USA Today Article: Ashleigh Anderson

A recent story in USA Today1 highlighted the tragic death of Ashleigh Anderson, a 41-year-old pharmacist from Seymour that died of a heart attack while working at a CVS pharmacy. 

On September 10, 2021, she texted her longtime boyfriend “I think I am having a heart attack” while on shift.  Her boyfriend urged her to go the emergency room, three minutes down the street.  Unable to reach her boss, she texted his assistant and asked if someone could cover her long enough for her to go to the emergency room.  The assistant urged her to close the pharmacy and go the emergency room, but Ashleigh decided she needed to wait until relief could come. Tragically, she passed away within fifteen minutes. 

CVS released a statement1 in response to the USA Today article stating that they did not want any employees to stay at work if they became ill or experienced a health emergency and that they mourned the loss of an “outstanding pharmacist.”

Only Ashleigh knew exactly why she chose to not close the pharmacy and go to the emergency room that day.  But, like many healthcare providers, she put the wellbeing of her patients above her own needs.  Perhaps she even felt she just couldn't leave, even if her boyfriend and boss' assistant urged her to. 

Whether Ashleigh felt like she couldn't leave or not, we hear directly from pharmacists that they feel their work culture causes them to choose between their own health and wellbeing and serving patients.  Pharmacists should be able to confidently know that they can put their health and wellbeing first.  Employers affirmatively supporting this culture is necessary.  When healthcare workers take care of themselves, they take better care of patients. The best way to improve the patient experience is to build better engagement with [.] employees, who will then provide better service and health care to patients2."

There is a culture and workplace crisis occurring in health care today, including pharmacy.  Lack of staffing, lack of support staff, lack of training time, increased workload demands, harassment and threats by patients, increased stress, lessened happiness and weakening family and personal relationships due to work demands are taking their toll3.  These complaints are occurring across all sectors of patient-facing pharmacy practice, especially chain pharmacy practice.

In late 2021, the Alliance for Patient Medication Safety, in collaboration with the American Pharmacists Association, launched the Pharmacy Workplace and Well-being Report (PWWR) tool4

Pharmacy workers could submit anonymous reports on both positive and negative experiences in the workplace.  According to the reports submitted, workplace concerns have not significantly improved in the last two years.
In addition to what was listed above, concerns over metrics, workflow design and policies, and organizational policies, particularly those beyond the control of the local pharmacy, are contributing to workplace stress and frustration.

Last summer, IPA affirmed its support of the American Pharmacists Association's Pharmacists' Fundamental Rights and Responsibilities statement1. Pharmacists should have the right to:

  • Practice pharmacy in the best interest of patient and community health and well-being

  • Exercise professional judgment under the auspices of their license when delivering care to patients

  • Be treated in a considerate, respectful, and professional manner by patients and supported by employers and supervisors

  • A workplace free of racism, discrimination, bullying, or harassment, as well as physical, verbal, or emotional abuse

  • A working environment where the necessary resources are allocated to provide both legally required patient care services, as well as any additional enhanced patient care services offered

  • Reasonable working hours and conditions

  • Have a voice in the development of metrics, and how those metrics are used as criteria for performance evaluations of all pharmacy staff.

All pharmacy staff deserve to work in a culture that values and practices clear communication, the freedom and respect of a pharmacist's clinical knowledge and judgment, the promotion of a just culture, and an environment where you feel you are heard and valued. This culture needs to be real and tangible. “Actions speak more forcibly than words, and when actions and words are aligned, engagement will follow2.”

We applaud organizations that are taking meaningful steps to address workplace concerns and create new empowering cultures. However, much work remains.  The dissatisfaction and burnout in pharmacy practice did not occur overnight and the cultural and policy changes needed to correct this won't either.

In light of the retelling of Ashleigh's story, IPA reaffirms its call for all of pharmacy in Indiana – chain, independent, hospital, academia and others – to work together to create cultures that will enable pharmacists and pharmacy staff to thrive.  We can't afford to lose more pharmacists to burnout, low morale and dissatisfaction. Real cultural change is needed, from the top down.  Our pharmacists deserve this and our patients need it.



Our Mission:

To be the voice and advocate for the profession of pharmacy in Indiana.

Our Vision:

To lead the advancement of Indiana Pharmacy by promoting legislation and innovations that optimize patient care, safety, and the health of our communities.