Why Are Pharmacists, Pharmacy Students Burning Out?


At some point in their careers or studies, a number of pharmacists and pharmacy students have experienced burnout, a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from work.

At some point in their careers or studies, a number of pharmacists and pharmacy students have experienced burnout, a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from work.

Burnout is known to lower workers’ motivation and efficiency, and it’s linked to health conditions like anxiety, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression. There’s also an economic cost to burnout, as the American Institute of Stress has estimated that absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced productivity, and other expenses related to burnout and general work-related stress cost US businesses approximately $300 billion per year.

Although many attribute their burnout to simply feeling overworked, recent study results suggest that it’s rooted in misalignments between unconscious needs and the opportunities and demands of an individual’s workplace or school.

The study, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology, administered a questionnaire about well-being, burnout, and work to 97 patients aged 22 to 62 years. The participants were then asked to describe 5 pictures using imaginative short stories, which were later analyzed by trained coders to determine the participants’ implicit motives.

The researchers focused on 2 motives in particular: the power motive, or the need to take responsibility for others, maintain discipline, and engage in arguments or negotiation; and the affiliation motive, or the desire for positive personal relations. They found that participants with a greater mismatch between their affiliation motive and the scope for positive relations at their job were at greater risk for burnout than those with a better-matched affiliation motive.

Similarly, physical symptoms of burnout were more common in participants whose power motive was poorly matched with the scope for power in their job.

“We found that the frustration of unconscious affective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behavior, is detrimental to psychological and physical well-being,” said lead author Veronika Brandstätter, PhD, in a press release. “The same is true for goal-striving that doesn’t match a well-developed implicit motive for power or affiliation, because then excessive effort is necessary to achieve that goal.”

The researchers encouraged both employers and employees to identify these mismatches and stage interventions aimed at better tailoring workers’ responsibilities to their skills and motives.

“A motivated workforce is the key to success in today’s globalized economy. Here, we need innovative approaches that go beyond providing attractive working conditions,” stated researcher Beate Schulze, PhD. “Matching employees’ motivational needs to their daily activities at work might be the way forward. This may also help to address growing concerns about employee mental health, since burnout is essentially an erosion of motivation.”

Other potential causes of burnout in pharmacy are prolonged stress, work-life imbalance, poor work environment, and lack of recognition or reward, according to Alex Barker, PharmD.

“Pharmacy staff should identify causes of burnout and work with management to solve workplace problems,” Dr. Barker wrote. “With cooperation and commitment from staff at all levels, pharmacies may avoid losing competent, experienced professionals while continuing to provide high-quality patient care.”

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