Are Faculty Wellness Programs Worth It?

By: Danielle Pagano, Student Pharmacist; Jaclyn Boyle, PharmD, MS, MBA, BCACP, BCPS; Kathrine Distel, PharmD

The discussion surrounding burnout in pharmacy has been gaining increasing attention in recent years. Burnout is a concern across the pharmacy spectrum, with 43% of all pharmacists reporting “having so much work to do that everything cannot be done well” in the recent National Pharmacist Workforce Study1.  Professional burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a feeling of low personal accomplishment at work.2

In response to concerns about burnout in the workplace, many workplaces provide wellness programs to employees. These include services such as one-on-one counseling, access to fitness facilities, and workshops or seminars addressing topics such as stress management and emotional intelligence. Despite program availability, according to our institution’s employee assistance program, wellness program engagement nationally in higher education is estimated to be at a level of 3-5%.3 

Challenges for wellness program participation

Considering excessive stress across all pharmacy settings could lead to burnout, colleges and schools of pharmacy should be aware of wellness program utilization and/or potential barriers preventing employees from taking advantage of these benefits. Many obstacles can prevent faculty from using wellness programs, including: 

Time/availability

Faculty juggle teaching, scholarship, and service responsibilities. They often have less structured work environments to accomplish their tasks. Faculty can easily push self-care, personal interests, and non-work commitments to the wayside. 

Awareness 

As healthcare providers, we are continually taking care of others.  Until a health concern becomes an issue with ourselves, our health can take a backseat to other, more urgent priorities. If faculty are unaware of available wellness program offerings, then resources and time invested in program development are naught. 

No financial incentive to use wellness programs

Practice-based faculty share a unique role in the college. For practice-based arrangements where a faculty member is not an employee of the college or for faculty who do not qualify for health benefits, the value of participating would exclude any financial discounts. 

The stress of meeting wellness commitments

There is no shortage of meeting commitments through a faculty member’s day, and any items on a long to-do list can quickly fill unstructured time. The stress of going to another meeting or commitment related to wellness may seem like a burden and, if given a choice, it can be easy to opt-out. 

Technology/platform use 

Many wellness programs use unique platforms that may or may not link to other electronic health records. Learning yet one more platform could be a significant stressor in faculty life. 

A possible stigma of help-seeking 

There is a lack of literature published about pharmacist-related beliefs of self-stigma and help-seeking. However, one study of 23 institutions demonstrated the stigma of seeking help for mental health conditions amongst pharmacy and medical students.4

Impact of faculty wellness on students 

Faculty burnout can affect students on multiple levels, including possibly reflecting a decline in their well-being. Students can tell when a faculty member is burnt out typically by a change in the level of the engagement or enthusiasm for their work. Witnessing this could cause students to avoid academia as a career or even reconsider pursuing pharmacy. For those who persist, seeing consistent examples of burnout could set the expectation that burnout is normal. 

What can the Academy do to address this? 

During the most recent AACP Annual meeting, one session generated many ideas related to how colleges and schools of pharmacy could approach addressing this critical issue:5 

  • During performance evaluations, create personalized development plans focused on wellness or addressing burnout/risk factors for burnout.
  • Implement monitoring tools that are easy to use for faculty to assess their wellness/routine check-in.
  • Being aware of signals that one is sending (role modeling wellness). 
  • Evaluate workloads and fairly distributing to faculty based on their percent distribution of time in teaching, scholarship, and service. 
  • Be mindful of the highly autonomous nature of academic work and avoid micromanagement.
  • Collaborate with counseling services to offer faculty development and/or programmatic solutions. 
  • Ensure that employee wellness is a part of the college’s strategic plan.

Further discussion is needed 

Faculty well-being cannot be overlooked if colleges/schools are going to thrive. It is unknown how many faculty are using wellness programs in schools and colleges of pharmacy in the United States. Additionally, conducting a needs assessment of wellness program content could help inform effective program design. 

If investments are being made in assistance programs, this begs the question: how can we support pharmacy faculty to utilize available wellness programs? 

References: 

  1. Arya V. 2019 National Pharmacist Workforce Study. Published 2020. 
  2. Maslach C, Jackson SE. The measurement of experienced burnout. J Occup Behav. 1981;2:99–113.
  3. Human Resources. Employee Assistance Program.
  4. Fischbein R, Bonfine N. Pharmacy and Medical Students’ Mental Health Symptoms, Experiences, Attitudes and Help-Seeking Behaviors. Am J Pharm Educ. 2019;83(10):2204-2215.
  5. Boyle JA, Cain JJ, English DE, Soric MM, Arendt D. The Final Missing Piece in the Well-Being Puzzle: What Leadership Can Do. Presentation at the 2020 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Annual Meeting. Online. 

Author Bio(s) 

Danielle Pagano is a fourth-year student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Educational interests include student mentoring, leadership, personal, and professional development. In her free time, Danielle enjoys baking and spending time with her family.

Jaclyn Boyle is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include professional development, preparing learners for careers in academia, and evaluating novel teaching and assessment methods. Jaclyn is very active in professional pharmacy organizations. In her free time, Jaclyn enjoys spending time with her family & friends, spinning, and yoga. 

Kathrine Distel is a PGY2 Ambulatory Care Resident at Summa Health System–Akron Campus. Her interests include primary care and student mentorship. In her free time, Katie enjoys exploring local coffee shops and running with her dad. 


Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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