How Pharmacist Moms Are Staying Positive, Finding Solutions During COVID-19

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS, discusses what the Pharmacist Moms Group is doing during COVID-19.

Aislinn Antrim: Hi, this is Aislinn Antrim with Pharmacy Times. One of our top stories on Pharmacy Times today is about Idaho’s broad practice laws for pharmacists and how those laws have allowed pharmacists in the state to prepare earlier and respond faster to COVID-19. So today I’m interviewing Dr. Suzanne Soliman, founder of the Pharmacist Moms Group, about COVID-19 responses and pharmacist moms. So Dr. Soliman, from what you’ve seen so far during the pandemic, what roles are pharmacists and pharmacist moms filling in this situation?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: I think pharmacists are playing definitely very essential roles. There’s patients coming into pharmacies who are sick, who have questions, who are calling the pharmacy. They’re trying to get patients their usual medications as well. They’re working in the hospital. You know, they’re all over. So I think women in pharmacy and pharmacist moms are really filling all roles, as are all pharmacists, actually.

Aislinn Antrim: Have you been seeing those roles change at all? Have there been new roles that pharmacists have been stepping into?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: Yeah, I think there are. One role that we talk about in our group is taking care and cleaning up and the cleaning of the pharmacy. Whether it’s installing plexiglass, so figuring out, making do with what you have. So if you don’t have masks, we’ve seen one pharmacist pick up Halloween costumes for her group and the technicians and pharmacists on her staff. We’ve seen pharmacists do testing, so there’s pharmacists out there providing COVID testing. There’s pharmacists in the hospital working on the floors, delivering medications, just stepping up. Really stepping up and doing a lot more for their patients during this time. A lot of times patients are calling with their symptoms and the first-line person that they’re going to call is their pharmacist, so they’re reaching out to their pharmacist. The pharmacist is the one letting them know “Call your physician” or “You should go to the ER,” and so they’re really stepping up to do that.

Aislinn Antrim: Certainly. We’ve also been talking about the education role and the role of educating patients. How can pharmacists educate their patients best when the information is changing so quickly?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: I think it’s really important to stay on top of the information. So every day things change. I was interviewed just last week and the things that I was saying are already out of date. So, it’s really important to read every day. One of the best things I’ve found is the Facebook group that [Pharmacist Moms] have; there’s another pharmacy one for COVID. I think Facebook, Instagram—I try to post out on our feed, I know Pharmacy Times is doing a great job on their feed, too. But really collecting information daily. I personally follow Dr. Anthony Fauci, you know, whatever he’s saying, whatever is up to date, I’m following that talk for the day and seeing what was said. I go on Twitter, and I actually was never really active on Twitter, but now I’m starting to get more active to see what’s being said each day. I’m following the governor. I’m in an area where I’m in New Jersey, I’m in northern New Jersey where there’s actually so many cases. I believe in my county alone there are more cases than there are in 38 states across the United States, so it’s really bad here. So, I think it’s important to just update yourself. Social media is probably the best way you’re going to get that information and be able to break it down for your patients.

Aislinn Antrim: You have some past experience in pharmacy ownership, so from that perspective, do you have tips for pharmacy owners that are dealing with the pandemic?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: Yeah, definitely. Pharmacist Moms actually put together some guidelines, as well, for pharmacists, whether it’s to protect themselves. But I think one of the biggest things that pharmacy owners are facing is what happens if they get sick? Who will run their pharmacy? So really put together a plan for your pharmacy about who’s going to run it if you get sick. Who’s going to be the pharmacist in charge? Who’s going to come in? What happens if your technicians get sick or your lead tech? Are you going to get a new tech or say you only have 1 tech. So you really want to have a plan, similar to how a lot of people are advising families and parents. You know, if one parent gets sick what are the plans, who’s going to take care of your children? I think if you’re a pharmacist owner, if you own a pharmacy, you need to have a plan if staff gets sick and who’s going to run the pharmacy. And the other part is cleaning, sanitation, and probably a lot of them are stepping up on the deliveries as well, so that’s really important.

