Many workers were already burned out and exhausted when COVID-19 slammed pharmacies in March 2020. The pandemic exacerbated problems with workload increases, time constraints, quota pressures, and then piled on staffing shortages, increased responsibilities, supply chain backups, medication shortages – the list goes on. The strain not only caused distress to pharmacy workers, but it also threatened to increase medication errors and endanger patient safety.

So, when #PizzaIsNotWorking went viral in fall 2021, the pharmacy community was more than ready to hear campaign founder Bled Tanoe, PharmD, assert: Employer-provided “perks” like free pizza are not making up for difficult working conditions.  

Take heart, pharmacists. Industry stakeholders are listening. Here are several initiatives underway that seek to make a change. 

The Pharmacist Well-Being Index

Quantifying and tracking distress levels is an important step in designing and carrying out effective interventions. NABP, in collaboration with the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), now provides the state boards of pharmacy with a new tool: monthly reports from the Pharmacist Well-Being Index (WBI). 

It’s a confidential, online self-assessment tool developed by the Mayo Clinic. Pharmacists, pharmacy students, and pharmacy technicians quickly and anonymously answer nine questions that measure six different dimensions of distress and well-being. When finished, immediately compare your scores to peers and national averages and access customized resources to help improve well-being. You can also take the assessment at intervals and track your mental health over time. 

Individuals’ results are sent as reports to other parties in a de-identified, aggregate form. The reports can allow the boards of pharmacy to compare well-being in different states or regions, track trends, and assess responses to mitigation efforts or external factors. The WBI information may also assist the boards in their collaboration with state pharmacy associations and with any other efforts related to working conditions.   

Boards Use Their Clout to Offer Solutions 

Boards of pharmacy can only operate within the purview of the legal authority granted to them by their states, but within those bounds, they may have a large impact – and their impact can be amplified if they work in concert with others. Here’s what a few boards have done:

  • Oklahoma: The Board created a form that pharmacists can use to report unsafe working conditions, like inadequate staffing.   
  • California: A law passed in September 2021 prohibits using “metrics,” like a quota on number of prescriptions filled, to evaluate a pharmacist’s productivity. 
  • Ohio: A new Pharmacist Workload Advisory Committee ensures compliance with laws and regulations that enable pharmacy workers to perform their jobs safely. 

More NABP Actions to Improve the Workplace 

NABP continues to engage in various efforts to promote the well-being of pharmacy personnel and protect public health. In 2019, we and other major pharmacy organizations held a National Consensus Conference, gathering stakeholders from across the profession to produce numerous actionable recommendations targeted at many sectors of the industry, from employers and payers to pharmacy schools, regulators, and professional associations.  

No single entity can offer a solution to burnout. Many have a role to play in improving conditions.

In November 2021, we convened the Task Force on Workplace Safety and Well-Being in response to a resolution passed at the Association’s 117th Annual Meeting. Our January 2022 position statement broadcast our support of efforts to improve pharmacist workplace safety and well-being, noting the importance of regulators and industry working together to effect change. We also signed onto APhA’s and the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations’ Pharmacist’s Fundamental Responsibilities and Rights document. 

Going forward, we will carry on our efforts to address this crucial issue and its impact on patient safety. Together with our member boards of pharmacy and other stakeholders, we will continue to support innovative tools like the Pharmacist WBI and other measures to further public health and pharmacist well-being. 

This article was adapted from the April 2022 edition of Innovations.