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A Helping Hand for Healthcare Workers Facing Burnout
By: Editor: Ross Cameron, MSc PT student

What is Burnout?

It can be easy to lose track of your own wellness when working in healthcare - where you dedicate yourself to looking after the well-being of others.

There are numerous stressors in the work environment, as well as those in your personal life, that can accumulate if not managed. An inability to properly cope with stress can lead to experiencing burnout.

Imagine the following scenario: You've just finished working four consecutive 10-hour days so that you can have a three-day weekend. Your last patient of the day was difficult and uncooperative, requiring a lot of encouragement to participate in therapy.

Traffic is been horrible on your drive home, and when you finally do get home you need to make dinner and take care of your young children. You haven't slept well the entire week, and you have planned to take the weekend to rest and relax.

On the drive home, your check engine light comes on and the car is making an odd rumbling sound. You also get a call from your spouse, telling you that your pet dog has escaped and is missing.

It's easy to imagine that all of these sources of stress compounding on each other, if unmanaged over an extended period of time, can lead to burnout.   

It’s likely that you’ve heard of burnout before, and possibly even experienced it in academic or professional life.

Burnout can be defined as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.”

This sustained period of exhaustion contributes to negative thoughts and feelings, such as job dissatisfaction, doubt in yourself or your abilities, and lack of motivation. It can also lead to more serious consequences like depression, anxiety, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

With this in mind, it is key to recognize the contributors to burnout, as well as how to identify and manage its symptoms. These topics are explored in Even Superheroes Need a Hand, a course instructed by Dr. Sandy Hilton and Dr. Mark Milligan.

This course contains just under an hour of video lesson material covering burnout, positive and negative stress, strategies for managing burnout, and a recorded question and answer period.

Dr. Milligan and Dr. Hilton discuss burnout in a healthcare context, as well as introduce the concept of “Compassion Fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue is a consequence of feeling empathy towards patients and helping others that are suffering.

Consistently interacting with patients who are emotionally taxing for a prolonged period of time can result in an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the patient’s suffering.

Dr. Milligan discusses the importance of establishing boundaries to recognize emotional involvement when creating a therapeutic relationship with a patient.

Watch the video below to see him introduce the concepts of burnout and compassion fatigue.   


Watch This Short Video About Burnout and Compassion Fatigue  


Important Definitions:

  • Burnout: a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

  • Compassion Fatigue: extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create secondary traumatic stress for the helper. The tell-tale sign of compassion fatigue is blunted emotions and loss of motivation. 

Following this, the course further sheds light on contributing factors and sources of negative stress in a healthcare professional’s life.

After identifying sources of stress, the course teaches self-reflective strategies to examine one’s own values and how to prioritize one’s own health.

Finally, the course provides stress management strategies to avoid or manage burnout. Dr. Hilton frames one strategy as a list of “non-negotiables,” a list of daily conditions that must be met to ensure your own well-being.

Click the link below to visit the course page!

  1. Click Here for the Full Course
Mark Milligan

Dr. Mark Milligan, PT, DPT, is an orthopedic manual therapist that specializes in the evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal spinal conditions and is Board Certified in Orthopedics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Therapy.

He earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy at the University of the Colorado, School of Medicine in Denver, Colorado. He went on to complete an Orthopedic Physical Therapy Residency and Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy Fellowship with Evidence in Motion (EIM).

He is a full-time clinician. Dr. Milligan serves as adjunct faculty for the Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs at South College and The University of St. Augustine. Dr. Milligan is also primary faculty for Trigger Point Dry Needling Courses and Musculoskeletal Courses for EIM.

Mark has presented at numerous state and national conferences and has been published in peer reviewed journals. He is an active member of the TPTA, APTA, and AAOMPT and is current the Capital Area District Chair for the Texas Physical Therapy Association and has great interest in governmental affairs.

Sandy Hilton

Sandy graduated from Pacific University (Oregon) in 1988 with a Master of Science in Physical Therapy and earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Des Moines University in December 2013.

Sandy teaches Health Professionals and Community Education classes on returning to function following back and pelvic pain, and co-teaches Advanced Level Male Pelvic Floor Evaluation/Treatment for Entropy Physiotherapy as well as Neurodynamics and Sensory Integration for Pelvic Pain and a Practical Application of Pain Science course with Pelvic Health Solutions.

Sandy’s clinical interest is chronic pain with a particular interest in complex pelvic pain disorders for men and women. Sandy is also pursuing opportunities for collaboration in research into the clinical treatment of pelvic pain conditions. Sandy has co-authored two papers, 2 book chapters and "Why Pelvic Pain Hurts" a patient focussed book.

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