No matter how exciting it is to be a physical therapist, we all have moments where we’d rather be doing something else besides treating patients. That’s normal.

But there’s an insidious, creeping condition that is affecting more and more physical therapists every day, and it’s called burnout. I wrote about the physical therapy burnout crisis recently, and I was astounded by the response I received. There are tons physical therapists who are feeling frustrated, drained, and powerless—and it’s vital that we address this problem head-on.

While a day or two of feeling off—or dreaming of vacations—is nothing to be concerned about, there are plenty of signs that you’re dealing with something worse than a case of the Mondays.  

Is PT Valuable? Why Outcomes Data is the Proof We Need - Regular BannerIs PT Valuable? Why Outcomes Data is the Proof We Need - Small Banner

Here are nine signs that you’ve hit the point of being a burned-out PT:

  1. You truly dread going to work most days.
  2. You find yourself rolling your eyes internally (or externally) when patients complain to you.
  3. You mentally check out at meetings, or you spread negativity in the workplace.
  4. You’ve lost interest in journal clubs, research, and con-ed.
  5. You dream of retirement simply because you don’t want to work.
  6. You can’t imagine working as a PT for 5-10 more years, much less 35.
  7. When people ask you if you like your job, you have a visceral negative response.
  8. You let your APTA membership lapse long ago.
  9. You complain enough to family and friends that they’re begging you to switch jobs or careers.

Are you a burned-out PT? If so, there’s still hope.

Here are a few things you can do to help remedy the situation:

Change settings or employers.

This is the obvious choice. (If you’ve already changed settings several times but still feel frustrated and burned out, skip to the next section.)

If you’ve only worked in a single type of setting, or you’ve only worked for a single employer—or type of employer—then you’re doing yourself a disservice by not exploring other avenues of work.

Like pediatrics but can’t stand the outpatient grind? Check out school-based PT jobs. Can’t stand school systems? Give geriatrics a shot. Skilled nursing facility (SNF) rehab therapists might want to check out outpatient ortho—and vice versa. The beauty of PT is that you can always check out new settings, patient populations, and employers.

Another thing to consider is that you might not vibe with your employer or company culture. If they’re all about the bottom line, that can certainly make you feel overworked and underappreciated. Don’t rule out adult day care jobs or jobs at non-profit facilities. Many PTs find that their burnout improves significantly when they switch to a new organization with a different company culture.

That said, again, changing settings or employers won’t solve things if you simply aren’t happy treating patients. And that brings me to my next suggestion.

Explore non-clinical PT routes.

I’m very passionate about physical therapists having ample opportunities to leverage our educations in non-clinical ways.

It’s not yet considered the norm to do so—far from it—and there’s a bit of a stigma attached to leaving patient care to pursue non-clinical roles. But, I hope the future sees more opportunities for PTs to do so without judgment. There are actually quite a few ways for PTs to use their degrees outside of patient care; it just takes a bit of persistence and creativity to get there.

Here are a few of the many ways you can leverage your degree outside of the treatment room:

  • Education
  • Utilization review
  • Medical device training or sales
  • Consulting
  • Informatics
  • Marketing
  • Healthcare copywriting or content writing
  • Medical writing (may require additional training)
  • Rehab intake management

In fact, WebPT has brought several former clinicians on board in non-clinical capacities—on its product and legal teams, for example.

Some of these roles do offer some flexibility, so if you’re not ready to leave patient care altogether, you can consider keeping a toe dipped in the pool.

I recently started a site called The Non-Clinical PT in order to provide a platform for burned-out PTs to explore creative ways to leverage their degrees, so be sure to stop by for more details!

Download your 2019 State of Rehab Therapy report now.

Enter your email address below, and we’ll send you a free comprehensive report on the trends shaping the future of the industry.

Please enable JavaScript to submit form.

Take a continuing education class.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know. When you’re feeling burned out, the last thing you want to think about is more PT education, especially if your employer requires you to use your hard-earned PTO to sit through con-ed courses. But taking a con-ed class can get you excited about your job again, mostly because you’ll feel empowered to make more of a difference in your patients’ lives.

One of the most frustrating things about being burned out is feeling like you’re spinning your wheels and nothing is changing. So, it’s important that you pick a course that’ll “unstick your door,” so to speak. There are many different approaches to selecting con-ed courses. If you feel like you’re constantly struggling with insurance companies, for example, you may want to take a course on billing and/or compliance. If you feel like you’ve got a caseload of folks who aren’t improving, on the other hand, look for a class that covers diagnoses you commonly encounter.

