The great news is that the vast majority of Physical Therapists feel very positive about their work situations. We tend to have moderately demanding work environments and high levels of control in comparison to other professions. We are healers! We are helpers! We set and achieve goals for ourselves and our clients! It is dynamic! It is rewarding! It is exciting! Most of the time.
In their 2009 study, researchers Camp, Weiser, and Koenig tracked 882 Physical Therapists over the course of a year, examining how job demands and job control related to issues such as job turnover and work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
Severe job stress has wide-ranging effects, and can manifest in physical and psychiatric issues such as heart disease and depression. When we’re stressed, we are less able to focus our energy on our patients, and the quality of our service delivery decreases.
High job demands and low job control both contributed to higher job turnover rates, and the combination of the two had an even stronger association with turnover. Low job control was also associated with greater incidence of work-related musculoskeletal symptoms.
The researchers made a point that resonated with me. Physical therapy is very service-oriented. Most of us entered the profession with high ideals and personal expectations. When we cannot deliver the care or resources we feel our patients deserve because of constraints related to time, staffing, or equipment, we may internalize it is a personal failure. Being a middleman who can’t deliver is uncomfortable, and serves as a significant source of stress.
Patients don’t deserve less than our best care because we think we have unreasonable caseloads, lack of support from management, frustration with other clients, or disagreements with our colleagues. But, hey, we’re human, too. So what can we do about it?
Beware of the signs of burnout:
- Emotional Exhaustion – frequently feeling emotionally overextended by the work environment
- Depersonalization – detachment from colleagues and clients
- Reduced Personal Accomplishment – lack of positive feelings related to success at work
Keep the line of communication open with management. Do your research and make a strong case if you want to discuss caseloads, schedules, or equipment. It is alright to identify problems, but far more important offer solutions.
- Connect with colleagues, talk and laugh together
- Set professional goals, seek support to further your learning, participate in projects that allow you to develop more pride in your workplace and your professional skills
- Follow your own advice – do all those things you wish your patients would do: exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, minimize alcohol and caffeine, eat a balanced diet
- Take advantage of employer-sponsored assistance programs to help you deal with stress you may be experiencing in your professional or personal life
- Try to create separation between your work life and home life
- Choose how you respond to work situations and interactions, and keep it positive whenever possible
- Recognize when a work environment is simply not a good fit, and use what you have learned to find a better match in the future
- Campo MA, Weiser S, Koenig KL. “Job Strain in Physical Therapists.” Physical Therapy. 2009: p.89:946-956
- Wood BD, Killion JB. “Burnout Among Healthcare Professionals.” Radiology Management. November/December 2007:p.30-34
Do you have any burnout-busting strategies to share?
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