Community Pharmacy: Center of Immunization Services - Episode 7

Tackling Pharmacy Staff Burnout Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

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A discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on pharmacy staff and solutions to help combat pharmacy staff fatigue, burnout, and vaccine hesitancy.

Ed Cohen, PharmD, FAPhA: On the vaccine hesitancy topic, I’d like to break that down into 2 buckets. I’d like to talk about the vaccine hesitancy, some of the adverse effects of these immunizations on our staff internally, and then I’d like to turn to the second part of the conversation on how we overcome our burnout and hesitancy. We work to encourage our customers and our patients. I use both terms because some folks who are coming into the pharmacy aren’t patients, and we have to persuade them to return to the pharmacy for immunization services. Liz, start us off with a conversation about how we’re able to help our staff, behind the counter, to handle this volume of immunization services. Also, with the prospect that in a few short weeks the flu vaccine will hit our stores, overcome the burnout and the fatigue, get excited again, and create urgency for the next round of immunizations while we’re still deeply engaged in the current round of immunizations.

Liz Oler, PharmD: It’s a very challenging situation. I feel for the pharmacists out there. They’re working tirelessly. Our clinical pharmacists, at least for my company, Albertsons, are working extreme hours, making sure that everything is coordinated, and that people are where they need to be. They continue to give pep talks and supportive commentary to our pharmacy teams, technicians, pharmacists, and everybody involved in this because not only are we doing these crazy number of immunizations, but our pharmacists still have their day jobs of filling prescriptions accurately and making sure our customers, and patients, are safe. Trying to get that balance has required a lot of learning for everybody as we’ve gone through this. The approach I always take is to understand why. Why are we asking you to continue to have these conversations? I know you’re tired. I know you haven’t had a vacation. I know you’re working tremendous hours, but why is this important?

Any 1 of us can look around at the world, at the United States, at our own states, our own towns, and see how it’s changed. We see the impact and difference that these vaccinations have made in terms of states that were absolutely shut down are wide open, and life is almost normal. I don’t have a lot of explaining to do to help people understand why. The proof is in the pudding. We can see how important immunizations are for people. They are hardworking. They keep plugging along, and they know we don’t want to have a terrible flu season. We used to always be afraid of flu season. Last year, flu season was mild for many reasons. This year, we want it to be just as mild by making sure we immunize our patient population and protect them. We continue to provide as much support as we can by understanding and explaining the business side, from our perspective. Most pharmacists want to keep driving it because we want life to be as we’ve always known it, except for the last year.

Ed Cohen, PharmD, FAPhA: Thank you. Susie, you have an environment where you’re able to glean the thoughts and feelings of the pharmacist moms group. I’m sure they’ve been vocal about a lot of different things with COVID-19, immunizations, and work especially. Maybe provide a few thoughts on what you’re seeing and some suggestions on how we can provide some additional support for our pharmacists and our technicians?

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS: There are a lot of comments and a lot of questions, but whether you’re a patient, you’re working in corporate, or you have a leadership position, just thinking of the pharmacists who are doing the work can go a long way in something they’re looking for. I also think different ideas. Liz talked about this earlier, but having best practices and being able to share those ideas with one another is critical, especially for some of the independent pharmacies—because they may not have leadership—and explaining to them what to do may be beneficial. It’s very important. But you can’t thank the pharmacist enough, who’s taking the time and who’s going to work every day. We saw pictures of pharmacists, in the group, taking off their masks and showing all the acne they might have and what to do with that. These are the things that they’re facing on a day-to-day basis that many of us take for granted when we’re working from home or if we’re not there. Talking about that, or maybe providing pharmacists a thank-you, such as cookies or cupcakes, would be appreciated. They’ve been getting a lot of things.

Transcript edited for clarity.