You don’t have to travel far to take a course, either—even if you feel like you live in the middle of nowhere and everything is a hike. There are plenty of online options that can both inspire and educate you.

Take a regular course.

Sometimes, you just need to step away from your job. It’s okay if PT isn’t your life. In fact, unless you’re a total workaholic type, PT should not be all-consuming. Take a class because it interests you. That comedy improvisation class you keep hearing about? Sign up. Pottery or glass-blowing? Do it. It will give you something to look forward to, and you’ll feel like you’re growing as a person. Plus, you’ll meet new people who aren’t patients, which is always refreshing!

If you’d rather take an online course because of family or work commitments, there are lots of really cool sites out there. For example, you can learn web design or computer programming at Udemy or Lynda. You can also take free—or very inexpensive—online courses through major universities.

When you get home from work, you might want to just plop on the couch and browse Facebook or Instagram. Resist the temptation! If your life starts to feel like it’s all about work and keeping track of everyone else’s lives, you’ll likely wind up frustrated and burned out.

Take a vacation.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to take a proper vacation. I’m not talking about a few days to visit your family and squabble over politics during Thanksgiving, but a real trip where you can’t get sucked into doing laundry, reorganizing a closet, or checking email.

When you skip vacations, it impacts your mental state and your overall health. It impacts how you treat your family members, and it certainly affects how you feel about going to work day after day.

I had a CI who made a point of taking one day off per month—no matter what—in addition to an actual vacation. While the standard two weeks of PTO might not make this possible for you, you can always ask about unpaid time off or even consider a job where you get ample PTO.

Go out with your co-workers.

When you’re burned out, it’s natural to skip all the happy hours and lunch breaks with your co-workers. But therapists are the best co-workers ever, so spend some time with them and take advantage of the fact that you work with genuinely good people.

Get to know them outside of work, and show them that you give a hoot about their well-being. Not only will you enjoy going to work more each day because you’ll feel like you’re hanging out with your friends, but also, when it’s time to request vacation coverage, you’ll be more likely to have someone gladly step up to the plate for you.

Consider per diem, travel, or registry work.

I have come to the realization that I simply get bored easily. After working full-time in several jobs, I finally switched to per diem—and it was such a refreshing change for me. It enabled me to launch a website and focus on honing my copywriting skills.

If you enjoy variety in your day-to-day life—in everything from co-workers and managers to patients, diagnoses, and settings—then you must consider working in either travel or registry PT. Travel PT means you’ll move around the country to various facilities, while registry PT allows you to move around to different organizations in your local area.

Also, with registry PT, you might be in a different facility each day or week, whereas travel PT usually means you’re in the same place for a few months at a time. If you have family obligations or don’t want to move every few months, but you crave variety, definitely look into registry PT. You’ll usually get paid a higher wage, and you’ll never get bored!

Don’t let it get the best of you.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t be too tough on yourself for getting burned out. Burnout is a real problem in physical therapy. Increasing patient loads, documentation requirements, pressure to meet productivity minimums, and focus on patient satisfaction—coupled with decreasing reimbursements—make it easy to understand why PTs are feeling burned out. Throw in the burden of crippling student loan debt, and you might start to wonder why burnout isn’t even more prevalent than it already is.


The important thing is that you do something about it. Whether you take a course, change settings, pursue a non-clinical job, or opt to step away for a much-needed vacation, take action to prevent burnout from getting the best of you. You’ll be a better person—and a better therapist—if you address the issue.

Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways.

  • The Physical Therapy Blogs You Should be Reading Image

    articleOct 24, 2018 | 10 min. read

    The Physical Therapy Blogs You Should be Reading

    Successful professionals make it a point to stay current with industry trends, and physical therapists are no exception. Whether you're passionate about career growth, clinical care, pain science, a niche like sports or pelvic floor therapy, or finding creative ways to use your degree, there's probably a PT blog out there for you. In this post, we've curated some of the best physical therapy blogs on the Internet. Some are written by PTs; others are managed by …