Aislinn Antrim: Definitely. How is COVID-19 affecting pharmacist moms as a specific group?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: It has impacted all pharmacist moms in a lot of different ways. Number 1 is that all of our kids are home right now. So, at lot of us are trying to juggle working and schooling our children, homeschooling our kids, which is not easy. I can tell you, I have 5 children and I’m homeschooling them and it is intense. That by itself is a job, and then I have my job. And I think a lot of moms are feeling a lot of pressure. They have a lot of pressure on them to work, to help with their families. If they’re working as an essential worker and they’re on the front lines, making sure that they don’t come home sick for their kids. Some of them are even talking about sleeping in different areas than their children or not touching their children, so they’re really impacted. It’s a high stress, very difficult environment. And many of them are married to health care professionals, whether they’re pharmacists or physicians or nurses or police officers, someone else who’s an essential worker. So everyone’s life has really been impacted by COVID-19, and that’s been the focus of our group right now. We’re trying to talk about some positive ways and we’re also trying to talk about some things you can do to stay healthy. It’s just anecdotal really, but just different vitamins and things like that. But it is a high stress time for everyone.

Aislinn Antrim: Certainly. Can you dive into some of that advice that you’ve been sharing and that you’ve seen shared for moms?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: Yeah, sure. So, like, we’ve started talking about smoothies for our kids and what kinds of smoothies, making sure your children are eating health and that you’re eating healthy. You’re trying to sleep well. We’ve talked about probiotics, we’ve talked about vitamin D and making sure that if you can’t get outside maybe you’re taking a supplement. There’s also some anecdotal evidence about vitamin C, so maybe you’re providing vitamin C to yourself or your family. I think sleep is a big one. Also ensuring that you are getting some physical activity. We know that that’s important too, to help decrease the risk of COVID. So it’s all pretty much anecdotal. But recently we had a meditation—we have a pharmacist in there who specializes in meditation, so she did one this past Sunday for all the moms, just kind of an 18-minute de-stress to kind of de-stress everyone in the group. But we’re probably going to do more things like that. One of the things I think we need to do more, too, is talk about the homeschooling of the kids, because that’s important, too. It’s very stressful, we’re all pharmacists and now all of a sudden we’re now teachers, too, so that’s something else we’re going to focus on.

Aislinn Antrim: Sure, as a former homeschooler that’s a lot of work, even by itself. Are there any legislative or policy issues that you’re focused on that could help pharmacist moms in this pandemic or future similar situations?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: So one of the things that I’m a big supporter of, and Pharmacist Moms is, is getting more provider status for pharmacists. I think it’s critical, I think that pharmacists need to be paid for their services, not just for dispensing medication. There is a group that I work closely with and their focus is specifically on legislative issues, and I’ve been helping them and writing letters, and they’re a pharmacist group that is working on all legislation for pharmacists. But I think now is the time. I think pharmacists are really contributing to their societies. We’re really helping, we’re really working front line, we’re doing a lot, and I think now is the time more than ever that pharmacists can be recognized as first primary-care providers.

Aislinn Antrim: You’ve touched on self-care and meditation, and burnout is obviously going to be a huge issue. What tips do you have for that?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: So burnout, you know, it was an issue. I mean, that was an issue in our group prior to this, and I can only imagine. And I think we have to mentally prepare. And I actually put out a post about this probably a week and a half ago, but I think we need to prepare that things aren’t going to go back to the way they were. So mentally, I think if we can prepare ourselves that it’s going to take time, we know it takes time. If you look at the Spanish Flu and how long that took, we know how pandemics work and things aren’t just going to go back to normal on April 30th. So I think mentally preparing, whether it’s preparing for how long your kids might be home or preparing for how long you might be home from work, or how long you might have to wear a mask—mentally preparing is really important to prevent burnout. And don’t have such great expectations. For myself, I can give a great example. My children, one of the tasks for my first- and second-graders, their school had required them to do a project using cardboard. The old me would’ve said “Oh my gosh, we need cardboard.” And mind you, I’m getting all these Amazon boxes, but I’m not touching them and right now is not the time to use our resources, we’re in a pandemic. So I contacted their teacher, and I said “Hey, I don’t think this is the best assignment right now, we don’t have all of the supplies, and I’m not going to go to the store unnecessarily and put myself or my family at risk for this art project that they have to do.” And she completely understood. I think that prevents burnout, because the old me would have felt pressure, would’ve felt like I need to go get those supplies and my kids have to do well in school, they need to do this assignment perfectly. And she said “Have them draw it on a sheet of paper using a pencil,” and they got the same grade. So I think that one thing, my biggest piece of advice, is just talk to people. Let them know what you’re feeling, say “I can’t do this.” I physically can’t, I’m cleaning my house, you know. There are so many things that we probably weren’t doing, so I think just being open is critical and letting people know. And I think the second thing that’s really important is not having any high expectations. You know, don’t set that you’re going to do x, y, and z. Especially when I see people who are cleaning out their house and they’re remodeling things, and that’s great, but that’s not for everybody. Right now, the most important thing is to take care of yourself, take care of your family, and make sure that you’re OK, you know? And talking to others. I think remembering the positive is really important, and that’s kind of the third thing I want to mention is what are you grateful for? I know for myself, it’s these Zoom calls and talking and connecting. I actually have a brother who lives many miles away in California, and we connect every day now, it’s amazing. So before, there was a 3-hour time difference and we could barely ever talk, and now it’s like every single day I get to talk to him. So looking at the positive and reconnecting with the people you care about and the people you love. Maybe you were really busy before but now you aren’t and now you actually have the time, and I think all of those things can help to prevent burnout. And just really try to unwind at the end of the day.

