How Do I Avoid Burnout? A Perspective From an Engaged PT
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
When I was first contacted to be a guest on the #XchangeSA chat about burnout, my first thought was "why me?" While I am very engaged in our profession and am passionate about it, I didn't at first see how I would be the best individual to talk to anyone about burnout. As I started thinking about it, I am probably one of the best sources to discuss avoiding burnout as a new professional, as I have continued to reinvent myself as a professional over the course of my 15-year career as a PT.
I entered the profession in 2003 as an excited new grad ready to take what I learned in school and apply it to helping patients in the real world. My first position was a staff PT in an inpatient acute rehabilitation hospital. Within my first year as a PT, I found myself nearing burnout. I started seeking other career opportunities outside of physical therapy, as I found that what I was doing on a day-to-day basis was not what I envisioned when I graduated from physical therapy school. I began having doubts as to my choice of profession, and whether or not I could envision myself doing this for the next 30 years.
Being the Agent of Change
Lucky for me, I did not leave the profession! So what changed my perspective from burnout to passionate PT? I transitioned a year into my career to a position as an outpatient PT. The position brought on new challenges and perspectives that helped to refocus my energy and passion more inward to our profession rather than outside of it. Throughout my career, I have managed outpatient clinics, managed a home care orthopedic specialty division, served as a full-time and adjunct faculty member in an entry-level and postprofessional doctor of physical therapy program, and started multiple business endeavors in the consultative realm, ranging from starting/operating a private practice to providing onsite rehabilitation and wellness services to amateur and professional performing arts organization. This career diversity has continually proven to me all of the amazing facets of our profession that exist for us, and further illustrates that you create your opportunities in places that you least imagine.
In addition, I have remained an APTA member for 17 years! Continual membership first as a student then as a professional has served as a beacon of professional accountability that continues to ignite my passion for this profession. I have served our professional association at many different levels that has also helped to keep me focused on staying involved in the continued evolution of our profession. Professional service has provided me with a multitude of opportunities to meet colleagues from a myriad of environments and helped to continue expanding my knowledge base as to the growing expansion opportunities for physical therapist practice.
So who cares about me and why am I telling you all of this? I'm not giving you my career history to highlight anything great about me, but rather to provide some context and insight into the issue of burnout. Burnout is something we all experience at some point during our professional journeys. My hope is that you gain some perspective from my experience in that avoiding burnout starts from within. You are the best source of avoiding burnout by first recognizing the early signs of it, then making a conscious choice to seek change to ensure that you reinvent yourself in a way that refocuses your energy and passion to stay in our profession. Dialogue with others can help provide perspective to avoiding burnout, but you need to have a desire from within to work to either change or improve upon your current situation.
Avoiding burnout starts by recognizing the early signs of it. What are the signs of burnout? How do I know what I'm experiencing is actually burnout?
Here are a few common signs of burnout:
- Working too many hours per day or days per week to make ends meet or to survive the demands of the clinical environment
- Lack of mentoring that leaves you feeling a sense of continual drowning at work
- Lack of excitement for the profession that you experienced as a student, and that starts to wane when you are in survival mode as a new professional
- Increased daily anxiety about the unexpected professional demands that are placed on us as practicing professionals
This is not an exhaustive list, but rather some common signs that I have personally experienced or have been reported to me by other colleagues throughout my career. Step 1 is recognizing the signs of burnout; step 2 is making a conscious and concerted effort to do something to improve the situation.
So you have now started recognizing the dreaded signs of professional burnout. First, you need to ask yourself if you are open to changing your situation. By taking ownership of your situation, you will recognize a sense of empowerment to improve upon your experience. How can I enact change to avoid burning out of the profession?
Here are a few ways to avoid burnout:
- Develop healthy outlets for stress management, such as exercise.
- Approach your employer and openly discuss your situation and how you are feeling as a new professional.
- Encourage mentoring from your employer for new professionals to make the transition from student to clinician less stressful and daunting.
- Start a budget to accurately portray your monthly expenses, including student loans, to best gain insight into what level of income you need to survive.
- Engage in an open dialogue with other new professionals to share experiences, as a colleague is likely experiencing the same thing, and you both can be a resource for each other.
Remain a member of APTA and your section of choice, as you will recognize a network of colleagues that will serve to encourage you in your professional journey.
John F. Kennedy once said, "One person can make a difference and everyone should try." I think about this quote often as my own personal beacon to strive to make a difference in both our profession and in the patients and clients we serve on a day-to-day basis.
Watch our full discussion with Mike on the February #XchangeSA.
Mike Connors, PT, DPT, PhD, is regional director for Greater Therapy Centers, a therapist-owned organization in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He also is the current president of the Texas Physical Therapy Association. He can be found on Twitter at: @mconnorspt.