  • 3 Reasons Travel PTs Absolutely Must Use Multiple Recruiters Image

    articleSep 29, 2017 | 5 min. read

    3 Reasons Travel PTs Absolutely Must Use Multiple Recruiters

    If you’re a travel physical therapist looking to build the travel career of your dreams , then listen up, because I’m about to lend you one of the best pieces of advice you’ll ever get: work with multiple recruiters at all times. It may seem simple, but trust me—it’ll pay big dividends. In this post, I’ll dive into the finer details of working with multiple recruiters and explain why it is so essential for success as a …

  • 7 Tips for Per Diem PTs Image

    articleOct 13, 2017 | 10 min. read

    7 Tips for Per Diem PTs

    I always assumed I’d work a full-time job until the day I retired. I had never even heard of per diem employment, much less considered it as an option for myself. Then, three years into physical therapy practice, I found myself at a crossroads. I had been working two part-time jobs at small outpatient orthopedic clinics, feeling a bit overwhelmed by both, and longing to get back to a hospital environment . A former classmate of mine …

  • Top Takeaways From #AscendEvent 2018 Image

    articleOct 2, 2018 | 9 min. read

    Top Takeaways From #AscendEvent 2018

    This was my first year attending WebPT’s Ascend conference , and I wasn’t sure what to expect. A business conference? For PTs? It was exciting and intriguing. I also received carte blanche to write an entire blog post around my own experiences at the conference, which is an absolute dream come true! And, as a non-traditional, non-practicing physical therapist, I knew my experience would be very different from others’. So, I packed my bags and braced myself …

  • Common Questions from our Cloudy with a Chance of Reform Webinar Image

    articleFeb 13, 2017 | 13 min. read

    Common Questions from our Cloudy with a Chance of Reform Webinar

    In our first webinar of 2017 , WebPT’s co-founder and president, Heidi Jannenga, teamed up with CEO Nancy Ham to discuss the current and future healthcare trends that will impact PTs, OTs, and SLPs. (Missed it? No worries; you can view the complete recording here .) As always, we received quite a few questions during the presentation—way more than we could address live. So, we’ve put them all here, in one handy Q&A doc. Scroll through and …

  • 11 Hot Topics in Physical Therapy Image

    articleDec 31, 2018 | 8 min. read

    11 Hot Topics in Physical Therapy

    As 2018 draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back at some of the hottest topics and trends from the year. Some topics, like cash-based practice and pain science, have been in the spotlight for years—while others emerged only within the last few months.   Here are 11 of the hottest physical therapy topics from 2018:   1. Burnout Burnout certainly isn’t unique to physical therapists. In fact, in recent years, we’ve seen countless reports …

  • Cloudy with a Chance of Reform: 5 Key Healthcare Forecasts for 2017 Image

    webinarJan 5, 2017

    Cloudy with a Chance of Reform: 5 Key Healthcare Forecasts for 2017

    Predicting the weather is tough—just ask any meteorologist who has called for sun on the day of a major downpour. Well, predicting the fate of the US healthcare system isn’t much easier—there’s a lot up in the air, after all. But, even without a healthcare equivalent of Doppler Radar, there are a few key trends that are sure to have a major impact on PTs, OTs, and SLPs in 2017 and beyond. And to keep your practice …

  • The State of Rehab Therapy in 2018 Image

    webinarJun 1, 2018

    The State of Rehab Therapy in 2018

    Falling reimbursements. Skyrocketing insurance premiums and copays. Crippling student loan debt. As a PT, OT, or SLP, sometimes it feels like it’s you against the world. After all, the challenges you face on a daily basis are many and complex. But, you’re not alone. In fact, we recently surveyed nearly 7,000 rehab therapy professionals on everything from payment rates and clinic budgets to education costs and salary, and we found some pretty strong—and surprising—trends. [video://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/eh5khgt1r6]   Curious …

  • The Ultimate Checklist for PT, OT, and SLP New Grads Image

    articleMay 9, 2018 | 7 min. read

    The Ultimate Checklist for PT, OT, and SLP New Grads

    The end of graduate school is an exciting time. For newly minted clinicians, the lure of treating patients with a greater sense of ownership and autonomy is empowering and liberating. Caught up in the rush of that newfound freedom, though, it’s easy to forget about some of the crucial steps we must take to set our careers in the right direction. Never fear! Even if you’re still busy sipping cocktails on the beach and celebrating, we’ve got …

Achieve greatness in practice with the ultimate EMR for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.