Being a physical therapist (PT) or physical therapist assistant (PTA) can be fulfilling, but it also can be demanding and challenging—so demanding and challenging that those feelings of fulfillment seem out of reach at times. The result: burnout, a condition being experienced by an increasing number of PTs and PTAs, sometimes before they even know it's happening to them.
In its February issue, PT in Motion magazine takes an in-depth look at clinician burnout through the eyes of PTs and PTAs who experienced burnout firsthand, PTs who've been looking at ways to stop burnout before it starts, and PT researchers looking into the topic. The article is part of a PT in Motion special theme issue on trauma and stress in the physical therapy profession. (Other articles in the series are “It Can Happen Anywhere: Protecting Your Workplace From Public Safety Threats” and “Combatting Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Patient Sexual Behavior.”)
"Beating Burnout" is anchored in the stories of APTA members Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, and Sean Hagey, PTA, who found themselves feeling increasingly unable to find a sense of satisfaction in roles that demanded too much and seemed to put patient-centered care in the backseat.
Both found a healthier, happier career path, albeit in different ways: Hagey sought counseling and convinced his employer to decrease productivity demands (and in the process, move to a more user-friendly electronic health records system); Castin left clinical practice entirely and started up a website that explores nonclinical roles for PTs and PTAs.
According to the article, some of the major contributors to PT and PTA burnout are the usual suspects, including some employers' unreasonable productivity demands and the cloud of student debt that puts additional pressures on many in the profession. But there are other, less-obvious factors that can lead to burnout, too, including a lack of mentorship, feelings of being undervalued, and the letdown that inevitably results when unrealistic career expectations as a student aren't met upon joining the workforce.
But the topic isn't left there. The PTs and PTAs interviewed for "Beating Burnout" also offer strategies for making positive changes to defeat burnout, or stop it before it starts. Those ideas include seeking out strong mentors, having "hard conversations" with employers about productivity demands, and getting involved with APTA and the surrounding community to maintain a sense of connection to peers and the world beyond the clinic.
"Beating Burnout" is featured in the February issue of PT in Motion magazine and is open to all viewers—pass it along to nonmember colleagues to show them one of the benefits of belonging to APTA.