May 25, 2017Preventing Burnout
Maria Hutsick, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, is Head Athletic Trainer at Medfield (Mass.) High School and former Director of Sports Medicine at Boston University. She is a past president of the College Athletic Trainers’ Society and was honored with an NATA Athletic Trainer Service Award in 2010. She can be reached at: [email protected].
Burnout has been a topic in our profession for as long as I have been in the athletic training field–39 years. There have been many articles written and lectures given on this topic, but I’d like to offer some advice on how to avoid burnout based on my experience.
First, you have to love what you are doing. This can help get through the busiest times. When I first came in to the profession, I was young and could work 70 hours a week. I was learning, trying to advance, and had a lot of on-the-job training as I progressed through the years. Once I became the Director of Sports Medicine at Boston University in 1983, my job got a lot more demanding. Covering football was a 70-hour work week in and of itself. And married people with children have to deal with a lot on their plates besides work. So the best advice I can give is first make sure you love your job most of the time.
That being said, don’t forget to respect and take care of yourself. Having hobbies can help with this, whether it’s running, reading, biking, swimming, or another interest. You cannot only work. Our profession needs to stay fit and healthy. We need to take care of ourselves and put ourselves or our families first sometimes.
If you are the head of an athletic training staff, hire good people who are willing to share their teams, support each other, and cover for one another. My staff at BU was excellent, and we worked well with each other. I tried to make sure everyone got one day a week off. In addition, we had a rule after I had gained experience as the head of the department: No missing family events. If one of my staffers had a wedding, christening, or any family event, I asked that they let me know in advance, and we would work out a coverage plan. Also, if one of my staffers was traveling with their team and didn’t get back to school until late at night, they didn’t have to come in until noon or 1 p.m. the next day. I just asked that they leave a detailed treatment plan, and we would take care of any X-rays, appointments, etc.
Once you have a great staff, be sure to go to bat for them. This will go a long way when stressful times arise. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat to make the job more humane. I hear a lot of athletic trainers whining about their job. I say you have to push to get the things you need–be it time off, salary increase, equipment, or more staff. If you only whine, you won’t get anything. Come up with a way to get it done. If you present a solution, you will get a lot farther.
At BU, my staff knew that I fought for them and worked with the administration to get pay raises, better working hours, facility updates, and increases in budget. Coaches knew if they messed with my staff, they were going to hear about it from me. I made it clear to coaches that the athletic training staff was not at their beck and call. At BU, we had limited facilities, as we were a city school. This made it difficult to schedule practices at times. Coaches started having practices at times that were very inconsiderate of not only my staff but other teams as well. So we made it a requirement that any changes to practice times had to be done well in advance and had to have my approval. The only exception was weather-related.
Another way to avoid burnout is to rely on your athletic training staff, when possible. For example, at BU, I had an assistant who handled eating disorders and nutrition, one who did all of the ordering of supplies, and another who did the schedule. I kept informed of each area, but I let the assistants do their jobs and tried not to interfere. As a result, the assistants felt they had an investment in the program. I tried to listen to my assistants and learned a great deal from them.
Further, a little bit of fun now and then goes a long way toward preventing burnout. At BU, we had fun on the job, teased each other, and did little pranks.
After almost 30 years at BU, I left and went to a high school outside of Boston. It was a hard change the first year, but I am so glad I did it. The high school has been such a step away from the pressure of NCAA Division I. I have weekends and summers off and all the benefits and salary of a full-time teacher. I teach one elective class in athletic training and work the rest of the time with injured athletes and staff. My superintendent, principal, and athletic director are very supportive. I have lots of time to recharge and really like my job. It has been a great way to end my career.
There’s no foolproof way to prevent burnout. The only pearls of wisdom I can offer are to love your job, support the people you work with, and take time for yourself.