When you think of frontline workers affected by the pandemic, your local pharmacist may not be the first to come to mind. But even pre-pandemic, pharmacy was a tense and demanding field. A study of pharmacists’ mental health, from January 2020, found 75 percent of study participants experienced burnout. Since then, things have only gotten more demanding, due to the increase in prescription volume, COVID testing, vaccinations, and constant virus-related inquiries from the public.
Hour Detroit talked to Farah Jalloul, director of professional development for the Michigan Pharmacists Association and part-time CVS pharmacist, about how the pandemic has transformed life for community pharmacists.
How has the pandemic affected stress levels for pharmacists?
Farah Jalloul: In pharmacy, we are in contact with individuals who might have COVID. Pharmacists are at risk. People get ill, and we end up sending people home, which leaves us with not enough staff and people working overtime. It’s very stressful.
[To address] the increased level of stress and burnout, the Michigan Pharmacists Association assembled a workplace environment task force filled with leaders that have been through the spectrum of pharmacy. It addresses certain mental health issues and new challenges for pharmacists.
How has work increased for pharmacists?
If you think about it, pharmacists are [our] most accessible health care professionals. There are pharmacies that are open 24 hours a day. Some individuals, especially at the peak of the pandemic, had patients coming through the drive-thru to talk to a pharmacist, because they didn’t want to go to urgent care.
Now we are administering vaccines and COVID testing at high volumes. Luckily, we are utilizing our pharmacy technicians, but we are often short-staffed, and there are only so many people to help. It’s continual interruptions. We have to make sure that everything is going the right way, and we have to communicate with frustrated patients. It’s a lot of conflict resolution.
How has vaccine skepticism and general uncertainty among the public affected pharmacists’ jobs?
We had gotten used to flu season, but with the COVID vaccine, there was so much resistance. So, for many people, pharmacists became the trusted health-care professionals who would take the time to talk to them about the vaccine. Especially right after the vaccine rollout, people had a lot of questions. I was happy to address those questions, but it does take you away from the floor. Spending 25 minutes answering questions may not sound like a lot, but it does take you away from your other responsibilities.
What do you want people to remember the next time they go to the pharmacy?
There’s a saying about pharmacy work — that it’s just “pour, lick ’em, and stick ’em.” Maybe that’s what it was once, but it’s no longer like that. Pharmacists are saving lives. … I would say, try to understand that we are trying to do the best that we can to make sure everyone who comes in is taken care of adequately.
This story is from the 2022 edition of Health Guide. Read more stories here.