Feeling exhausted: How outpatient physical therapists perceive and manage job stressors

Musculoskeletal Care. 2023 Sep;21(3):845-855. doi: 10.1002/msc.1761. Epub 2023 Mar 30.


Purpose: Burnout is identified as a workplace problem rather than a worker problem. However, it remains unclear what job stressors are associated with burnout among outpatient physical therapists. Thus, the primary objective of this study was to understand the burnout experiences of outpatient physical therapists. The secondary aim was to identify the relationship between physical therapist burnout and the work setting.

Methods: One-on-one interviews based on hermeneutics were used for qualitative analysis. Quantitative data was collected using the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Health Services Survey (MBI-HSS) and the Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS).

Results: Qualitative analysis found participants interpreted an increased workload with no increase in wages, loss of control, and a mismatch between organizational culture and values as the main drivers of organizational stress. Professional issues such as high debt burden, low salaries, and declining reimbursement emerged as stressors. Participants showed moderate to high emotional exhaustion per the MBI-HSS. There was a statistically significant association between emotional exhaustion and workload and control (p < 0.001). For every one-point increase in workload, emotional exhaustion increased by 6.49 while for every one-point increase in control, emotional exhaustion decreased by 4.17.

Conclusion: Outpatient physical therapists in this study felt that increased workload with a lack of incentives and inequity, coupled with a loss of control, and a mismatch between personal and organizational values were significant job stressors. Creating awareness of outpatient physical therapist's perceived stressors may play an important role in developing strategies to diminish or prevent burnout.

Keywords: burnout; job stress; physical therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Outpatients
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace / psychology