Expert: For Oncology Pharmacists, It’s Critical to ‘Not Forget to Invest in Ourselves Because We're So Busy Caring for Other People’

Sarah Wheeler, PharmD, BCOP, clinical pharmacy specialist in Hematology/Oncology at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, discusses how oncology pharmacists with experience as a caregiver can utilize those skills while still honoring the boundaries of both themselves and their patients.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Sarah Wheeler, PharmD, BCOP, clinical pharmacy specialist in Hematology/Oncology at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, on her session at the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association 2022 annual conference session titled ‘And the Title We Didn’t Train for: Navigating the Balance Between Being a Caregiver AND an Oncology Pharmacist.’

During this discussion, Wheeler addresses some ways oncology pharmacists with experience as a caregiver can utilize their experience and relevant skills in their work with patients, while still honoring the boundaries of both themselves and their patients.

Sarah Wheeler: Wow. So it's such a loaded question about how you battle burnout, compassion fatigue, and set boundaries with being a caregiver, amongst your own life, with your job, and then with patients as well. And there's a lot there—I think that that's the million-dollar question that we're all trying to figure out.

Most people will tell you, as an oncology clinical specialist, there's somewhere around 7 years of practice before people will be getting some degree of burnout or looking at a career shift. Because you do just give so much of yourself, there's so much of an emotional connection that you get with your patients dealing with cancer day in and day out, and different ways that patients are winning their battles, even if that's dying with dignity, or if that's being a survivor, or if that's beating their cancer, that does take an emotional toll on you.

There are some people that, when you really walk the walk with them, that it gets you. If they die, you're crying too. That's a choice that we all have to make individually about how much we are willing to give of ourselves. With our patients, it’s definitely a hard one, and I don't think there's a right or wrong way to handle it—I think everybody's going to be doing it differently.

The main thing that I think a lot of us are focusing on, especially after COVID, is really trying to make time for self-care in some way, shape, or form. So if that means going for a walk after work, if that means, like one of my coworkers, taking a bubble bath, if that means going out for dinner, if you can go out for dinner, going out for supper or cooking a meal, or sitting out on your back porch swing, whatever it is—using a facemask, watching Netflix—and making time for that. I think for so long we've been so go, go, go, and now with COVID, we’re realizing that we really do need to slow down and take care of ourselves because we can’t be there for anybody else if we don’t take care for ourselves. So trying to find a balance between investing in other people and investing in ourselves and making sure that we don't forget to invest in ourselves because we're so busy caring for other people—easier said than done.

So trying to be cognizant of your work—if your salaried and you work 10 hours in 1 day, maybe you try to work 8 hours the next day and leave early and go for a walk or treat yourself to an ice cream, or whatever it is that you do. For me, I like the patient investment and so that's the part that I don't think I'll ever be able to pull back from. I'm just trying to put more in my own tank so I have more to give than trying to let myself dry out. So that's kind of been my focus recently is really trying to focus on self-care. I got my first facial not too long ago, which is actually really nice. So those kind of things are kind of what I'm trying to work on from a burnout standpoint.