Innovative program created by pharmacist helps San Francisco workers manage stress

City libraries to become ‘resiliency centers’ that offer educational programs for the general public

Since 2011, more than 600 San Francisco city employees have participated in Stress Relief and Resiliency Medicine Training workshops—a collaboration between the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Pharmacy and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).

The idea for the workshops began when SFMTA reached out to Eleanor Vogt, BSPharm, PhD, professor at UCSF School of Pharmacy, for help in addressing the high rate of diabetes among city bus drivers. SFMTA management observed that stress and anger management issues were contributing to their employees’ overall poor health.

Vogt and a colleague, Henry Kahn, MD, of the UCSF School of Medicine, recognizing how stress can aggravate and even initiate pathology, developed the workshop to explain the emerging science and provide the many tools that are available for managing stress. “A compelling body of research estimates that approximately 70% of the common presenting complaints in outpatient primary care are either directly caused or indirectly complicated by psychosocial stressors—which often go unrecognized,” Vogt said.  

The workshops foster greater awareness of stress-linked ill health and encourage an array of stress-reducing health behaviors and techniques, including visualization, mindfulness, heart-centered appreciation, storytelling, and reframing mindsets with take-home applications.

At first glance, the workshops may seem like an unlikely project for a pharmacy school to take on. But the UCSF School of Pharmacy is already deeply involved in the community through health screenings, immunization programs, and education for seniors, so it wasn't much of a stretch to expand pharmacists' scope of practice to address the myriad manifestations of stress, Vogt said.

“Pharmacists are on the front lines, and patients see pharmacists more than any health care provider. With our coaching, counseling, and caring, we are the ‘medicine’ too. Just as we immunize for flu, we can immunize for stress.”

When the response to the workshops was overwhelmingly positive, the city allotted funds for a pilot project. It showed that 83% of workshop participants were likely to make a change as a result of the class, with 86% recommending it to a friend.

Now the San Francisco Library System is providing funds for Vogt’s team to train 300 librarians to offer the workshops to the general public in 28 city libraries that will serve as “resiliency centers.”

Pharmacists, too, can benefit from the training to help them cope with demanding workloads, working conditions, bureaucracy, and insurance contracts, said Vogt, who is offering the workshop at APhA’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco next March. “As pharmacists, we are providing quality patient care," she said. "It is equally important that we provide that quality care for ourselves."