Overall, 53% of pharmacists reported a high score in at least one of three burnout indicators, researchers found.
“Emotional exhaustion was indicated most frequently in the study,” the authors reported.1 “This is often considered the core symptom, and is frequently predicted in other healthcare professions.”
An attempt to correlate burnout to specific practices and workloads was not successful. In general, factors contributing to burnout include low pharmacist-to-patient ratios and expectations to conduct research in addition to daily duties.
The researchers used the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey to assess burnout in an anonymous email survey. Of 329 respondents, 53.2% reported scores indicating a high degree of burnout on at least one subscale of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal sense of accomplishment.
“Twenty-eight respondents (8.5%) had scores indicating burnout on all three subscales,” they reported.
Hospital Employee Health reached out to lead author Mary E. Durham, PharmD, MS, BCPS, interim director of pharmacy services at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, MO, to discuss the issue.
HEH: Can you cite a few factors specific to pharmacy work that contribute to feelings of burnout?
Durham: Pharmacy staff are a frontline resource to patient care. When patient volumes and patient acuity rise, pharmacists may feel increased pressure to deliver safe, efficient, and high-satisfactory care. The ever-changing American healthcare system affects pharmacy just as it affects other healthcare professionals. It is hard for staff to escape the rapid rate of change within their institutions, and this can be depleting over time.
HEH: Why are pharmacists within the first 15 years of their career at higher risk for burnout syndrome?
Durham: Pharmacists that are newer in their career have only ever experienced rapid change, and I think we are seeing a professional impact on well-being and resilience. Pharmacists have to remain flexible to handle many pressures; they must produce high-quality care with a top level of customer service while continually adjusting to their work environment that is impacted by merging health systems, payment model changes, and the electronic renaissance of healthcare. Many pharmacists are also feeling the pressure to continually invest in themselves through advanced education and training to remain competitive.
HEH: Is a lack of resources and adequate staff a common problem in hospital pharmacies?
Durham: I think there is a need for tangible resources that promote well-being. Most institutions have an employee assistance program, but the most at-risk team members need something more. These employees may be less likely to reach out for assistance when they are at their greatest need.
HEH: While your findings primarily apply to teaching hospitals, do you think burnout in pharmacists is more widespread and occurs in smaller hospitals as well?
Durham: Certainly. The environmental impact of healthcare’s rapid changes and that of our profession can affect any institution.
HEH: What are some of the primary ways to establish resilience in pharmacists, and reduce or prevent burnout?
Durham: We have to communicate with each other, reach out early and often, and be able to identify and connect with that individual who is at risk for burnout before they go down an irreparable path. Educate your staff and peers on the resources available for resilience and well-being, and encourage their use. Encourage your teams to take PTO [paid time off], and fully disconnect from work while doing so. Make this a regular part of any touch base, whether informal or incorporated into performance management discussions. Everyone has a story, and we need to listen.
- Durham ME, Bush PW, Ball, AM. Evidence of burnout in health-system pharmacists. Am J Health-Syst Pharm 2018;75:S93-S100.