by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacy (ASHP) found that 53% of health-system pharmacists suffer from some form of burnout. These rates are similar to those reported by physicians and nurses.  

Furthermore, the study also found that women, mothers of young children (ages 1-12), and those without a hobby were some of the highest at risk for pharmacist burnout. I’m not in the least bit surprised. My burnout symptoms seemed to begin after I returned to work from my first maternity leave and worsened after I came back from having my second child.  

My Experience

I’ve been a pharmacist for 12 years. I have a bachelor’s degree and a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD). Immediately after graduation, I completed a PGY1 residency. I am a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and currently work in the acute hospital setting. When I entered this field as a bright-eyed 24-year-old, I was ready to take on the world.   

But in this new season of life, work just isn’t my passion. I no longer have the energy for 6 am shifts, five days in a row with only one day off, the hundreds of distractions. There is a lack of autonomy in my life, and I don’t like it. For example, If I get a call that my son has a fever and needs to be picked up from school, I’d like to be the one to do that rather than scrambling to see who is available.  

Pharmacist burnout

Expectation of Perfection

It’s not just me that has changed. Healthcare is a business now more than ever. As a result, we are being asked to do more with less, and the departments that bring in the most revenue receive the most resources.

Pharmacists are well paid. Consequently, there is an expectation for perfection. It’s our job to prevent all errors, not just some. We receive very little praise or recognition for the near-miss safety events we prevent every day. On the other hand, when an error does occur, the witch hunt for the pharmacist involved begins.  

Initially, I thought I was just over-sensitive or a complainer. My husband would tell me, “everyone hates their job.”  But, I couldn’t believe that the way I was feeling was healthy. I had recently surrounded myself with passionate women who didn’t seem stuck like me. So, I started to do my research and found that I was not alone. 

What Can We Do?

Once burnout occurs, it’s challenging to recover. But, here are a few things you can do to prevent or reduce pharmacist burnout:

  1. Acknowledge It. “Hi, I’m Elisabeth, and I suffer from pharmacist burnout.” In all seriousness, being aware that burnout exists and identifying those at risk is essential.  
  2. Seek Help. If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of burnout, talk to your supervisor. There may be small changes you can make in your daily activities that will help.  
  3. Make Those Small Changes. It’s possible that a different shift or unit assignment, change to your job duties, may alleviate some of the pain. Or, maybe you need to look into a different type of pharmacist position altogether?
  4. Find Your People.  You might just need a little reassurance or a good sounding board.  There are so many pharmacist organizations and online groups.  I love this group on Facebook for women who are hospital pharmacists and moms.
  5. Practice Self-care. Taking proper care of yourself is paramount when dealing with pharmacist burnout. Make sure you take breaks, even if it’s to refill your water or eat your lunch outside. Before you go to the OR and punch that rude person in the face, get a coffee instead. I’m kidding, I’ve never actually hit anyone in the face, nor do I plan on it.  For me, self-care has been getting up a little early to read a book and drink some coffee by myself. Most recently, we got a Peloton bike, and I’ve committed to 30 minutes, five days a week. I love the competition, hip hip rides, and the increased energy I’m feeling!
  6. Take a Vacation. Stop hoarding your PTO until you die. Take a vacation, even if you don’t go anywhere. A few days off each quarter can make a big difference.
  7. Do Something Else.  News flash, you don’t have to be a pharmacist your whole life if it makes you miserable and depressed to the point that you yell at your children in the evenings. Furthermore, there are other jobs out there. If that idea scares you, it’s okay. You have options here. For me, working a side hustle alongside my pharmacist gig has been the answer. As my business grows, I cut back my pharmacist hours. It’s been perfect for our family. Not sure where to start? The Happy PharmD also offers various resources for pharmacists looking to transition into new careers.  

I hope you found this somewhat helpful. If you are suffering from pharmacist burnout, please know you know you aren’t alone. Feel free to comment below or reach out if you’d like to chat. I’m happy to listen and share what has worked for me!