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‘Pharmacists must listen to their own flu and mental health advice’

Pharmacists may advise patients on flu and mental and physical health, but neglecting their own advice can lead to isolation, warns pharmacist Nadira Callachand

It’s nearing the end of the year and we’re well into flu season. Posters, fliers, stickers and polite reminders to patients when they pick up their monthly prescription help to keep up the ever-growing number of patients vaccinated against this potentially life-threatening virus.

We should be proud of the work that pharmacists do to promote this essential service to all our patients.

One afternoon recently, I was discussing the benefits of the service in the pharmacy. A throwaway comment made by one of my pharmacist colleagues got me thinking – are we practising what we preach when it comes to health promotion?

Although this colleague is an avid supporter of the campaign, and has administered countless vaccinations over the years, she admitted that she didn’t want to get the flu jab herself. She had a niggling feeling about it that she wasn’t totally comfortable with. My colleague said she’d probably still get the vaccine, but wasn’t going to receive it with open arms.

I was shocked. I can understand none of us enjoy the experience of getting stabbed with a needle, but this wasn’t what she was talking about. It’s like the anti-vaccine campaign has sowed the seeds of doubt in her otherwise rational brain.

How could this pharmacist, who knows for a fact that the vaccination is essential to maintaining public health, still have these doubts about it? The vaccination of healthcare workers is a key factor in preventing the spread of influenza among patients, so we should be rushing to inject each other the day our first vaccine delivery arrives.

As healthcare professionals, it should be a given that we know all the ‘right’ things to do to keep ourselves well. And I guess it’s assumed that we follow our own advice. But in reality, that doesn’t always happen.

How often do we advise our patients not to smoke, to engage in physical exercise for at least 30 minutes five times a week and eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and veg? The reality is there are many overweight pharmacists, many whose only exercise is walking around the dispensary and at a least a few who occasionally disappear for five minutes out the back for a sneaky fag.

The issue of minding mental health and wellbeing is a common concern that pharmacists counsel patients about. We can recognise low mood in our vulnerable patients. We support, advise and assist those who we feel need help. But when was the last time we considered our own advice on this issue?

Let’s face it, unless we actively reach out to pharmacists in other stores, we can be working in isolation. I have no doubt that pharmacy can be a detrimental environment for those pharmacists who are having mental trouble and don’t ask for help.

We need to re-examine what we’re telling our patients and what we expect of them. Is our advice evidence-based, up-to-date and relevant? If we can be sure of this, if we can take the time to reflect on it, then we can apply it to ourselves. Surely it is the very best advice that we are offering – don’t we deserve the best advice as much as anyone else?

So, when you’re promoting your flu vaccination service to your at-risk patients and explaining all the reasons why they should get the vaccine, take a second to put yourself in their shoes and listen to your own sound advice. After all, can you really afford not to?

Nadira Callachand is a pharmacist and career leadership coach based in Dublin


Pharmacy Dispenser/ Technician
Bethnal Green North, London
Salary: Up to £30,000

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