Burnout in physical therapy.... Is PT school to blame?

In a previous post we discussed the truth behind apparent mastery. It evidently hit a nerve. Either people said they had felt this way or were going to pass it on to a current student. It made me wonder if we are causing the feeling of burnout in PT school.

Here’s what I think happens:

You start PT school so excited….you have worked so hard to get there. You finally get there and you know it will be hard, but maybe not this hard. It’s okay, at least you are FINALLY studying something you actually care about (not how a lens works or how many moles are in 3 grams of Copper). Then it hits. You are once again studying things you don’t care about. There are only a few classes that actually breath life into you. But you are told to bide your time because it will get better.  You believe this wholeheartedly, put your head down, and keep working toward the finish line.

You are filled with the ideas of how important what you are learning is. It is about autonomy of practice, direct access, and being a professional. However, rather abruptly and usually sometime in your second year, you begin to question why you are doing this. You learn more and more and as you continue learning, you recognize how much you don’t know.  A little doubt starts to creep in and with every new experience the feeling like you don’t know enough grows bigger... It begins to wear on you.

But you persevere, you're getting so close. You can’t imagine not finishing. Plus, when you graduate you will know so much more, you will have autonomy (not having to deal with clinical instructors, let alone professors), and you will have MONEY.

But here’s the problem, no one told you that documentation would own you. Or that your student loans would feel paralyzing. The money you’re making doesn’t seem nearly as much as the average salaries you heard for PTs when you were in undergrad. And the confidence level you expected to have at graduation fell short-- you still feel like a student, at least from a knowledge perspective.

If you are reading this as a student or new graduate, this may all seem like gloom and doom. It is not, but it is a reality that many PTs face. The good news is there is a way out. There is a way to love your career. But you need a strategy.


You need to have a career plan

What do you want to be when you grow up? It took me 12 (very frustrating) years to figure that out in PT. This is why I am so passionate about helping people find their ideal careers. As I painfully learned, it doesn’t just happen. You have to be intentional. You have to create your career. If you don’t even know where to start, consider mapping out your ideal career with our free What's Next 3 Day Challenge.


You need to have an education plan

In the last post, we talked about strategies to deal with the feelings that you are not good enough. Those tactics are extremely helpful, but you also have to put the time in to gain expertise. This comes from high quality patient interaction but also continuing education courses. If you haven’t selected and scheduled your next 2 continuing education courses, do it now. It is a great way to get on the road to expertise.


You need to have a financial plan

Believe it or not, our finances sap our emotional energy and cause incredible amounts of stress. Sometimes the stress is obvious, but more frequently it is insidious. Our thoughts and decisions become clouded by financial worry and pressure. You start thinking things like:

I can’t take my ideal job because it doesn’t pay enough.

I can’t afford to move.

I don’t have enough money for that continuing education course.

When I take a vacation, I feel guilty about the money I am spending.

It doesn’t matter whether you have $200,000 in debt or $20,000 in the bank, having a solid financial plan will decrease your stress and set you up for career opportunities.

(In next week's post, Jenna will talk about strategies to get your finances in order.)

While I don’t think that PT school has necessarily created a problem of burnout, PT school doesn’t do much to address it.  The toughest thing for students is when their expectations of the field fall short and are replaced with something that doesn’t align with their dreams.  A proposed solution to this is to equip new graduates with a way to navigate the profession as a whole, not just the clinical side of things. We aim to do this at The Professional Rebellion and bridge that gap from passing the boards to creating the ideal career.



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