At AACP’s virtual Annual Meeting in July, at least a dozen sessions were directly focused on well-being, including the closing session by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness. Daily mindfulness sessions saw higher attendance than in past years. Wellness and well-being were certainly on the radar for pharmacy schools prior to the pandemic (AACP released policy statements in 2017 and 2018 promoting a culture of wellness in pharmacy education), but the past year and a half highlighted the urgent need to devote more resources to the topic, particularly for health professionals who have been under constant stress.
After being identified through surveys and listening sessions as a top area of interest and concern among members, “well-being for all” became a priority in AACP’s new strategic plan (see sidebar). AACP will provide resources and guidance to member schools to support faculty, staff and students. “We want to look at the kinds of evidence-based approaches that have been shown to improve a person’s sense of well-being. It’s not just about physical health—we have to consider well-being in a holistic manner,” said Dr. Stuart Haines, president of AACP and professor and director, Pharmacy Professional Development at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy. “We need to create a culture of well-being, and in addition, individual faculty and students need to build awareness about the areas in their own lives causing stress. At a structural level, we have to take a look at workload and how technology is affecting stress. There are constant demands, so we don’t get a chance to disconnect. It’s easy to pile on more and more work in our electronic age. There’s not a thoughtful approach to managing work. The amount of work people do today is significantly more than 20 or 30 years ago and the way we manage work has placed increased demands on our time and attention.”
Haines pointed out that while the pharmacy community will be AACP’s initial focus, this strategic priority extends to other health professionals as well as patients. “AACP will likely work in collaboration with other health profession organizations and patient advocacy groups. It’s not something we can tackle alone as an association.”
Wellness and well-being are also likely to become more integrated into pharmacy school curricula, which means greater opportunity for student pharmacists to explore how patients can benefit from lifestyle medicine. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine defines this as “the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic intervention—including a whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connection—as a primary modality, delivered by clinicians trained and certified in this specialty, to prevent, treat, and often reverse chronic disease.”
Faculty and pharmacists discuss how colleges of pharmacy are taking more deliberate steps to improve well-being for their own communities as well as to ensure that it becomes a routine part of patient care.
A Sustained Focus on Wellness
In 2019, while undertaking her own wellness journey and adding more content to the curriculum, Dr. Elizabeth Buckley, professor of pharmacy practice, Concordia University Wisconsin School of Pharmacy, discovered that pharmacy schools had an overwhelming interest in well-being content. She worked with Dr. Eleanor Vogt, professor emerita, University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy, to create the AACP Connect Community for Well-Being and Resiliency. More recently, Buckley initiated a survey of pharmacy schools in the U.S. and Canada that explored well-being content in terms of overall curricular inclusion, experiential learning and faculty development. The overall curricular survey included responses from 10 Canadian schools and 89 U.S. schools.
The survey data is being prepared for publication at this time. Preliminary results from the data collected from January through May 2021 indicate that schools and colleges of pharmacy are devoting more resources and personnel to improve focus toward well-being. However, less than half of respondent schools include well-being in the school of pharmacy’s strategic plan or have a dedicated person or group working on initiatives. “Overall, the majority of programs were covering topics within intellectual (self-awareness, mindfulness) and emotional (self-care, stress management) well-being,” she said. “Some schools were covering occupational wellness (resiliency, burnout prevention), but many other wellness topics are not being addressed, indicating that we have a ton of room to grow.”
More schools reported that well-being was covered by co-curricular offerings rather than through electives or required courses and the most robust offerings came from student organizations. “The intellectual and emotional pillars of wellness house a lot of the future of well-being and self-care,” she continued. “Things like coping and kindness give you the lifelong skills. The occupational pillars of wellness are also vital to learning lifelong skills so we are equipped to not burn out when we become pharmacists.”
Buckley noted that the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy stood out for having a task force, a committee and a director devoted to wellness, as well as robust curricular offerings. Dr. Suzanne Harris, an assistant professor and the school’s director of well-being and resilience, said that the senior leadership recognized the importance of making well-being a priority in the strategic plan for the entire school community. Leadership buy-in and involvement were critical, as was building the infrastructure to have a sustained program. Evidence of rising mental health concerns in college-aged students and a student’s suicide four years ago opened their eyes to the need to better support students, faculty and staff. Harris’s own work in psychiatric pharmacy already focused on mental health, including stigma and barriers to seeking help.
“Our interim dean at the time [in 2018] had interest in this and we had a task force for looking at well-being and resilience in pharmacy. It was all volunteers; we had over 70 people who wanted to learn more about what can be done,” Harris recalled. “One of the top recommendations by the task force was that a standing committee should be formed. We now have a well-being and resilience committee that includes faculty, staff, students and some of our hospital partners to leverage and integrate systemwide changes. Another recommendation was to create a position for a director to oversee the schoolwide efforts around well-being and resiliency. I’ve been in that position since June 2020 to move forward our initiatives.” One of those initiatives was a well-being website that launched in September 2020, which promotes wellness events and provides resources for students, faculty, staff and post-graduate trainees.