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avoid physical therapy burnout
Work shouldn't feel like prison.

5 Ways to Avoid Physical Therapy Burnout

1. Make your treatments interesting to you and your patients

If you are interested in your work, you will enjoy it more, and this will take you through your career. If you value what you are doing, it will be meaningful to you and won’t be a chore. Patients respond better when you are excited about what you are doing, so this has a double benefit. If you are passionate about dance, find ways to incorporate this into your treatment, this will inspire your patients. But if your patient’s focus is to play hockey, make sure you’re addressing this as well, and not just having them do pirouettes around the room. Read your audience, and then have fun working toward their goals.

2. Find an interest outside of work and pursue it

Work should not be your only focus in life. At the end of the day, constantly treating people can be tiring. You worked hard in PT school so that you could use your skills, now use your valuable time and money to pursue something that you truly enjoy. Throughout my course as a PT, I’ve found that dance classes and writing a blog about robotics complements the skills I don’t get to use as much during work. In healthcare, it’s important to take care of yourself; otherwise you won’t have the energy to take care of others. Find what energizes you and pursue it.

3. Take your vacations

Many new grads feel the pressure to show their work ethic (“I never need a day off! I just keep going!”) Just as rest days are necessary when strength training, vacations are important for our own recovery. They give us a chance to spend time away from taking care of others and restore our much needed energy for work. These don’t always have to be long vacations; even a mini vacation, such as an overnight trip to wine country with friends, can help you recharge. But take the long vacations too, as you will be surprised how much a week or more off of work will make a difference.

4. Don’t take it personally if some of your patients don’t get better

Try not to tie your feelings of success as a PT with whether every single patient gets 100% better at time of discharge. This will leave you feeling frustrated and make you doubt yourself. Physical therapy doesn’t help everyone, and your approach may not reach all of your patients. If you’ve tried your best, and tried every appropriate option for a patient, then you have done your job. And remember that when treating others, you can’t be too proud. If you feel that your patient would benefit from a different specialty or a different therapist’s approach, refer them out accordingly.

5. Don’t be afraid to switch jobs

Change is good. It keeps us on our toes, gives us new experiences, and opens up our positions for new PTs who can breathe some life into departments that feel stale and mundane to you. Sometimes, what we think will work for us doesn’t, so resist the urge to see that as a failure. You will learn something on every job, and with every experience that you have; try inpatient if you are tired of the rigors of outpatient appointments. Try outpatient if you find that you can’t stand being in the hospital any longer. These are honest admissions to yourself. It is much better to move forward once you feel that you’ve gotten everything you can out of a job rather than experience burnout.

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About Anna Sternin

Anna Sternin
Anna is a graduate of Columbia University's DPT program. She is currently a physical therapist at suitX, specializing in exoskeleton technology.

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