Ed Cohen, PharmD, FApha: Over the past 2 years we have seen and heard so many conversations about it. We’re just old tired. There is a lot of anxiety, burnout and stress, and there is no end to the flow of patients. When the COVID-19 vaccine was first launched, there was no end to patients at all. What have you seen, experienced, developed or implemented in your practice to help your staff better prevent, treat and manage this burnout and stress? I encourage all of you to add to this.
Wesley Nuffer, PharmD, BCPS, CDCES: Ed, I’m glad you brought it up. This is a very important topic for us to keep talking about. The community pharmacy is very strict and demanding. Working with graduates who move into that area, we’ve had freshmen who don’t question their entire career. That is very unfortunate and can be avoided. To answer your question, I experienced some great strategies. Some community settings don’t allow you to call and talk to someone about scheduling vaccinations for COVID-19. That was especially common at its peak. You had to schedule online. They didn’t let you talk to a pharmacy clerk or make exceptions, and it was all workflow related.
I work on a number of initiatives with community pharmacies around the treatment of chronic diseases, and over the past 18 months the message for me is [has been]”We can’t do this, Wes. We can barely leave the house at the end of the day.” I feel sorry for our community partners, [and] our pharmacists work so hard to be part of the solution. It’s a challenge, and there’s a lot of burnout and dissatisfaction. We have to keep finding ways to get around this.
I’m glad to see that in Colorado most of the chain’s pharmacies are closing for lunch. That wasn’t something when I worked in the community pharmacy. You’ve worked through your lunch. Even that little window of 30 or 60 minutes where you can stop answering phones, take a deep breath and maybe stop vaccinating people during that time is very valuable. For policy, we must continue to dedicate ourselves to our profession. We need to make sure that when people make decisions about things like the work of pharmacists, there is a pharmacist at the table. Because it breaks my heart to hear that new students are disappointed in the course with what they see now. We can avoid that, and we should.
Mary Bridgeman, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP: I can reflect on my experience and time in the COVID-19 vaccine clinic over the past 2 years when we were called to share our expertise as pharmacists and pharmacy immunizers. We organized an interprofessional vaccine clinic with nursing students, nursing faculties, pharmacy students, and pharmacy faculties hosting appointments and walk-in individuals at our pharmacy school. It was a hugely successful, rewarding experience for our students, students, patients and the community at the university and in the greater Central New Jersey community who were able to participate in this clinic event. I definitely think it’s helped fight that burnout and those experiences and remind our students and aspiring health professionals that this is a team sport, and we’re all doing this together. It was a great experience for our students to learn from each other, learn about each other’s skills and even pick up some techniques and strategies from each other.
I was very privileged in my experience as part of this interprofessional clinic event. I realize this isn’t necessarily everyone’s experience, but it was a fun way to give back to our community and support interprofessional collaboration.
Traci Poole, PharmD, BCACP, BCGP: We’ve made a lot of workflow changes and initiatives, going back to what Wes said about appointments. We got down to using technology to lighten some of our burden. We’ve also been able to recruit a lot of the staff and give them additional roles, not just administering the vaccines, but teaching them about billing, how to qualify, answering patient questions about getting a second one at the same time. vaccine, and to communicate with us when those questions are asked.
It was sometimes very difficult and taxing. In the past 2 years my patience has probably been tested more than my entire life up to that point with some of the conversations and things that happened. But speaking of what Mary said, there was such a sense of joy, especially when kids 6 and older were able to get vaccinated. People were taking pictures. They were so excited to be able to go out and be with their family again.
There were very long days. I was 8 months pregnant when we started moving in, and it made some really long days. But the sheer joy of people so excited to try and come back to life has been well worth it. I sympathize with some of my people who were alone with 1 mechanic every day full-time all day. We have to do something about that if we want to continue to make an impact. But most people could think about some of the good as well as the bad.
Lynette Chastain, PharmD, BCACP, TTS: Absolute. To piggyback on what Traci said, it’s important to make sure we pass those things along. So many patients tell me things about other providers or other pharmacists, and my intention is to share those things, but the next moment I come back, something else happens. Take a moment to say, “Wait a minute. I’m going to write that down” or “I’m going to make sure I give that to that person and share those moments,” [is helpful] because we all love to make that impact. Helping someone feel better and have better health is our goal. Taking those moments when you leave for the day and say, “What was one thing I can take away that I did well that made a difference?” will get you back to your goal before starting the next day.
Transcription edited for clarity.