The RT Job Market is Booming. Should You Be Looking Around?

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COVID-19 put a major strain on the health care system, with many areas of the country suffering from a severe shortage of key clinicians needed to care for the seemingly never-ending influx of patients.

Respiratory therapists are now experiencing the most robust job market the profession has seen in a long time as a result. However, with demand rising and supply low, some RTs may think that now is the time to look around for that next, better opportunity.

We talked to four RT managers to see how the new demand for therapists impacts their hospitals and what they believe it all means for the profession.

Fighting for staff

Lyn Harper, MPA, BSRT, RRT, AE-C, is director of respiratory care services at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, NY. Right now, she’s struggling to fill three full-time and at least four PD positions in her department. She posted one of the positions a couple of weeks ago, and the only applicants so far have been two new grads.

That isn’t really what she’s looking for.

“We’re starting a new cardiac surgery program, and it’s impossible to find experienced RTs,” Harper said.

She’s not the only manager in her area feeling the pressure either.

“In other local medical centers, there are upward of 10 or 12 FT positions,” she said.

Her colleague in nearby New Jersey is feeling similar pain.

“We are fighting in the area for staff,” said David Woldow, BA, RRT, EMT, who heads up the department at Acuity Healthcare in Atlantic City. Salaries are rising to attract new therapists, and he says he’s seen pool rates of $47-$50 per hour.

Since the going rate for current staff with 10 years’ experience currently runs around $42-$45 per hour, it’s no wonder people are looking.

“One hospital changes rates and the others are following in a few months,” he said.

Unfortunately, the lack of RT schools in the area exacerbates the problem. While two schools are developing programs, they will both be four-year programs, which Woldow says doesn’t bode well for any quick help.

“I really think we need the workforce now and can’t wait the two extra years,” he said.

Fierce competition

Over in the Midwest, Aaron Shepherd, MHA, RRT, director of respiratory therapy at the University of Missouri Health System in Columbia, is seeing a very competitive job market as well.

“The market was competitive before the pandemic started, and it has become even more challenging this past 1.5 years,” he said.

He wants therapists to take a breath before deciding to make any changes, especially when it comes to pay.

“Each institution has a different compensation strategy, and you need to take compare all of the benefits,” he said. “In my opinion, finding a place that makes you happy is more important than a few extra dollars. Find the right fit for you that aligns with your career goals.”

The burgeoning job market even impacts the pediatric sector, which, by all accounts, was spared the worst of the pandemic. For example, Katlyn Burr, MSM, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, is director of respiratory care and sleep medicine at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE, where the increasing demand for therapists is impacting her ability to hire.

“RTs are more cautious when making decisions and taking multiple interviews and opportunities,” she said.

Burr believes IT has created a new space that is also drawing some therapists away from the traditional hospital setting.

“Previously disengaged or ambivalent associates are exploring their options, increasing turnover,” she said.

The upside

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While the current shortage of therapists is causing pain in RT departments across the country, the demand is creating opportunities for the profession, say these managers.

“We’ve been placed in the spotlight as a result of this pandemic,” emphasized Shepherd. “We need to be proving our value over and over again, so the world doesn’t forget how important RTs are when this respiratory pandemic finally subsides.”

Harper agrees the demand has its good points. Not only will salaries be positively affected, but hospitals are also learning how hard it is to care for patients when the RT department is not fully staffed.

“It also affects the way new services are started and run when RTs are not available – such as with our new CVICU,” she said.

Burr says we can’t lose sight that the RT shortage is creating burnout among the therapists who are still on the job, but long-term, she too sees much traction for the profession from the current situation.

“To capitalize on this traction, RTs should be doing our part to elevate and advocate for the profession,” she said. “Exposure to students, education within the community, and RT presence within the legislation are all ways to ensure this occurs.

Three great tips

So, what’s the best way to go about navigating this new, heated up job market for RTs? Katlyn Burr offers three great tips –

  1. Be true to yourself. Are the decisions and changes you are making going to help or hurt your long-term career goals? Is this the right fit and path for you to be successful? If you are true to yourself and your professional desires when you are making decisions, you will never look back and regret your decision-making.
  2. Take some time to self-reflect. In this environment, employers want staff fast. Don’t make hasty decisions based on fear, spite, or someone else’s timelines. Take the time and do your research to feel ultra-confident in your decisions. They can be life-changing!
  3. Money is not everything. Do a long-term financial analysis that includes base pay, shift differential, credential pay, bonus, overtime opportunities, clinical ladders, sign-on bonuses, etc. Factor in the things that are not monetary in this analysis, such as benefits, paid time off, scheduling, advancement opportunities, and so forth. While money is a factor in decision-making, it should be considered holistically. Money does not make a bad environment feel good. Money does not create good relationships with co-workers and leaders. Money does not create future career opportunities.