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'Pharmacists must practise self-care to offer good patient care'

Pharmacy professionals need to practise what they preach by prioritising their health over work, says Laura Buckley

It is easy to give advice, almost parroted from a textbook, to a patient listening in the consultation room or on the telephone. It is our duty, as healthcare professionals, to give our patients advice to the best of our abilities.

But giving advice that we secretly know we don’t follow and guiltily encouraging our patients to be healthy, despite hiding an unhealthy lifestyle, is setting double standards. How can we expect our patients to succeed at living healthily if we don’t practise what we preach?

I recently remarked that when I am counselling a patient on compliance and lifestyle, it is almost like the pot calling the kettle black – I’m terribly non-compliant to medication regimes and I get so caught up in work and parenting that my own health becomes the least of my concerns.

When I worked as a community pharmacist before becoming a primary care network (PCN) pharmacist, lunch breaks were never breaks and ‘bite-and-go’ became a hard habit to move away from. Often, sugary snacks were on tap and plainly offering themselves to the hungry pharmacist.

Providing healthy eating advice during medication use reviews, while simultaneously digesting the latest biscuits I found in the cupboard after missing my lunch, made me more of a hypocrite and less of a healthcare professional. Counselling has become a case of suggesting that patients do as I say but not as I do.

But it isn’t just food and managing to eat appropriate meals each day in spite of workload and opening hours. We all know that exercise, mental health and sleep quality are factors that influence our ability to work safely and impact our stress tolerance. We all know that work-life balance is the key to success.

As pharmacists, we should be the role models for health. However, between fulfilling the demands of an increasingly pressured environment, meeting the service targets of employers and keeping up with ever-changing guidelines for healthcare, staying healthy is harder than ever.

In the fashion industry, employees might be expected to wear the clothes to influence a sale. In the technology industry, employees might be expected to use the technology to be able to sell it. Community pharmacy is ultimately a business. Pharmacists should demonstrate good habits to influence patients better and contractors should be supporting their teams in achieving this.

Contractors have a role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of their team members and should be considering the impact of their demands on employee physical and mental health. Are they asking what is reasonable of their colleagues given the staffing and time allocation? Are the targets being set unachievable and likely to result in overworked and failing staff? Are there other ways that pharmacy teams could be supported to avoid excess stress and burnout?

As outlined in the General Pharmaceutical Council standards, pharmacy professionals are supposed to be making patients our “first concern”, but unless we are also first concerning ourselves with our own health and wellbeing, can we really expect patients to look to us as models for an ideal lifestyle?

Although perfection cannot be expected, perhaps the time has come to shift some focus onto ourselves, so that we can continue to give the best of us to inspire the best in our patients.

Laura Buckley is a locum and a pharmacist at a PCN in East Yorkshire


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