Christopher Bond, 2020 Pharm.D. candidate, University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, Ann Arbor
As I began my P4 year, with the end of pharmacy school finally in sight, I thought back to the previous years of sleepless nights, grueling exams and awkward patient encounters. These memories entered my mind as I gathered with my class for orientation. We gathered into a tight room where we had spent many days in intense discussion or sometimes interminable boredom. Many in my class reminisced with disbelief that what seemed like yesterday, enrolled as P1s, full of naivety and curiosity regarding what our future in pharmacy would be. Now, we were arriving at the end of that journey with maturity and eagerness to enter the world to finally fulfill a dream we worked so hard to create for ourselves. However, this journey seemed like a lifetime.
The shrill shriek of each early morning alarm still pulses through my head as I face each day of recurring tasks and looming project deadlines. I knew this final year of pharmacy school would be challenging and exhausting. I have never been one to ignore my mental health, I constantly strive to improve my well-being. Over the past few years, I had heard of the growing prevalence of burnout among health professionals and I worried that I could become another victim.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”1 They characterize it by three dimensions: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.” These days, it is hard to find a piece about the pharmacy school experience that does not mention burnout. A quick internet search will lead you to dozens of lengthy scholarly articles, blog posts and news stories examining the harmful effects of constant stress on a person and workplace productivity in a plethora of jobs. The profession of pharmacy is no exception. It leaves its practitioners at risk for burnout with high-pressure environments, demanding expectations, inadequate staffing or abuse from patients. Raising awareness of burnout is difficult work in itself, but the real challenge lies in innovating new ideas for prevention and treatment.
In recent years, the University of Michigan (UM) College of Pharmacy has prioritized students’ mental health. A psychologist was hired to meet the needs of pharmacy students. Last year, I was honored to serve as the student body president, where I won with a platform of refocusing our efforts toward reducing student stress and anxiety. A student mental health committee was formed to match a similar existing committee composed of faculty and staff. The committees collaborated to institute stress relief events, promote mindfulness activities through student organizations and to begin a summer reading program in which students learned to develop resilience and maintain an open mindset.
I encourage readers to discover what resources are available to you to help with the burden of burnout. Explore a few of the numerous techniques that can help ameliorate or prevent burnout. Perhaps the technique that might work best for you is to find a quiet place to work, to focus on long-term goals or to add more artistic outlets to what free time you may have. You could exercise regularly, find ways to take more control over your life or try one of the many popular stress management techniques.
It takes a conscious effort to develop the resiliency required to make it unscathed through the gauntlet of pharmacy school, residency and beyond. The important thing is to know your limits and to know when to seek help. Lastly, we should use our passion for public service to help others in our field. We often focus on caring for patients more than each other. Everyone should consider what actions there are able to take or roles to fill that can improve the long journey of pharmacy school and the career beyond. Together, we can be a remedy for burnout to better patient care, the profession and ourselves.
1. World Health Organization. (2019). Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/ [Accessed 7 Oct. 2019].