Are you feeling irritable and impatient at work? Do you feel that new tasks are meaningless? Do you load up on caffeine daily, but nothing seems to work to give you any zest for the day? If your answer is yes to any of these, you may be experiencing burnout syndrome.

Why are pharmacists so unhappy?

[1] Poor return on investment: Underpaid

To study and graduate with a bachelor of pharmacy degree seems, sadly, to be a poor return on investment. We spent four years in university studying drugs and burnt most of our time during the school holidays doing internship attachments. Yet upon graduation, we may not earn as much as other professionals such as engineers, a doctors or lawyers, who are also regulated by a professional body.

Additionally, many young pharmacists give up on this career due to a lack of clear career paths. The lack of successful role models in the same industry also discourages the blossom of more like-minded and motivated pharmacists. As such, over time, pharmacists get cynical and indifferent about their profession.

[2] Poor work life balance: Overworked

The workload of a pharmacist in the healthcare sector often exceeds expected levels due to many factors. Pharmacists at the frontline spend many extra after office hours clearing administrative work because the bulk of their time during the day is spent on the ground fire-fighting.

There is a general lack of support from leaders: Managerial leaders expect pharmacists on the ground to deliver results from healthcare projects but fail to appreciate the extra time clocked for these efforts. Frontline staff also support the operation of office hours, increasingly blurring the line between private and work hours. Over time, overworked pharmacists find new tasks meaningless and get unmotivated and unhappy.

[3] Poor appreciation shown: Taken for granted

Pharmacists are ‘poor’ players, even with knowledge and expertise. Most if not all consultations are not charged, yet the presence of a pharmacist in the healthcare sector is often not seen as a value-add, but a cost incurred. Many unhappy pharmacists devalue the importance of their work, and over time, feel emotionally depleted and useless.

How to prevent burnout?

Prevention is always better than cure. Before you fall into the pit that is burnout syndrome, there are strategies to adopt preventive measures.

The best method is to continue to remain professionally attached to the community, no matter the situation at work. Pharmacists can contribute to the society in many ways, sharing knowledge during brown bagging events and assisting the public with medication reconciliation.

Pharmacists can also volunteer for public forum talks such as during World Diabetes Day, or during the yearly Pharmacist's Week. There are also options such as to take part in medical missions around the world with philanthropic workgroups, or to precept and teach students who have an interest in pharmacy.

By professionally engaging in pharmacy-related work, pharmacists can be drawn away from the daily hustle and bustle and reflect on their true purpose and calling for the profession.

How to treat burnout?

When was the last time you asked for a pay rise or a holiday? If work is suffocating you, communication with your supervisor is crucial. However, do not expect your boss to read your mind and know what you are thinking, but communicate instead.

Also always try to strategise your own career path. If you are on the verge of starting a new project, consider negotiating for a pay rise or a promotion on its completion. Explain that an expanded work portfolio should be adequately credited.

Alternatively, consider taking a break. Have a long holiday and excuse yourself from work emails and messages. You could even ask for a sabbatical if your company supports this idea.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is not the profession but the company that is the problem. Consider a change of environment, look for another company with a different culture.

However, after exploring all the above and still feeling unhappy, you may want to seriously consider a career switch. Some pharmacists who have had successful career changes have retrained themselves as highly skilled professionals including doctors, lawyers, nutritionists, pilots and more. Some also went into finance to become health economists, public health analysts, accountant etc. The skills and knowledge learnt in the pharmacy school are practical and therefore can be applied easily to any sector, hence fear not, burnout is not the end of the world. MIMS