It was a very 2022 date: women who connected on social media, meeting for the first time over wine and hors d’oeuvres at a company that teaches computer coding – to speak of what happens next when you leave a career in health care.
While it’s been well established that Americans rarely stay in a career their entire lives, the “Great Resignation” has made that fact undeniable.
“The pandemic has made many of us realize what we took for granted – from in-person education to toilet paper,” said Tess Keim, a medical assistant who left her career.
A major upheaval is underway in health care employment in Idaho
The rate of healthcare workers quitting their jobs during the pandemic has broken records, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – peaking in November at a rate 40% higher than at any time since data began in 2000 Some quit to join recruiting companies whose recruiters offered premium pay for working in crisis areas. But some of them have given up on health care altogether.
For some healthcare workers, the pandemic has brought exhaustion and trauma.
Pandemic-induced burnout wasn’t the only reason Keim chose a new career, she said. Nor was it the only reason her new friends started leaving health care.
I always felt like it was the first job I chose. I feel like there’s a little part of me that wants to pledge allegiance to it.
– Stefania Moore, Registered Nurse and Owner of iCode Boise
Keim, Niki Manning and Stephania Moore connected on a Facebook group for Boise businesswomenbonding over their shared history as healthcare workers and their desire to try something new.
The three women said they felt a mix of pressures over the years as the business and delivery of health care in the United States changed.
They are not advocating that healthcare workers abandon ship, at a time when the industry needs more staff. They also don’t believe that sharing their personal stories will encourage healthcare workers to leave.
“If people are going to leave health care, they’re already in that mindset,” Keim said.
They chose to share their personal stories so others would feel less alone, have “an easier transition, and feel a little more normal doing it,” she said.
From the trauma room to a desk job and hat making
Manning is a longtime respiratory therapist who now works remotely for a healthcare entrepreneur, but is building a business as a hatmaker.
Manning has just returned from a week-long apprenticeship in Colorado with a famous manufacturer of cowboy and western hats.
Her apprenticeship class included a nurse practitioner, an anesthesiologist and a functional medicine physician, she said.
Manning was “always” a respiratory therapist — for 22 years, she said.
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When her family moved to Idaho in 2013, she worked in a trauma intensive care unit.
“My kids were of driving age, and it was quite traumatic and stressful and stuff like that. It just caused me a lot of anxiety,” she said. “I got to a point where I was like, OK, I think I need a change for my sanity.”
She left work at the hospital three years ago to take up a position as a case manager for Medicaid patients. This job gives her more time at her 12-acre property east of Boise, where she has horses and, now, the start of a hat-making business – Indian Creek Hat Co.
From treating serious illnesses to serving food in Boise
Keim is a medical assistant who works in a small local medical practice but will soon be opening a honey ham store near the Boise Towne Square mall.
Keim was working for a large medical group in the Portland area when the coronavirus took hold in the United States in March 2020. She and “several hundred” others were furloughed during the first wave of COVID- 19.
“I received two days notice,” Keim said in an email. “It was a scary time for my family as, like many, we were dependent on two family incomes. It was then that I decided to take action to take charge of my own destiny.
But she was already starting to feel burnt out years ago, after taking a job as a liver disease specialist.
“My workload increased a lot, and my salary didn’t increase, and I was working Sundays from home just to be caught up and prepped for Monday, and I wasn’t getting paid for it,” Keim said. “It was frustrating for me, and my family time really suffered.”
Keim did not rush to the exit door. She left in stages. She now works part-time at a small local practice, where she performs injection procedures such as Botox and fillers.
“I don’t regret the time I spent caring for patients, as it was truly a privilege and something I will always appreciate,” she said.
Helping professions like nursing, medicine and respiratory therapy are in high demand and held in high esteem. They need years of education and training. Workers also become accustomed to shaping their daily lives around unpredictable schedules, working holidays, night shifts and on-call shifts.
Keim and others said their families and partners initially struggled to grasp a future where they did not work in health care; it was such a big part of their life.
Everyone is behind you when you join the medical field, but it can be a lonely journey when you want to get out of it.
– Tess Keim, medical assistant transitioning to a new career as the owner of a Honey Baked Ham restaurant
From the quality of health care to technological education
Moore is a registered nurse who now owns and operates an iCode school in Southeast Boise. She can’t seem to part with her RN license, she says, emphasizing how much work can be part of a healthcare worker’s identity.
She started as a medical-surgical nurse, then moved into bariatric nursing and led an extensive program at a hospital outside of Washington, DC. She developed a specialty in healthcare quality and eventually launched a graduate program for organizational performance and workplace learning. There she was exposed to other careers and industries.
She realized that she felt pigeonholed in her specialty.
Moore moved to Boise with her family in 2017 and began graduate school to become a nurse practitioner. It only lasted a few months.
“I cried every day,” she said. “I was already done with health care.”
Her husband wanted to be a small business owner for a while, she said. He encouraged her to think about it — and, in 2018 and 2019, she started to think about it seriously. She started the franchise and was set to launch in early 2020. The pandemic has dampened that venture, delaying iCode Boise’s debut until 2021.
“If something were to happen in the society that as a nurse I (would) come back to, maybe COVID was it. And I didn’t,” she said. “So I don’t know what could happen that would set me back.”