Physical therapy is both a challenging and rewarding practice, and that’s precisely why you chose to pursue it as your career. You enjoy a good challenge, love the work you do and care deeply about the outcome of each and every patient. But this high level of dedication and emotional investment also puts you at risk for something not so pleasant: professional burnout.
Fielding constant questions from patients and staff, long hours, endless paperwork and late nights agonizing over patient progress (or lack thereof) eventually take their toll on even the most seasoned PTs. And while a certain amount of stress is expected in every profession, burnout can be detrimental in numerous ways. After all, when physical therapists lose motivation for their work, outcomes suffer.
The good news is there is plenty you can do to avoid burnout and ensure yourself a long and fulfilling career.
1. Understand the Warning Signs
One of the main reasons burnout is so common among PTs is because the symptoms are often easy to miss — especially when you’re busy and can pass off the side effects of burnout as exhaustion.
If you’re noticing the following, you may be in danger of burnout:
Brain fog and forgetfulness
Shortness of breath and dizziness
Poor immune system
Loss of appetite
2. Take Breaks
We’ve all been there. Your plate is full, you have a full roster of eager patients, you’re behind on paperwork and there’s virtually no end in sight. It seems absurd to take a break when there’s so much to do — but that’s exactly when you should step away.
Just two or three 15-minute breaks each day can help stave off burnout. Take a moment to step outside the office, take a short walk, read a chapter of a book, meditate — whatever you decide to do with your break time is fine as long as it’s not work-related.
3. Find an Interest Outside of Work
If you’re like most successful PTs, you live, eat and breathe your work. When you’re not at the office working with clients, you’re reading up on the latest methods or attending conferences and seminars to learn from peers. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being passionate about your work. But if work has become your only interest, burnout is almost inevitable.
Instead, spend a few hours a week exploring a new hobby. Whether it’s hiking, picking up a sport or something more creative, focusing your time and energy on something outside of work will help you return more refreshed.
4. Invest in Efficiency
There’s no doubt physical therapy can be challenging, but sometimes we make it even more difficult than necessary. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your patients is to invest in products that promote efficiency.
Whether it’s a modality unit or updated exercise equipment, small upgrades can make a big difference in your productivity. And any increase in efficiency means more free time back in your day.
5. Stop Putting Off Vacations
You’ve heard the saying about all work and no play — not only does it make you dull, it also makes you grumpy and increases your risk of burnout. When you’re committed to your job and your patients, it’s easy to feel guilty for taking time off. But consider the alternative: If you continue refusing vacation time and become burnt out, you won’t do much good for anyone.
Instead, take a week or two and go somewhere relaxing. Turn off your phone, step away from the screens and allow yourself to relax. Chances are you’ll return refreshed, rejuvenated and even more enthusiastic about your work.