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Pharmacy, self-care and the lesson of the flight attendant

Last time, we started the conversation about burnout and how we as leaders have the important job of defining reality. So, what do we do once we have defined what the problem is? Where do we start? 

The answer to that question is something you and I most likely know. However, during challenging times, we sometimes forget. 

Let's suppose you and I were going to go on a trip across the country by plane. After we have found our seats, and our seat-backs and tray tables are locked in their upright position, the flight attendant does a full run-through of the safety features of the airplane, including what to do in the event that the cabin loses pressure. Is this ringing any bells for you? Whether you have flown only once or are a member of the Million Miles Club, the flight attendants have given us an important lesson before every flight about what to do when things go wrong. 

You can find this important lesson during the instruction about cabin depressurization.  You know the instruction. You must secure your own mask before helping anyone else around you, even children! Why? You must take care of yourself to be able to help others. Let's take it a step further: you must take the best care of yourself you can. In other words, don’t partially put on the oxygen mask. Get that device on securely so you can help others.

Many years ago, I was stationed in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the home of the famous winter-spring-predicting groundhog (see: Groundhog Day with Bill Murray).  This was one of the busiest pharmacies I have worked in even to this day. On staff, we should have had three full-time pharmacists. Should have. We had one. And I was heading in to be the second pharmacist.

There were many challenges, to say the least. My first day in the pharmacy, the pharmacy manager came up to me, and I realize now, in hindsight, he was defining reality. He confirmed that he and I were in for some rough days and we didn’t really know when they were going to end. He then went on to give some great advice to a younger version of myself who was too arrogant (and ignorant) to heed the advice. He encouraged me to get my rest, eat right, and get regular exercise. Pretty basic things. Some would even call them fundamentals. 

If you play sports, the first things you learn are the fundamentals. And if you don’t learn them, you don’t do very well. Well, I ignored these fundamentals. I ate poorly, rested little, and told myself I didn’t have time to exercise. And it was frustrating and rough. I got fed up. And truth be told, I was on the fast-track to become a worse pharmacist during those days.

Yet, over time, I learned to take the pharmacist's advice. I am by no means perfect with these recommendations, but I am better than I was. Hindsight being 20/20, I would make different and better choices if had the chance to do so again.

You may subscribe to a different set of fundamentals. The point is not whether one person’s fundamentals of self-care are better than another’s. The point is: are you taking care of yourself, so that you can take care of others? Maybe you are, but it isn’t enough. If that's the case, find out what others are doing for self-care. You may very well need several items in your bag of tricks to take care of yourself. 

We will go a little deeper on this subject when we meet next. Until then, take the next several days to work on your self-care. What are the things you can do to take better care of yourself? At a minimum, begin by making a list. Perhaps it is rest, nutrition and exercise. But it could be any number of things. Once you're done with this exercise, review that list each day. If you can do something each day, even if it isn’t everything on the list, let me encourage you to take a moment to feel great (a step better than good) about yourself. When you do this, you improve your position to help others.


Until next time -

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn


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