Caring during chaos; keeping the flame burning


Approaching 2020’s half-way mark, it is hard to comprehend the stress, change and extreme uncertainty we have had this year. COVID-19 abruptly upended our professional and personal lives in ways we had previously not thought plausible.

You have been subjected to long workdays, patient anger and aggression, rapidly changing regulation and, in many cases, income pressures. The additive effect of these stressors on you, your teams and other frontline workers places you at high risk of burnout. Burnout arises from chronic sustained work stressors leading to a state of feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to manage the demands of the role. COVID-19 work stressors have been compounded by effects on our personal lives. Many of you on the frontline were scared for your own health and safety, that of your loved ones, as well as acute concern for patients.

We all need to put in place strategies to limit burnout risk:

  • Get enough rest: Take your breaks. When work is piling up, warn patients of longer wait times and encourage less immediate options such as home-delivery or appointment-based services. Switch off from work and the 24-hour news cycle in designated time to unwind, whether alone, with family or friends. Have someone make sure you’re taking that break.
  • Know where to get help: Use available supports, including the Pharmacists Support Service, employee assistance programs and resources specifically developed for health professionals (at left). If you are a manager, proactively recommend these to your teams.
  • Rotate your role: Where possible, shift roles with colleagues, or plan for task variety such as dispensing, over-the-counter requests and DAA checking. Task variation can reduce the repetitive effect of a stressor in a role.
  • Eat healthy foods: Exercise regularly. I try to have protected family time where we go for a walk or ride a bike. If you are time poor, weekly meal delivery services can offer healthier options than on-demand restaurant delivery services.

Burnout, by its nature, isn’t easy to head off. Spotting the warning signs early – fatigue, sleeping problems, loss of professional passion/drive, feelings of withdrawal, etc – gives the best chance of dealing with it.

It is OK, and very important, to acknowledge any feelings of distress – even if you feel you shouldn’t because you perceive other people are suffering more from illness, fear, unemployment or grief. Sometimes this may involve confiding in a colleague or your support network. At other times this may be reaching out for professional support.

As we move towards more mingling in COVID-safe Australia, patient stress points like dispensing limits, salbutamol supply evidence requirements and medicine shortages remain. I encourage you to remain vigilant for early signs of burnout in yourself, and in colleagues, and take steps to help protect yourself.

Research on the effect of COVID-19 on pharmacist burnout is underway by Claire O’Reilly FPS (USyd) and Karleee Johnston (ANU). The first of several survey periods is open in June at:

In memoriam

While the burden of mental health challenges are real, we are lucky we escaped the grief from illness and death experienced by the profession globally. Overseas the tragic loss of life from COVID-19 has extended to frontline pharmacists, including Italy (11), Spain (8), United Kingdom (3), Turkey (4), Belgium (1) and China (1).* On behalf of all Australian pharmacists, I extend my condolences to our international colleagues who died in the service of their patients and communities.


COVID-19 pages and forums:

Pharmacists Support Service
1300 244 910 (8.00 am to 11.00 pm AEST)

PSA’s MHFA courses:

COVID-19 How to look after yourself webinar:


*Correct at time of printing; sources: and others