You spent years working to become a pharmacist. So, what do you do when you hate work and are burned out, when even your good days are no longer good?
I recently held an online summit that was all about finding inspirational work, particularly in non-traditional pharmacy careers. The overwhelming response from the pharmacists who participated was that their jobs have become unmanageable. Many expressed the need to find different work.
Pharmacist burnout isn’t news, of course. The industry has been working to manage and prevent pharmacist burnout since the 1980s.
It is also true that the symptoms and health effects of burnout are well known.
Burned-out pharmacists exhibit exhaustion, chronic fatigue, alienation from work-related activities, loss of appetite, and insomnia. They often suffer from a lack of compassion for patients, managers, and coworkers, and they lose interest in things they once enjoyed.
Left untreated, burnout can lead to psychosomatic illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Metabolic syndrome – the cluster of conditions that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke – and weight gain can aggravate depression and other psychosomatic illnesses and cause them to spiral out of control.
Other symptoms of burnout are:
Anger, which begins as irritability and may evolve into arguments at home and at work
Anxiety, which begins as mild worry but may worsen to the point that it interferes with both work and personal life
Increased illness, which results from a weakened immune system
Forgetfulness, which originates as lack of focus and morphs into impaired concentration
Physical symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, headaches, or shortness of breath
Multiple studies suggest that burned-out employees have lower levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for restraining the immune system. Low levels of cortisol may mean that the immune system isn’t regulated, leading to hyperactivity of immune inflammatory responses.
Ultimately, burnout may explain why pharmacists have a higher-than-average suicide rate, and a 20% higher-than-average incidence of substance abuse.
Burned-out pharmacists are pessimistic, as evidenced by the 10,000 pharmacy professionals who participate in the “The Angry Pharmacist is my Hero” Facebook group. They congregate to share their frustrations because no one else seems to understand their suffering.
Misery loves company.
Some complain that there simply isn’t time to use the restroom during the workday and that finding time for lunch is impossible.
So, what is your job worth? If the effects of burnout are detrimental to your health, what will it cost you to stay in your job?
If I asked you what it costs to enjoy a donut, you might say it is just a few dollars. What if I reworded the question and asked you about the lifetime cost of eating a donut? One donut might not have a lifetime impact, but what about the lifetime cost of eating a donut every day?
Unless you are a triathlete, you likely can’t afford the additional daily calories. Furthermore, a daily donut could cause metabolic syndrome, depression, and an outright addiction to sugar.
So, I ask again: What is the lifetime cost of working at your burned-out job? Your lifestyle? Your health? Your life?
If you had to write your obituary today, would you be happy with the time that you have spent at your company? Would you feel satisfied knowing that you have given your life to this company?
We operate as though there are golden handcuffs tethering us to our jobs, but it turns out the handcuffs are imaginary. You don’t need $100,000 to live and be happy.
In fact, research tells us that higher salaries don’t necessarily predict happiness. Once a salary reaches $75,000, there is absolutely no correlation between income and emotional well-being.
You control how the rest of your life runs. You can take small steps that will change your situation. Actively search for the good in your job. Update your resume or your CV or revise your LinkedIn profile.
Realize, too, that burnout can’t be addressed with a singular approach because there are physical and psychological components to it. Treatment must include physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes in order to address the health effects of burnout.
Don’t wait another day. Sign up for my October 11 webinar with Dr. Clark Gaither, M.D., who specializes in helping physicians address and escape burnout. There are only 100 spaces for this webinar, and they are filling up quickly. Sign up and learn how to break free from your work situation and escape burnout.
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.