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Surviving Stress: Tips for Staying Sane through Pharmacy School and Beyond

Oct 22, 2019

Brooke and Ashley Barlow

STRESS CAN START EARLY in your pharmacy career. Pharmacy school and residency are particularly challenging, which is why focusing on well-being and self-care at the beginning of your career can build healthy habits that can last for a lifetime. PGY-1 residents Ashley and Brooke Barlow know exactly what that feels like.

Well-being and Sisterhood
The sisters, while identical, are not twins, but rather two-thirds of a set of triplets! Their sister is not identical, and not a pharmacist. They hail from a family where healthcare was always important – both parents are nurses. Brooke is currently a PGY1 Pharmacy Resident at the University of Kentucky Healthcare. Ashley is a PGY1 Pharmacy Resident at the University of Maryland Medical Center. They went into pharmacy after spending time with a pharmacist who cared for their grandfather during his terminal illness.

“Our first year at Jefferson College of Pharmacy was hard,” said Brooke. “We realized that we could be happier and healthier.” Both are former athletes – Ashley is a swimmer and Brooke competed in track and field hockey. The duo decided to combine the concepts they learned as athletes with their long-standing interest in well-being to develop ways to combat burnout and stress. This resulted in practical techniques they could use to promote resilience during pharmacy school and their residencies.

The following are Ashley and Brooke’s tips for staying resilient through pharmacy school and beyond:

  • Make time for self-care. It’s easy to put yourself and your needs on the back burner when you are loaded with work. However, neglecting to put aside time to care for yourself can have long-term consequences. “Create a list of self-care activities that you enjoy,” Ashley advised. “Set a 5-minute alarm on your phone each day and take time to do something unrelated to pharmacy. For me, I might call my mom or dad, or go outside and take a walk. You can always spare 5 minutes to take care of yourself.” A 5-minute break is also a great way to rest your eyes, clear your head, and refocus.
  • Integrate physical activity into your day. “It’s important to advocate for your health,” said Brooke. “You may not have time to go to the gym anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be active.” The sisters noted that there are easy ways to add activity into your day – take the stairs instead of the elevator or park farther away from your destination. Particularly during residency, it’s vital to squeeze in some time for physical activity. When organized sports were no longer an option for Ashley and Brooke, the sisters took up weightlifting to stay physically fit.
  • Tackle your demons first. Organization reduces stress. “Prioritize your time and get started,” said Brooke. While the natural tendency is to do the easiest task first, the sisters recommend the opposite. “Tackle your demons first,” Brooke added. She recommends developing a task timeline with deadlines. “This can eliminate a lot of stress if you start early and are structured,” she said.
  • Stop and smell the roses. Don’t overlook celebrating your successes. “Part of burnout comes from a lack of self-fulfillment,” said Ashley. “It’s important that instead of just moving on, you stop, pause, and allow yourself to enjoy what you accomplished.” Recognizing and celebrating your successes, even small ones, can help you feel more fulfilled.
  • Find a creative outlet. Face it, school (and sometimes work) can be monotonous. Monotony can lead to burnout, noted Ashley. Doing a fun activity in your downtime can help you feel more creative and motivated the rest of the time. Ashely has taken up photography as a creative outlet, and both sisters are enthusiastic cooks. They have combined both interests into a cooking blog that serves as their creative outlet.
  •  What’s your why? “One piece of advice we would give to all residents and students to mitigate burnout is to find the answer to the question ‘What’s your why?’” said Ashley. “Everyone has a different fuel for their fire. If you have identified your ‘why’ in life, it will make what you do much more fulfilling and bring you closer to your meaning of well-being!”

 The Bottom Line
Although stress and burnout can occur during school, residency, or in the workplace, there are ways to reduce the pressure and help you feel better. Exercise, creative hobbies, and taking time for yourself are things you can do today to improve your resilience and well-being. Ashley and Brooke’s final bit of advice stems from Drayton Hammond, Pharm.D., M.B.A., M.Sc., Assistant Professor and Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at Rush Medical Center. “Don’t ever let the fear of failure hold you back from great opportunities,” he said.


By Ann Latner


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