Fintan Moore considers work-life balance, happiness (or lack thereof) in the pharmacy, and mechanical sloth scanners

There are different reasons why people choose to own their own pharmacy, but the ultimate goal of all of us who do is to earn the greatest amount of happiness for the least amount of unhappiness. It starts to get a bit more complicated after that, because some people equate more happiness with more money, which is true up to a point for most of us, but there is a ceiling at which the extra money in the bank account doesn’t necessarily make a person feel any better.

If the wealth has been achieved at the expense of their health and fitness, then they may well just feel unwell. Other people are content to accumulate less savings but have more time off to spend on family or hobbies.
The unhappiness part of the equation probably has an even wider spectrum of viewpoints.

Some pharmacists hate just about every minute of every day that they have to slog through the work in the dispensary, but they need to keep on working to pay the bills and hopefully enjoy their free time. Other pharmacists love their jobs. Most of us land somewhere in between.

I enjoy my days in work but there are moments, or sometimes hours, when I think that I’d be happy to win the Lotto and head for the hills

I enjoy my days in work but there are moments, or sometimes hours, when I think that I’d be happy to win the Lotto and head for the hills. That would require me to firstly buy a Lotto ticket, which is a mug’s game, so I grudgingly accept that I’m stuck in place until a mug of tea and some chocolate weave their magic.

Regardless of what your happiness goal is or how happy the job makes you, there is the common factor that it is worth minimising the time wasted on minor tasks. Whether a pharmacist then translates that time-saving into greater profit or more time off, or simply a more relaxed time to do the important work, is up to them. There are obvious moves that can help, such as delegating as much appropriate work as possible to non-pharmacist staff, but don’t forget to target the little efficiencies that benefit everyone’s workflow.

The best example I can give you from recent experience is that I finally replaced the prescription scanner in the dispensary with a model that doesn’t have a ‘sleep’ mode. A lot of you will know the old scanner and doubtless loathe it as much as I did, but for those of you who never worked with one, it was a bollix of a machine.

It scanned prescriptions perfectly well, but if it was left unused for a few minutes it would go into a power-saving shut-down, and then when you needed to scan something it would take 10 seconds to drag its sorry arse back to life while you waited, unable to do anything useful with the time. Maybe the problem is my attitude, because one pharmacist I know uses these moments as micro-breaks to breathe and relax, whereas I always wanted to hit the scanner with a hammer. Anyway, instead of buying The Little Book Of Calm, I invested €300 in a scanner that has a better work ethic, so all these wasted 10-second slowdowns have ended.

Now for the maths bit. I reckon that the old scanner lost us about 30 seconds an hour in productivity, which multiplies out to 240 seconds in an eight-hour day, which is 74,880 seconds per year based on a six-day week. That equates to 20 hours a year that we had been spending waiting for the mechanical sloth to emerge from hibernation.

Even at minimum wage, that means that the new scanner will pay for itself in less than two years. And already, my happiness index has increased with the little surge of joy that comes from working with a piece of technology that just instantly does its job.

The Island of Doctor No-reply

The last nine months have been unusual for all healthcare workers, and work practices have changed for everyone. Many GPs are finding the telephone and video consultations draining and stressful, although I reckon others are quietly pleased to keep bothersome patients away from their door. The Healthmail system is not perfect, but it has been very useful to keep the show on the road since last March.

One of Healthmail’s useful aspects is that the patient’s prescription arrives in advance of the patient so that queries can often be spotted and sorted out ahead of time. This is particularly useful to arrange an alternative medication when the item prescribed is unavailable. Of course, this only works when the relevant GP responds to Healthmails, which they mostly do, but it is not always a given. It’s frustrating when they don’t, and also puzzling because it’s less work for both doctor and pharmacist in the long run.

Last Christmas?

I’ll lay my cards on the table here and declare that I’m not much of a Christmas fan. Sure, it’s nice to have the family together and the day itself is enjoyable, but there is a stunning amount of time and work expended in getting to that day. The effort-reward ratio is a bit skewed in my book, but each to their own, and there are lots of people who love the season.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I just hope the Christmas cheerleaders keep their wits about them this year. I’m nervous that the people talking about ‘making Christmas special because 2020 has been so bad’ will end up packing into shops like lemmings before meeting their extended families and ensuring that 2021 kicks off with a Covid bang.

On the plus side, the vaccine roll-out is getting ever closer, so I reckon a smart move would be to postpone the work Christmas party until sometime next summer! Better weather and BBQ steaks could be a nice change from sleet and turkey.

All the best to all of you for Christmas and the New Year — fingers crossed for the ‘new normal’.

<strong>Fintan Moore</strong>
Fintan Moore

Fintan Moore graduated as a pharmacist in 1990 from TCD and currently runs a pharmacy in Clondalkin.