Should You Stay, Or Should You Go?

health care workers

The media is calling it The Great Resignation — a title meant to represent the millions of people who have quit their jobs since the pandemic began and the millions more who may be thinking about quitting now.

The Labor Department recently put some numbers to the situation, reporting that more than 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs in November of 2021, the highest number ever seen in the two decades the government has been gathering statistics in the area.

Health care was one industry especially affected, and anecdotal evidence suggests respiratory therapists are among those making a move or at least thinking about it.

What figures into the decision to stay or go? Here’s what a few AARC members had to say about what motivated them to move on from one job to the next during their careers — or stay put where they were.

Changing priorities

An RT on the East Coast who says she was lucky to have multiple job offers when she first got out of RT school. She did clinical rotations at all of them and ended up choosing the one that seemed to offer her the most professional growth.

But that didn’t mean she was going to stay forever. She eventually left to take a promotion at another facility. Then her priorities changed, and she decided to take a job at a hospital where she knew the department director and felt like there would be a greater chance for long-term benefits.

Now she is teaching RT students at two different schools and says that if she had to choose one over the other, she would definitely select the one receiving a higher level of support from administration. This program has the appropriate space, a simulation room, a complete PFT lab, and an array of ventilators and other resources that she says the other program can only dream about at this point in time.

The bottom line for this RT: It’s all about professional development and state-of-the-art facilities.

Tired of the daily grind

Our next example comes from a Midwest therapist who isn’t thinking of leaving his current job. Instead, with 43 years in the profession under his belt, his next move will be into retirement.

But he has been in a position to change jobs over the years. In the late ‘80s, he was getting tired of the daily grind in the ICU and wanted something different. He got the chance to become a member of the first ECMO team at a well-known academic medical center in the South and jumped at it.

It was the ultimate application of everything he ever learned in school. And on top of that, it allowed him to be part of a true medical team, where all the disciplines worked together for the good of the patient. He went on to manage ECMO teams and enjoyed doing what he now calls “amazing things.”

Eventually, he took a job in administration, but he quickly learned it just wasn’t his passion. Instead, teaching and training are where his heart lay, and now he works in industry, training RTs on a drug delivery system used in the NICU.

The bottom line for this RT: It’s all about being part of a team with a shared commitment to helping clinicians provide excellent care and having leaders who truly understand that it’s about more than just getting the job done. It’s about caring for the team and giving them the support they need to succeed.

Small vs. large

Our next member works at two facilities right now in his community in the Northwest. One is a 50-bed hospital with limited services, such that RTs mainly perform EKGs and SVNs. The hospital doesn’t keep ventilators on hand and seldom sees anyone who is critically ill, other than the occasional NRP infant who is quickly shipped out to a larger facility if he doesn’t quickly improve.

The other hospital is 150 beds and is staffed to care for critically ill patients. RTs manage ventilators, place arterial lines, intubate patients, and participate in a range of other procedures that place their practice closer to the top of their license.

If he had to choose between the two right now, he says he’d be much happier with the larger hospital with a greater diversity in the care provided by RTs.

The bottom line for this RT: The level of work matters.

Weighing needs

Our next member is currently a division manager at a large academic medical center in the South and says that each time in his long career that he has left one job for another it was because he felt like his needs outweighed the needs of his organization. He wanted to grow professionally and challenge himself to do more, and when his current employer couldn’t offer him the right opportunities, it was time to move on.

At the same time, he says there were times when he considered moving on but didn’t because the leadership in his facility recognized his needs and rose up to meet them.

He says money is important, of course, but it isn’t always the determining factor. In his own leadership roles, he’s found showing a true interest in staff matters a lot too. He recalls once being criticized for taking the time to learn about each of his employees, their families, and their life outside of work. His response: they are members of his work family, and by treating them like family, they are all more willing to pull together in times of need.

The bottom line for this RT: It’s all about supportive leadership that values the RT’s service and offers opportunities for advancement, an expanded scope of practice, and participation in departmental decisions through programs like shared governance.

Now money matters

Our next RT has always said that she does her job for love, not money. She enjoyed having the time to truly care for her patients, giving them the right therapy, and also teaching them about their lung conditions.

But the pandemic has changed all that. Her hospital in the South has been inundated with COVID-19 patients, and she says these days there is no such thing as “doing your job properly.” Staff struggle to even get to each patient, and then all they can hope is that the patient doesn’t deteriorate. You never get to know them more than just the “patient in the bed.”

For her, seeing travelers come in and make more money than those RTs who have stuck with the organization hurts. She feels strongly that the pay should be the same, regardless of whether you are stepping in to help in a time of need or have been there all along.

The bottom line for this RT: She’s too close to retirement to leave now, but she does try to speak up on behalf of other team members who are suffering through the same situation.

Sticking power

Our next member has been an RT for 28 years, working in a major academic medical center in the East. She says she chose RT as a career for the stability it would offer her and her family, and over the years, she’s found just that at her current organization.

She’s been promoted, she’s changed roles, and she’s advanced her education to reach her goals all where she’s always been, and now she’s more focused on the intrinsic rewards of her job than the extrinsic.

Over the years, she has been offered jobs at three other places, but she turned them down each time, citing the reputation and respect she’s earned at her current place. She loves the teams she works with, and she feels like she is part of an amazing group of individuals who care passionately about their patients.

The only thing that would entice her to leave her long-time organization at this point would be the chance to work in a less intense environment. So, she’s not actually looking but admits that she’d have to consider it if the right thing were to come along.

The bottom line for this RT: If you find a place where you are respected and recognized and challenged, it’s hard to even think about leaving.

Opportunities and respect

These therapists represent just a few among many, but most of their comments point in the same direction. Money matters, of course, but a few extra dollars per shift one way or the other won’t make up for a less-than-ideal work environment or a lack of recognition and respect.

RTs want to work at a place where they have opportunities to advance their career, and they want to be valued for the role they play. Because of this, it is imperative for managers and administrators to create an environment where RTs are valued. This can be accomplished through the department’s culture, the support given by the organization’s leadership, and by providing access to necessary resources—including human resources. Value, respect, and support set a foundation for employee retention.

In order to protect the identities of the people in this story, we refrained from using their names.

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