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New Practitioners Network
Hey, Are You Alright? Self-Care for Pharmacy Students
by Angela Pruitt, PharmD Candidate, Chicago State University; NPN Sponsor Rebecca Castner
I started my career in Marketing. My undergraduate degree is actually in Business Administration. I decided to leave that field and pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy degree to be a more productive member of society; to both genuinely and positively affect the lives and well-being of others in a more tangible way.
The first semester of P1 year went by with relatively low stress. Then I entered second semester of P1 year, and things changed. I found myself run down and always tired. I was short with my son and my disposition tended to be negative or generally unpleasant. I took a step back to reflect – why am I feeling this way? Isn’t pharmacy school what I wanted? Is it too much for me?
After a long discussion with some of my friends in other health-related professions, I discovered that my feelings were not uncommon. I realized we all were missing an essential part of life that is a requirement of anyone who would like to maintain some type of work/life balance. This was the idea of Self Care. No, not the care we provide to individuals who happen upon us in a retail setting who are looking for non-pharmacological advice or OTC medications, but actual care of ourselves!
I realized that, to make time for studying, I had stopped doing most of the things that I enjoyed doing. I felt as though I didn’t have time for those things, and when I did do them, it was with a pang of guilt for not studying during that valuable time. I convinced myself that completing pharmacy school required me to be “all work and no play” so to speak, and anything less meant that I was not serious about my future profession. But I forgot one important fact – human beings are not robots! We need to relax, sleep, work out, eat well, go to concerts, go to the spa, see our friends that aren’t in school…spend some time every day doing something that has nothing to do with school. We need to decompress. School is a high stress environment; if we don’t take any time for ourselves we are bound to burn out.
So, the question becomes – how do we take time for ourselves, and at the same time successfully navigate a rigorous professional program at the same time? The key here is time management and planning. We should do this just as aggressively as we plan our study schedules or school organization commitments. I schedule weekly manicures. At least once a month I have lunch or dinner with my sorority sisters or high school friends. Every week my son and I do something fun, just the two of us, that doesn’t involve him sitting in silence for hours while I study for pharmacokinetics. When my favorite musical artists are in town, I go to see them in concert.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – work/life balance is starting to sound expensive! However, by no means am I rich. There are a number of low- or no-cost options we can enjoy to take care of ourselves during the school year. Yoga, meditation, or reading a book (that isn’t about pharmacy!) are all great activities for relaxation. You may ask yourself – what do you thoroughly enjoy doing that you have been neglecting due to your study commitments? When is the last time you watched your favorite TV show? Maybe after a few hours of designated study time with your study group you all can stay for dinner and a movie. Try something new and active such as ice skating or roller derby to “blow off some steam.” Cook something instead of getting food from a “drive thru.” The possibilities are endless.
The underlying point is that taking care of yourself is equally, if not more, important than taking care of your responsibilities in school and elsewhere. As a medical professional, one can develop secondary traumatic stress. If we don’t master this balance now, when we start to work with actual patients we will most likely burn out quickly there as well. However, if we take time now to find balance, we set ourselves up for a long, meaningful career.