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Creative Ways to Support Staff Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jul 28, 2020

Mayrim Millan-Barea, Pharm.D., M.B.A., discusses strategies to practice mindfulness at work, holding a sign that reads, “Pause, Take One Mindful Breath. Observe, Resume.”

ASHP’S MEMBERS ARE IN VARIOUS STAGES of preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. During this challenging time, it is imperative for pharmacists, residents, student pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians to step up well-being for themselves and the healthcare workforce community.

During the 2019 Midyear Clinical Meeting, ASHP held two sessions where pharmacists shared the various ways their hospitals and health systems support workplace joy. With new guidance in place for social distancing and other measures to reduce the transmission of the virus, pharmacists are taking creative approaches to promote staff well-being and resilience.

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“There is greater and greater recognition that burnout is an issue, and many institutions have started putting initiatives in place to prevent it from happening,” said Mayrim Millan-Barea, Pharm.D., M.B.A., who just completed her Health System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership Residency, at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and is an ASHP member since 2015.

She led two roundtable sessions on well-being, resilience, and burnout at the 2019 ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting. “More awareness needs to be raised as there is still a stigma associated with this topic,” said Dr. Millan-Barea. She recalled one session participant who shared that a colleague of theirs was afraid to ask others if they were burned out, “because they did not want to accept that they could be burned out as well.”

Although some institutions are in the early stages of addressing burnout, others are moving full steam ahead with solutions to build staff resilience and well-being. For example, pharmacists at Dr. Millan-Barea’s institution share their daily accomplishments and medication error “good catches” during shift changes. These short meetings also offer an opportunity to present a clinical pearl or celebrate a birthday, Dr. Millan-Barea said. “These meetings have worked for us as a good way to engage with staff,” she emphasized. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff has had to adapt and leverage electronic platforms to celebrate, engage, and care for one another. “During such difficult and unprecedented times, the Department of Pharmacy launched a newly built website that included internal and external well-being and resilience resources. Additionally, we hosted a small virtual contest where staff was encouraged to share a picture of their favorite well-being/wellness resource or activity. The idea is to emphasize that we should all feel empowered to identify the resources that resonate with us,” said Dr. Millan-Barea.

Pharmacy kudos board

Creating opportunities for more staff interaction is one approach to cultivating happiness in the workplace, said Jennifer M. Schultz, Pharm.D., Clinical Pharmacy Supervisor and PGY1 Residency Program Director in the Pharmacy Department at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital. She is an ASHP Fellow and member since 1994 and co-led one of the roundtable sessions. “Feeling engaged with others and having a culture that values the role of pharmacists energizes people,” she said.

Some participants at the session Dr. Schultz co-led said they have been creating calm and fun workplace environments in several ways, including having an aromatherapy room where staff can relax if they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

Jennifer M. Schultz, Pharm.D.

“At my institution, we have ‘white elephant parties,’ where somebody draws a name and brings that person a little gift,” said Dr. Schultz. Other pharmacists said they recognize and engage staff efforts by giving employees who have worked exceptionally hard a long lunch. Other sites said they encourage peer-to-peer recognition through an e-card function in their institutional intranet, allowing staff to send appreciative notes to their colleagues.

Dr. Schultz’s hospital has what they call a “Kudos Board, which is a whiteboard where colleagues can give each other kudos for a nice gesture or a great job using Velcro stickers and different shapes,” she said. “At the end of the month, we hold a drawing for all of the kudos received, select a coffee card winner, and publicize why that person got kudos,” she said. “It’s a simple way to support and recognize each other.”

The more that staff feel connected with and valued by each other and hospital leaders – whether through a kudos board, by checking in on each other and seeing how their workload is going – the less likely they are to experience burnout, Dr. Schultz said. “We like to think of our pharmacy department as a phamily, with a ‘ph,’” she quipped.

Something Dr. Schultz said session attendees broadly recognized the value of is extracurricular hobbies. Having something to look forward to outside of work helps create a fulfilling work-life balance, she said. “People who are very, very engaged only in their work and don’t do much outside of work seem to be more stressed and burned out,” Dr. Schultz said. “We need to get out and have hobbies – it doesn’t matter what they are, but we all have to do something for ourselves.”

Adding food and fun

Nicole Clark, Pharm.D., MHA, FASHP, Director of Pharmacy Services at Melrose Wakefield Healthcare, always relied on enjoyable non-pharmacy activities to have fun outside of work. Her favorite hobby was going to Boston Celtics games with her friends and husband, who is also a pharmacist. “That’s where we hang out and don’t talk pharmacy!” she said. “It’s an example I share with my students to encourage them to do something for themselves – and not feel guilty about it.”

Nicole Clark, Pharm.D., MHA, FASHP

With the COVID-19 pandemic, fun hobbies like this have been put on hold, so it has been important to find other things to do to remain resilient during these tough times, she noted. For example, Dr. Clark hosts video gatherings with friends, including her “Celtics Family,” the friends she has made through the Celtics. “It allows us to check in with each other and support each other through this challenging time,” she said.

Dr. Clark, who also co-facilitated an ASHP session on well-being, burnout, and resilience, said her organization has a wellness committee that has developed a range of activities focused on the health and well-being of employees. These activities have taken on a new look during the COVID pandemic.

For example, staff can attend a regular meditation call or well-being webinar series, noted Dr. Clark. “Awards and celebrations are continuing, just in different ways from before,” she added. During hospital week, hospital leadership greeted employees coming to work with a DJ and thank you signs. Ice cream treats, care packages, and meals were also given to staff.

“These small gestures meant a lot to staff and made them feel valued during this difficult time,” said Dr. Clark, an ASHP member since 2008. “During the holiday season, our department participates in an adopt-a-family program that? gives to a family in need, which helps us feel the holiday spirit.”

While planned events and well-considered institutional initiatives to address well-being and burnout are critical, Dr. Millan-Barea of the Johns Hopkins Hospital believes building pharmacy staff resilience does not always require much money or time.

“Simply saying ‘good morning’ can be a small but important step towards building community and increasing recognition,” she said. “We live in such a rushed world that we can forget to acknowledge each other.”


By David Wild

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