How to Cope with Being Short-Staffed in the Pharmacy


by Julie Melmoth, RPhT

Pharmacy technicians worldwide feel overwhelmed, overworked, burnt out, and understaffed in every type of pharmacy environment. Increased responsibilities or additional tasks can be quite stressful in an already overloaded workplace. These concerns are very common these days due to the pandemic and can also be common on a regular basis, depending on. Thus, an individual and a team must cope with these issues to keep workflow efficient and decrease chances of errors.

Understaffing and stressful environments can be hazardous when they result in medication errors. Pharmacies are struggling to meet the demands of patients and company obligations, which impacts the streamlining of consistent, safe work environments.

The extra workload may result in working longer hours and increase chances of burnout and be sustainable for short periods; however, long-term understaffing can seriously impact the health and well-being of individuals and work teams overall.

Even if members of a pharmacy are ready to increase their workload and deal with understaffing, the ability to meet goals decreases with additional responsibilities. Staff can fall behind on assignments or tasks. Managers might delegate tasks, but because personnel must juggle other assignments simultaneously, a tendency to half-complete or delay additional assignments might arise.

In a service-oriented business, such as a pharmacy, being short-staffed is bad news for customers. When there aren't enough people to perform all tasks in the pharmacy, the quality of service may decline, errors may increase, creating extra work to correct, and the volume of prescription or pharmacy item sales may decrease. Remember, happy customers, our loyal customers! If you're not treated due to staffing issues, prepare for expecting your customers to go elsewhere. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common as pharmacies are busier and understaffed.

All frontline staff in healthcare worldwide have stepped up during these uncertain times during the pandemic to ensure that patients have provided the best service possible, taking all precautions necessary to keep themselves safe while helping others. Pharmacies and their staff have taken on additional roles and services to provide vaccinations, rapid antigen testing for COVID-19, additional clinical services, and counseling, in addition to their already full roles as associate pharmacy owners, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy assistants, and more.

In any situation, learning how to cope with being understaffed is essential. When working in an environment with varying roles, there is an opportunity to assist each other. Working as a team to create a plan or solution to various situations is vital.

Tips for coping with being understaffed in pharmacy:

  1. Create space for open, effective communication for the team
  2. Prioritize projects and tasks and focus on them
  3. Take on additional duties when possible
  4. Encourage teamwork, always
  5. Remain positive; avoid negative energy – turn a negative into a positive when possible
  6. Ensure staff members take breaks and practice self-care during off-work times. (Rest, relax, refresh)
  7. Practice gratitude – to fellow staff and patients/customers

Incorporating and practicing these tips daily will ensure that the pharmacy is focused on providing the best possible service, even when understaffed. When the team collaborates, the physical and mental environment can be seemingly calmer, increasing work efficiency.

Pharmacy is an essential service provided for many individuals in various ways. If pharmacy is understaffed, allowing that to overwhelm or stress us individually or as a team increases the chances of errors and not providing the best possible services. Collaboration and organization are key in coping with understaffing in the pharmacy team.

Take a deep breath… Keep calm & pharmacy on!