4 Effective Ways to Protect Your Team From Physical Therapist Burnout

Sarah Lara

Apr 23, 2024

Like many healthcare providers, as a physical therapist, you never have enough time to deliver the standard of care that you professionally would like to. Long hours, physical and emotional exhaustion, and dealing with sometimes difficult patients can often be overwhelming. A recent study by the American Physical Therapy Association estimated that over 26,000 physical therapy jobs will be vacant by 2025, despite a 186% increase in graduating physical therapists over the past decade. Patient care demands are outstripping the number of qualified physical therapists available, leading to increasing cases of physical therapist burnout.

Burnout often has the knock-on effect of affecting your team’s performance, leading to mistakes that could impact patient health. In this blog, we identify useful ways to protect your team from PT burnout.

What is Physical Therapist Burnout?

Stress and burnout in physical therapists can be mitigated against, but first, we need to unpack exactly what burnout involves. Burnout is a condition in which employees feel emotionally drained because of overwork. This condition can happen to anyone under pressure, whether they are an office worker, an engineer, a doctor,  or a physical therapist. Common signs of burnout include being irritable, depressed, having difficulty sleeping, and feeling overwhelmed.

Many physical therapists have experienced burnout repeatedly. However, WebPT’s 2021 report on The State of Rehab Therapy showed that thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of physical therapists were feeling more burned out now compared to before the outbreak. This sudden increase in burnout numbers is accounted for by the fact that physical therapists were anxious about contracting the virus themselves. 

As a result of this anxiety, physical therapists felt immense emotional exhaustion and were reluctant to go to work. In fact, despite the decline of COVID-19 cases in the past year, these burnout numbers are only getting worse, as per WebPT’s The State of Rehab Therapy 2023 report.

How to Avoid or Solve Physical Therapist Burnout

Focus on work-life balance

Work-life balance is important when you’re a physical therapist. After all, it’s a demanding line of work and as such, your team needs to build in time to rest. One of the reasons why PT burnout is prevalent is because of an unhealthy work-life balance.

There are a few ways your physical therapy team can improve their work-life balance. They can avoid doing work while having lunch and refrain from checking any work-related emails once they get home. Apart from that, once at home, physical therapists can also do something they truly enjoy and helps them unwind from a busy day. 

The key to an effective work-life balance is to manage your time well. It also pays to leave work at work and focus on your personal life at home instead. Achieving a healthy work-life balance may sound easier said than done. Aside from avoiding physical therapist burnout, mastering a healthy work-life balance means that your team will improve their performance and care will not run the risk of becoming depersonalized.

Find colleagues and mentors you enjoy working with

Stress and burnout in physical therapists are hard to deal with if you feel alone. If you’re looking to avoid this problem, consider seeking out colleagues and mentors whom you enjoy sharing your day with and can open up to. Being part of a team that you enjoy working with can make the workplace much more fun and engaging while also enabling you to offload some of the stressors of the day and learn more from your peers.

Recent surveys conducted by CNBC and SurveyMonkey have shown that those who have mentors to guide them are more satisfied and confident in their jobs. By having colleagues and mentors that you enjoy working with, you can look forward to the time you’ll spend working with them, and they can  even serve as confidantes who can assist you in overcoming stress and burnout if needed.

Finally, having colleagues and mentors you enjoy working with can keep burnout at bay by creating a positive work environment, greatly benefiting the mental health of  physical therapists. As such, be sure to foster positive relationships with your co-workers when you start working at your clinic. That way, you’ll have friends to lean on when you feel like physical therapist burnout is about to set in.

Keep yourself healthy

Burnout doesn’t just have consequences on a physical therapist’s mental health. In fact, it can have adverse e effects on your physical health as well. If you’re looking to solve burnout or keep it at bay, it’s highly recommended that you keep both your physical and mental health at optimal levels.

There are a variety of ways to keep yourself healthy and avoid stress and burnout in physical therapists. One way to maintain your physical health involves regular exercise, eating nutritious meals, and maintaining a routine sleep schedule of eight hours daily. On the other hand, if you feel like your current work hours are detrimental to your mental health, consider asking your supervisor to change your schedule.

Additionally, it’s also highly recommended that you set some boundaries in your duties as a physical therapist. To avoid burnout, be sure to only take on tasks that you know you can handle. This is because workloads that are too heavy or out of your expertise can lead to longer work hours. As a result, physical therapists might have a harder time taking good care of themselves, which in turn could also lead to burnout that will prevent you from doing and even enjoying your work.

Let office tech upgrades buy you time

One of the most time-consuming duties your physical therapists deal with daily is handling administrative tasks, such as completing medical and intake forms for patient sessions. According to the 2019 study “Allocation of Physician Time in Ambulatory Practice,” healthcare professionals only spend 27% of their working hours on patient care. Meanwhile, 49.2% is dedicated to desk work, such as completing medical documentation, with many taking their work home to continue logging patient health records.

Naturally, the time-consuming, repetitive nature of medical documentation can cause physical therapist burnout in the long run. This is especially true if the hospital or clinic’s patient documentation technologies are outdated. More often than not, outdated technologies can make administrative tasks last longer and even inaccurate at times.

As such, if you’d like to solve burnout amongst physical therapists and be more accurate in medical documentation, it’s recommended that you upgrade the documentation technologies that your clinic uses as needed. 

Looking to prevent burnout within your physical therapy team? ScribePT is a 100% human-generated transcription service that allows physical therapists to accurately capture the details of every patient encounter, saving your team a significant amount of time and energy. Request a demo of ScribePT's clinical documentation capabilities today!

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