Namratha Mohan is a Student Research Assistant at the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she had just become a pharmacy technician. Her experiences at the pharmacy she worked at during the first wave of the pandemic is below.
In March of 2020, the world changed seemingly overnight as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Restaurants began shutting down, schools began closing for indefinite periods of time, and work became remote; clinics, doctor’s offices, and pharmacies all prepared for a virus the world knew so very little about.
As a newly certified pharmacy technician I decided to begin my career at one of the first COVID-19 testing sites in the Dallas area, to serve on the pandemic’s frontlines. In addition to the already complicated, unknown, and hectic job of pharmacy technicians under normal conditions, COVID-19 brought about further difficulties in adapting to this new role of mine as my team and I became responsible for working on the frontlines of an overwhelming pandemic.
The standard roles of a pharmacy technician are already quite extensive in itself; during peak times throughout the day I found myself running medications outside the pharmacy into the drive-thru line to get patients their medications as fast as possible; filling in the prescription orders coming in from doctor’s offices every minute; taking care of patients in the store waiting on their prescription, and managing our inventory order for that particular day, all at once. Our team consisted of five technicians and two pharmacists, requiring each of us to work longer hours than usual to adapt and provide for our patients as we became a testing site; I worked the hours of a full-time employee as a part-time employee every week, which proved to be quite strenuous as a full-time undergraduate dual degree student.
While standard pharmacy technician training involved modules and individualized training in each section of the pharmacy under the lead technician, I was thrown almost immediately into each section with only my textbook module knowledge to support me due to the limitations of each technician’s time. We had extensive training to prepare us for every aspect of COVID-19 possible, ranging from training over the EPIC system for healthcare documentation to how to properly conduct PCR testing to prepare us for the hundreds of tests we would come to perform daily.
The pandemic brought about an unnerving amount of anxiety regarding the future of the world and the safety of our communities. The lack of knowledge regarding the virus, how it spread, and its long-term effects all caused justified worry within our patients and especially within the pharmacy team. A study conducted in March 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak was declared to be a pandemic, demonstrated that one-fifth of U.S. adults were experiencing high levels of psychological distress due to the pandemic, including nearly three-in-ten among those who say the outbreak has changed their lives in a major way.1
As a brand new hire, and having been fortunate enough to never experience a pandemic of this severity, I found myself extremely overwhelmed by the new roles I was forced to take on almost immediately. A looming sense of imposter syndrome and fears of inadequacy swept over me, adding to my pre-existing anxieties regarding the virus and the possibility of becoming infected or, even worse, affecting my family. However, these thoughts caused immediate selfish guilt about how overwhelmed I felt; I was placed in a position of importance and privilege, fortunate enough to have the skills, capability, and health of serving my community and bettering the health of those around me. I began working as a pharmacy technician to provide service to my community from a unique and different lens of the healthcare process, and I felt myself losing the optimism I originally had when I began. I started working at a pace I was comfortable with while also finding the joy in little victories as the pandemic trudged on, focusing on things I could control to help life return to a little normalcy while providing the best, most compassionate care I could for those around me.
As my attitude surrounding the pandemic shifted to being more hopeful, I began taking pride in the work I was doing with the rest of my team. One morning after a tiring, almost 12-hour shift, a regular patient of the pharmacy came in to graciously thank me for performing a PCR test on his wife the afternoon before. His family had just recently traveled out of the country for a family emergency, and he was worried about the health and well-being of his immunocompromised wife after traveling. Her negative test result gave him immeasurable relief and eased his fears regarding the pandemic, simultaneously easing my own and allowing me to realize my biggest successes within the pharmacy were seeing the smiling eyes behind the masks of the patients we serve.
Whether it was the simple thank you or a handwritten note that patients took time out of their days to write, their gratitude provided me with a sense of courage and strength I hadn’t otherwise known, and gave me an exhilarating glimpse into my future as a physician; vowing to provide empathetic and unconditional care and healing for my patients during vulnerable times and sharing with them what could be a defining moment in their lives.
Over a year later, now in December 2021, the world has still not returned to complete normalcy, but that may not ever be the case. This may be the world’s new normal, but this could prove to be for the greater good of our communities. As the world continues to battle this pandemic, life continues on as we find happiness in the little victories and within each other.
References: Keeter, S. (2021, March 16). Many in US face mental health issues as COVID-19 enters year two. Pew Research Center. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/03/16/many-americans-continue-to-experience-mental-health-difficulties-as-pandemic-enters-second-year/