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Life of a PTA

Avoiding Burnout

Published February 14, 2014 4:19 PM by Allison Young

My experience working in a skilled nursing facility has many advantages including autonomy as a therapist, a bustling team atmosphere and working with my favorite group: the tough-as-nails geriatric population. However, being a full-time PTA in a SNF has its drawbacks as well.

This could not be better illustrated than by the working day I just experienced. When I arrived to work today, one of my colleagues called in sick. Due to no available PRN staff, myself and the remaining therapists had an additional patient or two tacked onto our schedules. As well, the facility was experiencing a norovirus outbreak, thus therapy sessions were to be completed in patients' rooms under contact precautions. And then I found out one of my patients had passed away the previous evening.

This was just another Wednesday. Actually, that was a heavier day than my usual, but my work days have been running 8-10 hours long recently and often I find myself walking through my front door at 7 p.m. By Friday, I'm spent physically and emotionally, and ready for nothing but -- bed. My situation is a bit more unique living in the Great Northwest of this country, where daylight hours are amazingly short and the sun sets before 4 p.m. Having said that, I'll take the short days over the Northeast snowstorms any day.

As I was warned by many experienced therapists when I first began my career, "Eventually you'll burn out in a SNF!" I'm feeling the fatigue set in. So how am I trying to avoid this professional "burnout," you might ask? First, when I leave the SNF doors for the day, I also leave my job stress in my cubby. Somehow, I've found a way not to take it home with me. It helps that my life is just as frenetic at home as a single mom with two kids.

Secondly, I run. Correction, "jog fast," as a form of physical and emotional fitness (side note -- it took me nearly five years to enjoy running, but well worth the wait!). On many levels, exercise reduces my stress and cluttered thoughts. And finally, writing this blog has helped me "vent" my thoughts on the vast topic of my profession.

Trust me, I know I'm not unique. Whether you work in a SNF, hospital or private clinic, every one of us faces stress daily. What I want to know is how do you avoid the "burnout?" Are you able to find a balance between a stressful work environment and your sanity? Love to hear your thoughts.

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2 comments

I'm a 3rd year DPT student on my 2nd to last rotation currently working at a SNF. I love the setting for the most part (patients, coworkers, etc) but the politics and policies are what drain you. Online documentation takes up so much of your time that we should have 2 titles: professional medical documenter/physical therapist.

Lola February 15, 2014 8:11 PM

Allison, burnout is one of the most common maladies to strike someone working in healthcare. We are taught to take care of our patients, but rarely on how to take care of ourselves while doing so. My experience taught me that to work 50-60 hours a week, eat lunch on the run, and fall in to bed at night led me straight to the ER after years of abuse. We can love our profession, love our patients, but if we neglect this body WE'VE given and the things that give us time to rest, reflect and connect, we do ourselves and our patients a disservice. I found that the world didn't stop spinning when I quit working over 40 hours a week and it spins a bit sweeter now that I work part-time. It really is a personal choice to put your health first. That way you have energy at the end of the day and at the end of the week. I have a formed an accountability group of a couple other therapists who text each other and ask " Have you drank, eaten, peed and pooped today" because those things get neglected and our health suffers! Burnout is simply your body and mind trying to do too much and your whole system says "enough!" Keep ignoring it and you'll have a heart specialist telling you "okay, what else can you do for a living because the way you're working now is going to kill you."  Scale back, listen to your heart, body and mind and you'll be a happy, productive PTA with a long and satisfying career.

Karla Grimmett, Physical Therapy and Wellness - PTA, CWC February 14, 2014 8:49 PM
Council Grove, KS KS

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