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Work-Life Balance in the Athletic Training Profession

Posted April 16, 2019

By Sarah Walters, MOL, LAT, ATC

Work-life balance and burnout have become buzzwords in the field of athletic training for several years now, but I have personally seen Athletic Trainers (ATs) leave the profession because of burnout. The question remains, how do we provide high quality healthcare without sacrificing our own well-being?

The industry knows ATs for our caring attitudes and compassion. What about leniency for ourselves? Think about it. Do you regularly carve out time for yourself to rest and do the things that matter to you? Do you allow yourself to be imperfect? Do you accept that you do not know everything, and must rely on others around you? We teach our patients about stress management, yet many of us do not follow our own advice. We tell our patients to learn from it and to seize the next opportunity, yet we can be hard on ourselves when we do not meet our own personal expectations.

Another profession ATs can look to learn from is physicians. From 2011-2014, physician burnout skyrocketed. Why? Because of the nature of their jobs. Their jobs are intellectually demanding, highly technical and high-stakes decision-making. Physicians are under an incredible amount of stress that can lead to burnout if they do not balance the demands of their job with strong interpersonal relationships, finding personal satisfaction and meaning in their work and an appreciation for the intellectual stimulation of their work. However, simply telling someone to find personal satisfaction and meaning in their work is much easier for us to say than for them to do.

Something worth noting is that work-life balance looks different for each person. Just as we tell our patients, self-care does not have to look for you as it does for someone else. This is why organizations should strive to make sure they foster healthy relationships with their employees to help ATs create balance in their work and personal endeavors. We should learn from other professions, including a profession we are used to learning from, how to avoid burnout. Physicians’ employers have discovered if they create a healthy work environment for their employees, physicians seem to find greater meaning in their work. This then affects their happiness, patient care and decreases other negative factors like turnover.

Recently, it was suggested employers use a combination of personal and organizational support. The organization should be the one to go to bat for the employee’s well-being by creating a work-life philosophy, policies and standards. This only works if the AT is willing to adhere to the policies and allow employers to support them. It is also worth noting, ATs need to be careful to stand-up for themselves. Be open and honest with their employers about internal and external struggles that may keep them from experiencing true work-life balance and ultimately job satisfaction. Organizations that truly value their employees will create a safe environment for employees to feel as though they can work with their supervisors towards a realistic solution for each AT.

I suggest we should be asking questions such as; do I enjoy what I am doing? Why or why not? Are there things in my control that I can adjust to make me more productive, happy or reduce my own stress? Have I thought through how I can draw professional boundaries and say no to decline politely unrealistic expectations? We have emergency action plans for disasters. Why not have a personal action plan to enable us to feel more freedom to enjoy the work we love?

Resources

Mazerolle, S.M., et al. (2018). National athletic trainers’ association position statement: Facilitating work-life balance in athletic training practice settings. Journal of athletic training, 53(8), 796-811.
http://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-51.11.02

Shanafelt, T. D., MD, Hasan, Omar, MBBS, MPH, Dyrbye, Lotte N., MD, MHPE, Sinsky, C., MD, Satele, D., MS, Sloan, J., PhD, & West, Colin P., MD, PhD. (2015). Changes in burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in physicians and the general US working population between 2011 and 2014. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 90(12), 1600-1613. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.08.023

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