From PT to Clinical Product Manager - June Srisethnil & CityPT Inc.Jul 23, 2022
Like many medical providers, June Srisethnil got into physical therapy because she wanted to help people in a meaningful way. Having positive experiences with physical therapy for her own injuries as an athlete, she knew it could be a good fit for her.
However, somewhere along the way June started longing for something more. Something beyond 1:1 patient care.
June is not alone in feeling a need for something different. Whether it is from burnout, compassion fatigue, boredom, or a mix of the three — a lot of physical therapists are leaving their profession to seek out other careers or nonclinical roles.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, a study done in 2020 revealed that up to 82% of therapists experience burnout. Of these, 34% reported that it negatively affected their patient care.
Why Are Physical Therapists Burning Out?
June Srisethnil, PT, DPT has a lot of theories about why physical therapy burnout is occurring at an alarming rate that we will discuss below. In this article, June will share her journey from an unchallenged physical therapist that felt undervalued and unheard, to an inspired clinical product manager for a growing hybrid physical therapy health tech startup.
June's Clinical Background
June has over 15 years of experience as a practicing physical therapist. She started her career at a private orthopedic clinic for one year. Then, she spent the next 14 years at Kaiser Permanente- one of the largest healthcare systems in the US and physical therapy providers on the West Coast.
Initially, June loved her full-time clinical work within Kaiser. She reports having excellent mentors that helped her pursue and pass her orthopedic specialist exam (OCS). She also enjoyed the camaraderie with her team and treating patients daily. However, she started to realize she needed something different.
The Burden of Paperwork is a Huge Stressor for PTs
June's story is very similar to many other therapists. They love the high-level care that they're providing, and even the teams that they work with. Yet, they start to feel weighed down by the non-clinical side of patient care that is often created by insurance documentation and administration requirements.
In fact, paperwork is the top reason cited by burned-out PTs. This was no different for June. Strict productivity guidelines and required administrative tasks led to a common issue- loads of stress and working through lunches and after hours, all for the sake of paperwork.
Most Clinics Don't Have Time to Think "Outside the Box"
Additionally, June had a bachelor's in Engineering that she felt was going to waste. She had all of these great workflow ideas for process improvements, documentation efficiencies, and patient care that she didn't feel her employer valued. She thought there must be a job out there for her that allowed her to utilize all her skills. This would help her use the creative side of her brain that had been neglected in the hamster wheel of a back-to-back patient care schedule.
Transitioning to Clinical Product Manager
When June finally stepped away from Kaiser, she admits she felt relief.
For June, everything started to click into place as she paused and took time to figure out what she wanted to do. She took the time to evaluate her strengths, weaknesses, and passions. With a lot of self-learning, discussion, research and experimentation, she eventually ended up at an online meetup where she met the CEO of CityPT, Andrew Shirk.
After a couple of deep conversation with Andrew and a couple of freelance pilot projects as a consultant, June knew she would be a great fit for the CityPT vision. From there, June embraced the startup life and essentially designed her position from scratch to create a job title that would perfectly compliment her skill set and aspirations. (How cool is that?)
Are You Ready for a Change?
As a physical therapist or other medical provider, after going through all the hoops of schooling and a board exam, there is often a lot of pressure to stay in standard patient care. This can be due to student loans, personal beliefs, and/or employer standards. Ultimately, it leads to a lot of providers "sucking it up," which can lead to poorer patient care, unhealthy levels of stress, and a continued cycle of a broken medical care system.
Standard recommendations for physical therapy burnout include:
- Adequate self-care (including exercise, sleep, nutrition, etc.)
- Asking for help
- Changing practice settings
- Attending professional events
- Continuing education
- Learning to "leave" any concerns for work at the office door when you clock out
- Adding a "fun" side gig
The problem with standard advice:
These are all a great starting place and are essential for practicing as a well-balanced clinician. However, here's what it's not doing:
- Not addressing the TRUE underlying issues: For many clinicians, the standard advice will evoke a large eye roll. For example, how is self-care going to reduce the ridiculous pile of paperwork I need to catch up on? How does it help me become a more valued provider within my clinic? (Hint: It doesn't.)
- No diversification of tasks: Boredom often occurs when there is no variation in our daily tasks. Physical therapy care can start to feel monotonous, yet ironically overwhelming after a while. Eventually, every PT will wonder- isn't there a better way?
- No outlet for creative talent: Unfortunately, creativity is not something that is typically valued in physical therapy clinics. After all, it doesn't pay the bills and help the bottom line in a traditional clinic.
- Little room for professional development outside clinical/patient care: Most PTs have other skills, passions, and hobbies. Being able to embrace these would likely have an indirect positive impact on patient care.
- Dealing with insurance companies and other money-related politics: Sadly there is a lot of red tape surrounding patient care and reimbursement. From physician-owned clinics to workman’s comp and car accident liens- it can make a PT feel like they're "fighting" for their piece of the pie, rather than getting adequate payment for the care they are providing.
How to Actually Address Burnout
Instead of following the standard recommendations that only help short-term (or maybe not at all), consider these options.
- Make a complete pivot: If you need a break or want to completely step away from the physical therapy profession, do it. Don't feel like you're obligated to stay in a profession you are no longer enjoying. There's no need for guilt. Simply come to terms with it, do your research, assess your risk tolerance, and move on.
- Find an employer that values your unique skill set: Find an employer that lets you set your own high standards and truly values you. Physical therapists are extremely driven and productive by nature. With the right conditions you will thrive without the need for so much oversight. This is why many PTs are turning to cash-based business models, self-employment, and virtual care.
- Diversify! Why not use more than one part of your brain and skills? Break through the monotony and diversify your day-to-day tasks. This might look different for each clinician and has led to the awesome idea that CityPT has coined as the "Hybrid Clinician." This refreshing idea takes the therapist out of the standard mold and allows them to flex their creativity, contribute in ways that help them feel inspired, and so much more.
For June, it meant stepping away from patient care (at least for now). Yet, she still provides a lot of indirect value to patient care as a subject matter expert and by helping the therapists at CityPT thrive by supporting and advocating for the clinician experience.
Conclusion: Looking for Something Different
When it comes to physical therapy care, both therapists and patients deserve better than a burned-out clinician. The future poses so much untapped potential for all parties involved, particularly when embracing the quickly evolving tech that makes accessing and providing medical care significantly easier.
Clinicians that adopt the tech-forward care model will find that they have so much more flexibility- which in turn helps them stay inspired.
June's advice for breaking into the tech world of physical therapy: If you want to find a new job title similar to June's, start with a large dose of self-learning. Dive deep into your own work style, values, and goals. Learn about how companies do business, sales processes, product development, design thinking, lingo, and more.
Most importantly- being able to communicate clearly using various tools is key for this niche. Working on your writing skills and understanding how to utilize tools like Slack, LinkedIn, email, and beyond with efficiency will help you immensely.
Ultimately, don't settle for a job that you are no longer enjoying. Find a career path that you love and don't look back.
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