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Take a break: what pharmacists can do to ensure they are fit to practise

April 4, 2018
If your working conditions are hindering your ability to provide quality care, it’s time to start a conversation.

It’s been a prominent topic of conversation in the pharmacy community lately: a growing concern that many pharmacists may not be taking adequate breaks during their shifts. Of concern is that a tired, distracted pharmacist is more prone to making errors that could affect the quality of patient care. The literature indicates that fatigue can cause impairment, just like alcohol or other substances that affect CNS function.

“These are real issues for pharmacists and they need to be addressed with real solutions,” said Brad Couldwell, President of ACP Council. “It’s important that pharmacists are fit to practise to enhance the health of the patients they’re working with. If there are situations that are within pharmacists’ control, they need to take responsibility for them, and make changes. If the situation is outside of their control, a conversation needs to happen with the person who is in authority.”  This is a core professional responsibility.

Starting the conversation is key, according to Brad. If you feel you do not take adequate breaks, your first step is to reach out to your employer (either the licensee or the owner) to address the situation and come up with a solution. If your employer is not adequately responding to your concerns, you can reach out to Employment Standards for support.

“There is a solution for every situation, but the road to the solution could be different, depending on the situation,” said Brad. “It’s the practising pharmacist’s responsibility to assess their workplace and take action where action is needed.”

Brad says that pharmacy is a profession with the flexibility to manage the stresses that come with it, compared to some other professions that are more structured in terms of scheduling specific activities and breaks. It’s up to each pharmacy professional to recognize when they might need to take a step back—and do so.

“For me, I might work for a period and then tell my team that this is an appropriate time for me to have a break,” Brad said. “I’ve had times in the past where I’ve been so overwhelmed that I have needed to step away for a few minutes. We need to be self-aware to be able to take some time to be in the right frame of mind, so we can meet our ethical responsibilities as pharmacists.”

Those ethical responsibilities include protecting and enhancing your personal health and well-being (Code of Ethics, principle 11.2) and practising only when fit and competent to do so (Code of Ethics, principle 11.3).

For Brad, the whole issue boils down to communication.

“You need to start the conversation,” he said. “If you already have, you need to continue the conversation until a solution is found.”

The college is developing a program to educate and support pharmacy licensees to be more effective and successful in their roles. Licensees are a critical success factor to the performance of pharmacy teams, as it is their leadership that sets the stage for their team’s performance. Licensees must be aware of the impact of fatigue, good health, and fitness to practise, and facilitate a practice environment that supports fitness to practise.