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Burnout In Travel Healthcare

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Burnout as a traveler? Many clinicians become travelers because they want to escape the burnout of a permanent position. It may be a surprise when you find yourself burned out as a traveler. Yes, burnout happens to travelers. While it may sound exciting to travel the country for work, the truth is that the new and exciting can get old. Long-term traveling can be burdensome. The new and exciting is not always new and exciting.

Clinicians across the country are held to high productivity standards and caseload requirements, have their ethics challenged by managers, and may be under appreciated and treated poorly by staff/patients/family/etc. As travelers, a job may try to challenge your ethics even more than a perm employee, and give you a higher caseload. While travel may make some of that disappear for a bit, the fact is that it’s still there. Pairing the traditional reasons with why clinicians burn out, plus moving every 13 weeks, can surely lead to burnout.

I have 100% experienced burnout as a traveler. It’s hard to describe burnout from travel, but it’s a feeling that creeps up on you and tries to hold you down, both physically and emotionally. The things that once seemed exciting about travel, such as exploring new places, meeting new people, and working new jobs, seem to fade. The things that were once exciting seem like a chore. There isn’t anything wrong with that.

The hardest thing about burnout, for me, has been recognizing it and making a change. Let’s face it, our lifestyles are hard. Long-term travel can be physically and emotionally draining. Many of us travel to escape something. Sooner or later, that thing we are trying to escape is going to catch up with us. You certainly can’t run forever. Realizing that you are burned out is the first step to making a positive change.

It’s Not You, It’s the System

I want to remind you that burning out isn’t your fault and it’s not something you are doing wrong. At its core, it’s a fault of our system. Education is becoming more expensive and often we have to take jobs at a higher pay (to pay our debt), that maybe are more morally challenging. As new grads, we may not receive the training and mentorship that we crave, and are left feeling discouraged and helpless in some clinical situations.

Management hounds us about productivity and numbers to the point that we are made to feel like therapy factories. We went into this field to help others and make a difference. Often, that attitude gets shut down in the workplace. Instead, we are told to treat people based on the payer source and to do what is profitable over what is most beneficial for the patient.

The system is broken. As a traveler, you can hop around and try to avoid some of the more broken places, but it’s still broken. Until we can fix the system, we will surely continue to see more and more therapists burn out and leave the profession altogether.

So What Do You Do When You Are Burned Out While Traveling?

This is a hard question to answer because it can be pretty personal. Personally, the times that I have been really burned out, I left travel and moved to a permanent position. When I was burned out from travel, I realized that I needed some stability from a full-time job.

The first time I experienced burnout, it wasn’t so much from the travel lifestyle itself. It was because my clinical skills were more novice and only allowed me to get more entry level SNF jobs, that I started to find unfulfilling. I knew that I wanted to work in a more challenging acute setting. By going home and being perm, I was able to land a clinical position that challenged me and provided mentorship and training to advance my skills. That job then opened up more challenging and rewarding travel positions when I began to travel again. From that point forward, I became very picky about the contracts I would work. I knew that in order to sustain myself as a traveler, I couldn’t continue to work in one SNF after another. And that worked for me, for a couple of years at least.

I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to have strong and specialized clinical skills to add value to you as a traveler and clinician. It is so empowering as a clinician to be able to see progress and help your patients. The more you know and the more training you have, the more you are able to help your patients. Specialized skills also make you more marketable to jobs who value experience over profit.

THEN, the second round of burn out came when I was starting my business, The Traveling Traveler, and also traveling and working full-time. At that time, I was becoming more and more passionate about my work on the blog and creating stability with my work there. Mentally, it was very challenging for me to transition from job to job, location to location, and still stay focused on my work. The transition of travel blocked me from the stability that I needed at the time to blog. I still feel this way and this has been the main reason why you don’t see me traveling as much these days.

If you’re reading this, you may not find yourself burned out from starting a blog, but maybe it’s the hours spent working overtime or PRN. Maybe you are taking on too many obligations outside of work. Learn to recognize and balance whatever it is that is burning you out and causing stress in your life.

To sum up this blog, it’s okay to be burned out and it’s okay to stop and take a break. Maybe that break is a perm position. Perhaps it is a job in a new setting or with a new patient population. For some, you may choose to leave the therapy world altogether. Being a traveler is actually a great way to transition out of the therapy field. That’s okay.

Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

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