Overcoming burnout as a physiotherapy practice owner – Q&A with Nick Schuster

Recently we did a callout looking for health professionals to comment on their experience of burnout. We received a response from Brisbane based physiotherapist Nick Schuster, who treats more than 100 of his own patients per week, manages 12 staff, and looks after a growing business. As if that isn’t enough…… Nick also wrote and published a book in 2014 and has a budding public speaking profile.

Nick said that in the last 6 months, he had lost 6 of his staff and had learnt what burnout is all about. He had been seeing a professional burnout counsellor to help him through this difficult period.

Here is our question and answer session with Nick……

Q. If you did 30 minute appointments, 100 patients per week would be 5 x 10 hour days. Do you feel that expanding too quickly played a factor in your burnout, or did your practice build up gradually over time with continuing clients?

A. I was originally doing 30 min appointments but got so busy and had such a long waiting list I dropped my appointment times to 20 mins, I did this to free up more time. I did expand quickly but found I quickly plateaued. Even when taking on other staff there was still the major issue that everyone wanted to see the practice owner!

Q. Why did you want to take on writing a book and building a public speaking profile on top of your private practice?

A. I chose to write a book in order to positively influence larger numbers of people with pain than I could with one on one appointments. The purpose of building the speaking profile is similar – I want to help as many people as possible and this can only be done through mass communication rather than 1 on 1 appointments.

Q. What attracted you to having your own business?

A. I wanted the freedom to do things my way. I wanted to be the decision maker and responsible for my own destiny. My short experience during my final year of Physio with QLD Health demonstrated to me that a person who is quite independent in their views does not fit well into such a hierarchichal and rigid system. I learned this quite quickly. I love being able to determine the direction of my business and how we do things on a daily basis.

Q. How did you go about finding a suitable burnout counsellor?

A. She was originally a patient of mine, a really nice lady who had a calming manner, which I was drawn to. She came with many recommendations and is a great help to me.

Q. Do you know why you lost your staff? Was it to do with them burning out, or another reason?

A. I have learned over the years that you can never expect the same level of commitment from your staff as you expect from yourself, it has taken me time to come to this conclusion. They were busy but not nearly as busy as me. I guess they didn’t share my clinic’s vision for Redcliffe.

4 of the staff who left moved out of the area, and the most loyal of these staff left to travel the world indefinitely, so a change of location and desire to travel are major reasons why people have left my team, for this there is no answer- people have to live their lives!

One fellow who left wasn’t getting enough hours and started a fulltime position elsewhere, although I was disappointed when he told me that “his heart wasn’t in the Physio profession” and then a month later I see him in a competitor’s shirt. The situation that really got to me was a Physio who left and started working for a competitor, and he found out about them as I paid for him to go through a training programme which I paid for! He wasn’t the right fellow for our clinic, his work ethic and level of commitment was very low, so thankfully we realised this early on.

Staff are definitely the biggest issue in my business, and every day I’m trying to think of better ways to keep them happy.

burnout in physiotherapistsNick Schuster is a Brisbane based physiotherapist who has treated more than 5,000 patients and performed more than 50,000 consultations in his clinic Scarborough Physio and Health. He loves helping people in pain to find out what is wrong in their body, to get out of pain fast, and get back to living the lives they deserve.

Nick wrote his first book “Why am I in Pain?” to help people in pain to understand the science of pain in a simplified way and to understand how their injuries, general health and daily lifestyle contributes to how much pain they suffer from. The book gives simple tips and strategies to change the way you think about pain in order to get out of pain, and get back to living life.

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Image: supplied by Nick Schuster

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  1. Cal Driver says:

    Thanks so much for this post! You’re right—physiotherapists can get really overwhelmed by working with so many different people in such stressful, emotional situations. I really feel for Mr. Schuster. It’s definitely an exhausting field. Great post.

  2. A physio says:

    Typical physio business owner, pushes his physios to burn out by forcing them to see a new patient every 15-20 min (like how he said above, 20 min consultation is unethical, its just so he can make more money) then when the physio leaves to a better workplace, which all Australians have the right to do, since they are not your slaves, you call him out on it as if you own him? Do you force physios to work for you under unethical conditions for the rest of their life? otherwise they are bad physios and you lucky you realised early? Mate whom are you kidding? You didn’t realise early they leave you because you are just a money hungry business owner, don’t blame hard working physios for your greed

  3. A real physio says:

    A typical greedy money hungry business owner and an unethical physio bad mouthing hard working physios who refuse to turn their profession into a slaughter factory by being forced to seeing 4 patients every hour just so the business owner can make more money while providing no value for patients seen for a bloody 15 min consultations

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