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Beating Burnout: Prevention Strategies for PTs

Beating Burnout: Prevention Strategies for PTs
Written by the Continued staff
January 27, 2023

Person at a messy desk with their hands in their hair

Burnout among healthcare professionals is widespread. 

Studies have shown that those who work in “helping professions” are more likely to experience job burnout. Specific to physical therapy, a national survey of physical therapists found that 29% of PTs have high emotional exhaustion burnout. 

“Burnout in healthcare professionals is detrimental to patient care and to the professional,” said Amy M. Schlessman, PT, DPT, DHS. “Knowing burnout-prevention strategies is very important, especially for us as healthcare workers.”

The following information is from Schlessman’s course, Beating Burnout and Building Resilience: Strategies to Succeed, on 

Signs + Causes of Burnout: 

“Burnout” is described as exhaustion resulting from excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources in the workplace. 

Signs of burnout can include: 

  • Being cynical or critical at work 
  • Dragging yourself to work & having trouble getting started 
  • Being irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients 
  • Lacking the energy to be consistently productive 
  • Finding it hard to concentrate 
  • Lacking satisfaction from your achievements 
  • Feeling disillusioned about your job 
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel 
  • Changed sleep habits 
  • Unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints

Causes of burnout can include: 

  • Lack of control 
  • Unclear job expectations 
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics 
  • Extremes of activity 
  • Lack of social support 
  • Work-life imbalance 
  • Working after work hours
  • Too many bureaucratic tasks (e.g., charting, paperwork)

Consequences of Burnout 

Ignored or unaddressed job burnout can have significant consequences, including: 

  • Excessive stress 
  • Fatigue 
  • Insomnia 
  • Sadness, anger, or irritability 
  • Alcohol or substance misuse 
  • Heart disease 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Vulnerability to illness 

Additionally, many studies indicate provider burnout is detrimental to patient care and can result in: 

  • Medical errors 
  • Higher rates of patient mortality 
  • Higher rates of hospital-transmitted infections 
  • Dishonest clinical behaviors
  • Decreased sense of altruism 
  • Lower patient satisfaction ratings 
  • Greater job turnover, increased thoughts of quitting, & decreased workforce efficiency 
  • Lower levels of staff engagement
  • Increased risk of workplace accidents 
  • Decreased empathy 

Burnout Prevention Strategies 

Schlessman offers numerous strategies in her course to prevent or combat burnout. 

Some highlights include: 

Chart to Start: Schlessman recommends journaling or “chart to start” to evaluate your life and possible areas for improvement to beat burnout. She divides this exercise into three categories: 

  • P: Peer Support
    • Seek camaraderie and support of friends, family, and co-workers.
  • W: Work-Life Balance
    • Evaluate your work tasks, prioritize activities, eliminate time-wasters, and improve time-management skills.
  • B: Basic Needs Priority 
    • Practice self-care with healthy eating, adequate sleep, exercise, stress management, relaxing activities, and mindfulness.

In each of these areas, Schlessman recommends charting your current baseline and then setting a weekly goal in each. Evaluate regularly to reset goals and track progress. 

Stress Management: Schlessman emphasizes that stress management is key to beating burnout and important for ourselves, our colleagues, and our patients. She details the following stress-management tactics in her course: 

  • Have a positive attitude
  • Accept there are events you cannot control
  • Be assertive, not aggressive
  • Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs versus becoming angry, defensive, or passive
  • Learn & practice relaxation techniques (e.g., yoga, meditation, mindfulness)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Set limits appropriately; learn to say no (will “yes” create excessive stress?)
  • Make time for hobbies/interests
  • Get enough sleep
  • Don't rely on alcohol, food, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress
  • Seek out social support (dedicate time)
  • Work on time management
  • Seek treatment from a professional trained in stress management 
  • Practice gratitude 

To learn more about these and more burnout strategies, check out Amy Schlessman’s course on Not a member? Use the code 1FREECOURSE to take the course for free! 

Featured Presenter


Amy Schlessman, PT, DPT, DHS. Amy is an Assistant Professor in the Physical Therapy Program and a Center of Teaching Excellence Faculty Liaison at the University of Findlay. She is the Website Co-Chair and Zoom Committee Chair for the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy. Amy has been practicing as a school-based PT for over 18 years, focusing on health promotion and physical activity embedded into academics and interprofessional collaboration, while closely working with educators, administrators, therapists, and parents. Her research on pediatric health promotion was published in Pediatric Physical Therapy. Amy also published, “Recycle Bin Boogie: Move and Learn with Recyclables,” a physical activity book combining academic concepts with common household recyclables. She has presented regionally and nationally on a variety of topics related to health promotion, active learning, school-based therapy, and special education. 

Written by the Continued staff offers 500+ online courses presented by leading experts and is part of the Continued family of learning sites. For more articles like this and information on courses, special offers, and more, subscribe to our newsletter.

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