It was a very 2022 get-together: women who connected on social media, meeting in person for the first time over wine and hors d’oeuvres at a business that teaches computer coding – to talk about what comes next when you leave a career in health care.
Although it is well established that Americans rarely stay in one career for their entire lives, the “Great Resignation” made that fact undeniable.
“The pandemic made many of us realize what we took for granted – from in-person education to toilet paper,” said Tess Keim, a physician assistant moving out of her career.
A major shake-up is under way in Idaho health care employment
The rate of health care workers quitting their jobs in 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 point since the data began in 2000. Some quit to join staffing companies whose recruiters offered premium pay for work in crisis zones. But some of them left health care altogether.
For some health care workers, the pandemic brought exhaustion and trauma.
Pandemic-driven burnout was not the only reason Keim chose a new career, she said. It wasn’t the only reason her new friends began to leave health care, either.
I always feel like that was my first chosen profession. I feel like there’s a little part of me that wants to have 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 women in businessbonding over their shared history as health care workers and their desire to try something new.
All three women said they’ve felt a mix of pressures over the years, as the business and delivery of health care in the US has changed.
They are not advocating for health care workers to abandon ship, at a time when the industry needs more staff. They also don’t believe that sharing their personal stories will encourage health care 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 that others might feel less alone, have “an easier transition and make them feel a little bit more normal doing it,” she said.
From the trauma ward to a desk job and hat-making
Manning is a longtime respiratory therapist who now works remotely for a health care contractor but is building a business as a hat maker.
Manning just returned from a weeklong apprenticeship in Colorado with a renowned maker of cowboy and Western hats.
Her apprenticeship class included a nurse practitioner, an anesthesiologist and a functional medicine doctor, she said.
Manning has “always” been a respiratory therapist – for 22 years, she said.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
When her family moved to Idaho in 2013, she worked in a trauma ICU.
“My kids were driving age, and it was pretty 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 mental health.”
She left hospital work three years ago, taking a job as a case manager for Medicaid patients. That work 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 severe disease to serving food in Boise
Keim is a physician assistant who works in a small local medical practice but will soon open a Honey Baked Ham store near the Boise Towne Square mall.
Keim worked for a large medical group in the Portland area when the coronavirus took hold in the US in March 2020. She and “several hundred” others were furloughed in the first wave of COVID-19.
“I was given two days’ notice,” Keim said in an email. “It was a scary time for my family as we, like many, relied on two household incomes. This was when I decided to take steps towards taking charge of my own destiny. ”
But she was already starting to feel burnout years ago, after taking a job as a specialist in liver disease.
“My workload increased a lot, and my pay did not, and I would work on Sundays from home just to be caught up and prepared for Monday, and I wasn’t getting paid for that,” Keim said. “That was frustrating to me, and my family time was just really suffering.”
Keim didn’t rush to the exit door. She left in stages. She now works part-time at a small local practice, where she does injection procedures such as Botox and fillers.
“I don’t regret my time taking care of patients as it was truly a privilege and something I’ll always appreciate,” she said.
Helping professions like nursing, medicine and respiratory therapy are in high demand and held in high esteem. They require years of education and training. Workers also become accustomed to shaping their daily lives around unpredictable schedules, working on holidays, night shifts and on-call shifts.
Keim and others said their families and partners at first struggled to grasp a future where they didn’t work in health care; it was such a big part of their lives.
Everyone is behind you when you join the field of medicine but it can be a lonely journey when you want to exit it.
– Tess Keim, physician assistant transitioning to a new career as owner of a Honey Baked Ham restaurant
From health care quality to tech 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, underscoring how much the job can become part of a health care worker’s identity.
She started as a medical-surgical nurse, then moved into bariatric nursing and ran a large program at a hospital outside of Washington, DC She developed a specialty in health care quality and eventually started a graduate program for organizational performance and workplace learning. There, she was exposed to other careers and industries.
She realized she felt pigeonholed in her specialty.
Moore moved to Boise with her family in 2017 and started on an advanced degree to become a nurse practitioner. That lasted only 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 give it serious consideration. She started on the franchise and was just about to launch in early 2020. The pandemic put the brakes on that venture, delaying the iCode Boise debut until 2021.
“If something were to happen in society that, as a nurse, I (would) go back, maybe COVID was it. And I didn’t, ”she said. “So, I don’t know what could happen that would draw me back.”