ATLANTA — COVID-19 brought a wave of burnout among physicians and other health professionals - while nurses and doctors are feeling the elevated stress and staffing shortages in the wake of the new omicron variant, they're not the only ones feeling overwhelmed.
Pharmacists were seeing high burnout levels from their profession long before the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic has continued, the situation has only worsened.
"Pharmacists have been dealing with this for a long time and COVID just took it to another level," said Shirin Zadeh, pharmacist and president of the Atlanta region at the Pharmacy Association of Georgia.
In 2017 pharmacists reported higher rates of burnout in practice than surgeons, oncologists, and emergency-medicine practitioners. Right before the start of the pandemic, a 2020 study found 75% of pharmacists reported burnout.
The stress pharmacists are under can lead to mistakes in prescriptions, which can cause hospitalizations or even cost somebody's life, said Zadeh.
The Pharmacy Association of Georgia, a pharmacist union, currently has 1,500 pharmacists and 537 pharmacy technicians.
Of those, 301 pharmacists and 88 of the technicians are under Zadeh's supervision in the Atlanta region.
"I have so many pharmacists coming to me saying, 'I just need a new job. I don't care if I'm a pharmacist anymore. This is just not what I want to do with my life, because basically, I don't have a life anymore,'" said Zadeh.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 11,300 openings for pharmacists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of these openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
The pharmacists under Zadeh in the Atlanta region feel like it's impossible to get anything done and they come to her with these concerns. COVID-19 has forced them to quickly adapt to ever-changing regulations and practices.
"Hey, if we get these new guidelines every day, we get all these things that we need to do. Every news station says, 'Oh, go to your pharmacy and get your immunization.' Then we wake up and they say, 'Oh, you have to do this many shots today.' We go to work and how am I supposed to finish everything that I was doing. And top of that do immunizations," said Zadeh.
Pharmacists are thinking about their patients' safety when they decide to leave the field, according to Zadeh.
"Not only do they tired feel, but they feel unsafe for their patients. They think this is somebody's mom, this is somebody's dad, this is somebody's kids and I'm not 100% and I don't have time to look at their profile, go to their medication history because I'm the only one here and I have so many things to do," said Zadeh.
It's better for pharmacists to leave before someone gets hurt, she added.
The mindset, Zadeh said, is: “I'm going to get my license and I don't want to kill someone, so I'm just going to leave."
Zadeh wants everyone to know and value their pharmacist for the services they provide, both during the pandemic and under normal circumstances.
'Pharmacists are the most trusted health care workers, they are everybody's first phone call, the first person that the patient goes to ask for medical advice is their pharmacist. They're just available, accessible all the time," said Zadeh.