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How to Avoid Burnout in a Subacute PT Job

by Bijal Shah


PT school is challenging and it can seem to go on forever. But you survive it. You also manage to score a decent GPA in your program because patient care is your calling. You then pass your NPTE on the first attempt.

Now it’s time to find a good physical therapy job - a job that can take care of those huge difficult patients and clinic bureaucracies that can make life difficult.

However, there are ways to avoid burnout and enjoy the transition to clinical work.

So let's talk about what should and should not be done during your first week and probably your first month at work in order to give a good first impression and to also gain happiness and satisfaction from your job. There are key work habits that will put your career in the right direction and that will also help you avoid burnout. These habits are what will help you thrive as a PT in the real world.

Time management

Time management is the key to survival in today’s fast paced healthcare environment. In the majority of subacute care settings, you will get your schedule when you start the day. Based on your schedule, you need to manage your time in the facility efficiently.

Planning your day will relieve you of scheduling headaches. The result? Less burnout, more efficiency.

Be efficient

After you get your schedule for the day, make rounds to organize your caseload. Work with patients on what treatment times work for them and discuss if they will bring themselves to the gym for therapy or if you will need to send a tech to help with transportation.

Plan it out

Based on what you learned during morning rounds, plan your day and plan your treatments. This allows for efficient and effective treatment sessions.

You should also plan time for discussions with patients about their progress. You can ask patients to do NuStep, bike for a few minutes, or do ther-ex while you chat with them about the progress they have made thus far in rehab. Patients love to hear how they are doing and they benefit from the time you set aside to talk with them.

Complete documentation on the same day

We've all had those long and difficult days when we feel too tired to document. We just want to get home and cannot fathom staying a minute later to finish notes. Overall, however, it is better to complete documentation as soon as possible. If you get into the habit of planning time for documentation during the day, you can stay on top of your notes, reduce stress, and avoid burnout.


I have worked with several physical therapists who have told me about their bad experiences at their first jobs as new grads. Many of these poor first experiences are due to lack of communication. As a new grad, remember that no one expects you to know everything. When in doubt, it is best to communicate any uncertainty you might have. The senior PTs on your team are a great resource when you are looking for extra guidance.

It is also important to become comfortable communicating with other care teams. If a patient is having difficulty eating, bring it to the attention of an occupational therapist or a speech-language pathologist. Social workers are a key contact when you are working on discharge planning with a patient. You should contact a physician when you see drastic changes in a patient's vital signs. Nursing should be notified if a patient complains of a change in status, like an upset stomach.

While communication is of utmost importance with all care teams, you must also remember to communicate with families. Every family member loves to hear good news. When you see a change in functional status, such as a patient being able to walk 50 feet after surgery or after a fall, let a loved one know. It will instill hope and motivation!

Take credit for what you do

This is little tricky. You are a skilled therapist. When a member of a patient's care team asks you to do something for a patient, turn your therapist brain on and determine whether or not skilled treatment is being asked of you. I always tell my staff that if it can't be done by anybody else except a physical therapist, than it is skilled therapy.

Do not work during lunch time

You need to relax and take time for yourself. I know that taking a true break for lunch may seem like a waste of time, but setting aside a few minutes to relax and refresh will actually increase your efficiency and help you avoid burnout in the long-term.

When you leave work, have fun and enjoy your life

Do not think about patients, your treatment approaches, or how stressful your day was when you leave work. The work day is over and you deserve to rest. Go out and have fun!

Avoid burnout and have a long and happy career

I hope you find these guidelines useful as you transition to the real world as a physical therapist. It's important to serve people and be dedicated to your patients, but it is just as important to take care of yourself so that you can be a physical therapist for a long time. Remember that taking the time to improve your own well-being will enhance the care you can deliver to your patients and will overall make you a better physical therapist.

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