How to Recognize and Manage Burnout as a PA
According to a 2021 survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 55% of front-line health care workers reported symptoms of burnout (physical or emotional exhaustion surrounding work). Practicing as a PA, like any other medical profession, is an extremely rewarding career that requires focus, critical thinking, and a lot of responsibility.
With this responsibility, many PAs may experience a high level of stress depending on their overall comfort level and patient population. Additionally, some positions may require longer work days or call shifts, leading to an increased risk of physical and emotional exhaustion. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of PA burnout, here’s how to recognize it and a few next steps to consider.
What are the signs of burnout?
According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, there are three specific components in assessing burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment.
One common warning sign that may indicate the beginning of burnout is a loss of motivation at work. This lack of motivation may stem from physical exhaustion with symptoms like frequent headaches or lower energy levels throughout the week. Or, you may experience symptoms of emotional burnout, such as feeling more withdrawn or becoming easily angered in both professional and personal settings.
Additionally, burnout may make you dread going to work or stress about your job outside of work hours. Overall, you may no longer feel the same excitement about your position or career that you once had.
How do I minimize the effects of burnout?
Take advantage of your paid time off
If you are already experiencing burnout, there are many ways to help combat this. Many positions allow you to accrue paid time off (PTO), so make sure you are using this time when able!
You do not need to have an event planned to justify taking some much-needed time off. Perhaps a relaxing three-day weekend could be exactly what you need to help alleviate some stress. Remember that there may never be the “perfect” time to take off, so as long as it can be approved, you should not feel guilty using the vacation hours you have earned. Your mental health is extremely important. Always remember that you work hard and deserve the break!
Prioritize your well-being
Of course, PTO is a limited resource. Aside from this, make sure to focus on self-care to maintain a sense of mental balance during the work week. This includes prioritizing things like exercise, sleep, and eating well. I know that hitting the gym, cooking a meal, or even getting eight hours of sleep is not always possible. However, do your best to try and find time for this when you can throughout the week.
Finding time for yourself, your loved ones, and your hobbies can help create a better work-life balance, which is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Having regularly scheduled activities outside of work that you look forward to, such as a book club, intramural sports, or even scheduled evenings out to dinner, can be helpful to ensure that you commit to time for yourself outside of work.
Discuss with your supervisors
If the responsibilities of your position are becoming too much to handle, discuss your situation with your supervisors to see if there is anything that can be done to help reduce the burden you carry. At the end of the day, it is important to put yourself first. You worked hard to get here and you should feel happy and satisfied with your career!
Should I consider switching specialties?
Perhaps the feeling of burnout is stemming from misalignment with your position or specialty as a whole. Remember, the beauty of our role as PAs is the ability to transition to different areas of practice. If your specialty no longer aligns with your lifestyle needs, then you might consider switching PA specialties.
There are many reasons why you may want to switch positions or specialties, including relationship changes, becoming a parent, or even adopting a pet. At the end of the day, anything that changes your day-to-day life can alter your work-life balance.
This is not always an easy decision to make, especially if you still feel fulfilled in other aspects of your career. However, working as a burnt-out provider is not an ideal or safe environment for you or your patients. There are many different shift schedules and specialties available for PAs to explore, so keep your options open and find one that works best for you and your lifestyle!
The importance of finding the right fit
I worked for one year as a nocturnist PA as my first year of clinical work after PA school. The position taught me how to work autonomously overnight and think critically as a provider. I loved the work I was doing, however, I quickly realized that working overnight was not for me.
With my partner working during the day, I was often sad to only have a quick overlap of schedules before I went to work for the night. I would travel to different hospitals and sometimes even stay in a hotel following shifts. Overall, it was extremely draining, and I recognized the signs of burnout much too early in my career.
Pursuing an alternative position was extremely scary to me, especially after gaining comfort in my role at the time. After fully transitioning to my new position, however, I can say confidently I am feeling much happier with my day-to-day life and just as fulfilled in my career.
Everyone is different in which specialty or position will best align with their lifestyle goals. Never feel guilty for making a decision that leads to a higher level of job satisfaction and work-life balance. Finding the right fit will help you feel your best at work and provide the best care to your patients.
For more info about PA specialties, check out the Is This The Right PA Specialty For You? series that provides practical advice for PAs looking for their right fit.