Aislinn Antrim: Speaking of families, families are obviously being hugely affected. How can pharmacists and pharmacy staff best protect their families when they still have to go to work and come home?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: Yes, my recommendation is when you get home to change your clothes immediately. I think that’s really important. Don’t wear the same clothes day after day. There’s been some studies that show that people who re-wear scrubs or re-wear their clothes without washing them are more likely to get infected with COVID, so I believe that changing right when you walk in the doorway, right when you walk in the house, putting it in a bag, and washing those clothes is critical. Washing your hands, not touching your face, depending on how close you are. I know, I have friends who are pharmacists who work in the ICU, so some of them are not going and touching their children at all, which is really difficult. We need to address how difficult it is, whether it’s for a child, because that’s not natural, or for a parent. What these people are facing, it’s amazing. But I think that’s the most important thing, you know, just washing your hands, washing your face. I know a lot of pharmacists will come home and shower right away and then they’ll touch their family or then they’ll eat. The other recommendation that I’ve heard a lot of people say is when you’re at work, fast. When you’re at work, just don’t eat. If you can avoid eating when you’re at work and not putting anything in your mouth because you don’t know what’s on your hands, it’s probably safer. Although that’s probably not always recommended, I’ve heard a lot of people who are working in a pharmacy just say, “You know what? For my 8 hours I’m fasting. I’m just not going to eat that shift at all, and then when I get home I’ll go shower and I’ll wash my hands, and then I’ll be able to eat my meal.”

Aislinn Antrim: That’s very hard. Do you have any final resources that you can recommend for people looking to take care of their mental health or stay updated?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: Yeah, Headspace offers free meditation for health care professionals, so I really recommend that. And I was just approached, and unfortunately I don’t have the name on me right now, by another company. I’m going to post it, but they’re offering more free meditations for pharmacists specifically, so I think that would be great. I think talking and connecting, you know, join a support group like Pharmacists Moms or any other support group where you can just connect with like-minded individuals talking about what you’re facing and what you’re doing. One of the best posts we had in Pharmacists Moms was a pharmacist who said “There was a patient who came into my store with COVID,” and this was back a couple weeks ago. She said “The patient walked right in an came up to me and said ‘Hey, I just tested positive for COVID, what do you think I should do?’” So she immediately made a sign, and the sign said “If you test positive for COVID, do not walk into this pharmacy. Leave right away, and call us, here’s our phone number,” she put it on there. She said, “Hey everybody, hang up this sign on your door. This is critical. You need to let everybody know that if they test positive they can’t come in.” And I think that’s the benefit of having the support group, where you can see that quickly, you know, on your feed, and then you can do that at your pharmacy as well. So I think really talking to others—a lot of times, pharmacists are alone, so talking to others in the field will really help.

Aislinn Antrim: Well thank you so much for joining us. Now we’re going to hear from some of our other MJH Life Sciences brands on their latest headlines.