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Health Professionals Share Their Candid (and Mixed) Feelings About the Field

The new study is one of the first to shed light on what's on the minds of a wide range of health care professionals, from nurses to occupational therapy specialists to physicians’ assistants.

August 9, 2005
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Many health care employees had little trouble finding a job and they arrived at their positions with high expectations, according to a new study. While those expectations aren't always being met, many employees still recommend the field to their friends.

Surveys have been conducted before within individual professions, such as physical therapy, but it's unusual for one study to examine so many different health care jobs. The Bernard Hodes survey, in partnership with Advance Newsmagazines, was conducted in fall 2004. It included both numerical results from 1,045 employees in nursing fields and 1,721 respondents in allied health disciplines, as well as anonymous comments from hundreds of employees.

Among the highlights:
 
Many health care employees are finding jobs quickly. In respiratory care, 75 percent of employees found their current jobs within one month and 42 percent within one week. And in health information fields, 61 percent found jobs within one month and 29 percent within a week. Says one respondent, "There are few fields, like health information management, where opportunities are so numerous. Many careers are locked into one choice or one job function, but we have many to select from." Bernard Hodes says these results serve as a reminder to employers that "rapid response to a candidate's résumé or inquiry is imperative."

Some employees feel underappreciated. The No. 1 reason that physical therapists leave jobs is that they don't feel valued. Thirty percent of PTs left their last jobs for that reason. The next most common reason was a lack of growth potential (26 percent). Respiratory care practitioners had similar sentiments. Says one respiratory care employee, "I would not recommend this profession. We are severely underpaid and taken for granted. I can honestly say you do begin to feel like the redheaded stepchild."

Expectations aren't being met. Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurse practitioners were disappointed in some things they found after taking their jobs. Prior to coming on board, more than 40 percent expected their employers to be caring. More than 30 percent expected their employers to be flexible. Many also believed their employers were dedicated to employee development. Once they arrived, they found something quite different. Not even 10 percent of nurses say that their employers are caring, flexible, open to employee feedback or dedicated to employee development.

People are finding jobs through friends. Among occupational therapy practitioners, for example, employee referrals are the top source of hires and the No. 1 way people say they both look for and find jobs. Because they're such a cost-effective sourcing method, Bernard Hodes recommends that employers not be stingy in paying for employee referrals.

Diversity is lacking. Ninety-one percent of imaging professionals are white. Bernard Hodes says that the industry needs to promote its jobs to students, guidance counselors and teachers. It also suggests that many of the minorities working in housekeeping and maintenance jobs can be trained to work in imaging. One employee in a speech-language pathology/audiology job says, "The true lack of diversity must change. The world is becoming browner and browner and we must have speech-language pathologists that represent the entire spectrum of the world. It is primarily a blond/blue-eyed field."

The pride outweighs the pain. Employees in speech-language pathology and audiology often complain of low pay and brutal caseloads. Still, some of them recommended the field to young people. One employee says that people who choose the field should brace themselves for heavy debt, lots of schooling, a lack of time and a pile of work to bring home at night. Still, says the same employee: "Be prepared to meet more kinds of people than you ever dreamed of and know you will help some of the most vulnerable people in the world who will never be able to tell you just how important your work is."

Medical techs also were asked to describe their feelings. Common sentiments were undervalued (60 percent), challenged (47 percent) and overworked (38 percent). The most common, however, was proud--68 percent.

They'd do it all over again. Seventy-eight percent of physician assistants say they would follow the same career goal again. Says one assistant: "I enjoy having the opportunity to make a difference in my patients' lives."

--Todd Raphael

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