5 Tips to Survive in a Busy Pharmacy


As pharmacists we will inevitably go through stressful days, but what sets us apart is how we tackle these challenges. Are we calm and composed or are we volatile and frustrated? How can you handle difficult patients and staff shortages while continuing to manage workflow and doctor callbacks in a timely manner? Working long hours within minimal to no meal breaks, coupled with the added stress of increased patient traffic and lack of staff can be a recipe for disaster.

Your health and job satisfaction are affected when your stress and cortisol levels start rising.

Here are 5 tips to help you survive a busy shift:

1. Exercise: Let’s practice what we preach! We all know the benefits of exercise and how it can help you cope with stressful situations. Exercise pumps up your endorphins and combats high cortisol levels. Even a brisk walk before your shift or some morning stretches can put you in check before a busy shift. Take the stairs or park your car at the far end of the lot to squeeze in some extra bonus points. It will make a difference and you will feel it, so make it a priority to get moving!

2. Eat clean and eat often: Keep some healthy snacks in your work drawer so you have something quick to turn to. During busy days, you may not have time to microwave your leftovers or eat your chicken salad. Pre-wash and cut up some vegetables and fruits so that you can snack on them throughout the day. You don’t want to resort to chocolate bars and candies, since they will only trigger an insulin response and give you the dreaded sugar crash. Be prepared and have your snacks ready – you’ll appreciate it. Try not to go long periods without eating as it can affect your blood sugar levels and make it difficult to focus. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and drink lots of H2O!

3. Sleep well: Sleep is your insurance card for a busy day at the pharmacy. Try to get a full 8 hours of sleep every night no matter what happens in your day. Coming home after a late night shift can make it difficult to unwind and settle into bed – but practicing good sleep hygiene can help you make the transition a lot faster:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday
  • Stop checking your phone and using electronic devices 1 hour before sleeping
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks after lunchtime and, if needed, drink decaf
  • Do something relaxing before bed, like reading a book or taking a warm bath

4. Do one thing at a time, and write things down: We often start a shift with only a few follow-ups to do, but then as the day goes on things pile up and become more stressful. Pharmacists have an innate sense of multi-tasking and often try to do several things simultaneously. The reality is, you will get interrupted. You might be on the phone with a doctor when that difficult patient comes in for an early refill and a new insurance card, while your technician is on break and the computer software is frozen. It will happen, and you have to be prepared to manage the situation. Remember you cannot do everything at once.

Properly focusing on one thing is better than ineffectively dividing your attention on many things. Remember, this is a risk-reduction strategy that will help you reduce errors. Doing one thing at a time also helps relieve the panicky “I have so much to do before my shift ends” feeling. A lot of the anxiety occurs from the fear of forgetting to get something done, such as forgetting to fax a doctor, or calling back a patient. The best thing to do is keep a notepad handy where you can jot down all the tasks that get thrown your way. You will find comfort and peace in knowing that you have it written down and that you will prioritize your time to eventually get through that list.

Another effective strategy is the “one-minute test” for prioritizing. If a task will take 1 minute or less to complete, then do it right away and get it off your to-do list. This could be something like a documentation issue, a quick callback, or a faxed note. You will feel better when your to-do list is lean and prioritized.

5. Delegate and Ask for Help: Pharmacists often feel the onus to do everything themselves, but the reality is that we need help in order to get our jobs done effectively. Your staff is there to help you, so leverage your resources to build an effective team. It may not be an easy thing to do when everyone else around you is in a similar stressful situation, but it’s an important way to eliminate some of the negativity associated with it. For example, if you are having a difficult situation with a patient that involves an adjudication or billing problem, find out who has the best skills in troubleshooting adjudication and allow them to take over instead of attempting trial and error that may cause further delay. By utilizing your staff to their full potential, you will make the environment less stressful for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You cannot call all patients for refill reminders, or fax all doctors for renewals. Give staff the responsibility and accountability to be in charge of certain tasks and this will free up your time and reduce your stress levels in the process.