As part of its continuing effort to raise awareness about the risks of burnout in pharmacy workers, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) took the unusual step of surveying the public about a condition that is widely reported in healthcare.

Overall, 74% of U.S. adults surveyed said they are concerned about burnout among healthcare professionals. The survey was performed May 28-30, 2019, with ASHP contracting the Harris Poll to conduct the research.

The National Academy of Medicine’s definition of clinician burnout includes feelings of emotional exhaustion, dissatisfaction, and detachment from work. ASHP is participating in the academy’s Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience, a project that is exploring the root causes of burnout and evidence-based solutions.

“There is a lot of research, momentum, and awareness of this issue,” says Christina Martin, PharmD, MS, director of membership forums for ASHP. “One of the primary reasons for this survey was connecting [to the public]. We have emerging research on the impact on the pharmacist and the pharmacy workforce, but this was tying in the patient perspective. The patients want their healthcare clinicians to be healthy and well.”

The ASHP survey found that healthcare professionals may be conveying signs of burnout without knowing it. Overall, 60% of respondents said their healthcare providers seem tired and rushed.

“The patients are listening,” she says. “They are aware, and 80% of these patients surveyed say their perception of quality of care decreases when their doctor, nurse, or pharmacist is burned out.”

Although the general findings reaffirmed anecdotal reports of public awareness of healthcare burnout, Martin expressed some surprise that one in four respondents identified “hospital pharmacists” as healthcare professionals who are experiencing burnout.

“That one piece did catch our eye,” she says. “The degree of interaction is different site-to-site, but 26% perceived that their hospital pharmacist is burned out.”

In a 2018 study, researchers found that 53% of pharmacists met at least one criterion for burnout. (For more information, see related story in this issue.)

“A majority of those respondents were frontline practicing pharmacists,” Martin says. “Only about 19% identified as being a leader or an administrator. Some of the risk factors that may have influenced the results — and in thinking about the other published literature in medicine and nursing — are the competing responsibilities.”

Juggling responsibilities to patients and clinicians is a common issue. Additional duties may be expected in teaching facilities.

“Frontline pharmacists have teaching and precepting responsibilities, so they have to ensure that they are meeting the school or a learner’s program responsibilities,” she says.

Pharmacists also are being called to serve on antibiotic stewardship committees that are becoming common in many hospitals.

A particularly complicated task is dealing with drug shortages, with some drugs in short supply and others exorbitantly priced.

“Many of our pharmacists say, ‘I entered pharmacy to help patients,’” Martin says. “It is a caring profession, a healing profession. When a pharmacist is making recommendations for drug therapy and they are unable to get the medication needed due to shortages or escalating costs, it interferes with the pharmacist-patient relationship. Drug shortages alone may not be the sole source of burnout, but they are one of the many risk factors.”

Editor’s note: ASHP offers resources for identifying and preventing burnout, as well as strategies to use during drug shortages and other materials, available at: https://wellbeing.ashp.org/.