We asked the question you would not dare to raise in an uncertain job market: How much are your colleagues being paid?
Whether you are renegotiating your salary or evaluating new job offers, knowing your market value is invaluable information. Thanks to our 1,557 salary survey respondents, we can tell you the factors that are shaping salaries across the nation.
Stagnant salaries due to the economic downturn are beginning to revive. Our salary survey data show respiratory care and sleep medicine professionals make on average $30.90 for each hour of work and $59,132 annually. A lucky 42 percent received pay increases, up from 9 percent last year. Most of this group (45 percent) was rewarded with a 3 percent to 5 percent pay hike.
Half of all raises were merit-based. One-quarter were cost-of-living increases. And 9 percent were from job changes. Another 9 percent saw the number on their paycheck tick upward after a promotion. Seven percent can thank their unions: They received a raise mandated by collective bargaining.
But not every paycheck got a boost. Six percent experienced a salary decrease. One in five of them lost 10 percent of wages or more, and one-half lost between 5 and 10 percent. Thirty-seven percent of these workers experienced decreased work hours, and a further one-third had a salary reduction or was no longer paid a shift differential.
Over the past year, 36 percent of all respondents have seen their benefits reduced or eliminated, and 2 percent have had all benefits reduced or eliminated.
"When I first got into health care, it used to be a great benefit to have health insurance through hospitals," said Peggy Innocenti, RRT, a 30-year veteran who recalls when her plan had no copays or deductibles. "This is not the case anymore. Our health insurance costs keep going up just like everyone else."
Those higher costs have people putting off procedures and tests, and low patient census has resulted in reduced staff deployment within many hospitals. Three percent of all respondents to our salary survey lost their job within the past year.
"Every day that I come in to work, I say to myself, 'I'm really fortunate to still be employed,'" said Innocenti, director of respiratory care/sleep center at St. Joseph Healthcare in Bangor, Maine. "It is just really scary out there."
Respiratory and sleep professionals are enjoying much better job security than other sectors of the workforce, but that does not mean their family members have been as blessed. One-third of all respondents said their overall family financial picture has changed over the past 12 months. Of that number, one-third said they or a spouse has decreased work hours, 20 percent said they or a spouse is no longer working, and 12 percent said they or a spouse took a pay cut.
Thirty-one percent of respondents have changed their work plans based on the economy, with 15 percent picking up additional hours or a side job, 6 percent delaying retirement, 5 percent delaying going back to school, and 3 percent delaying a cutback on hours. About 1.5 percent of respondents returned to the workforce because of the economy.
Getting ahead in a specialty
One strategy in a down economy to is to hunker down and beef up your skill set so that you come out ahead when the turbulence subsides. In the next three years, respondents have their sights set on 1,926 credentials and degrees.
"That will make them the pick of the litter," Innocenti said. "If there are only a few jobs out there, they're the ones most likely to be hired."
Finishing off a bachelor's of science degree is a top priority for 15 percent of respondents. Ten percent will enter specialty care by earning a RRT-NPS, and an equal amount will work toward the AE-C credential. Seven percent have a RPFT credential in their sights. Salaries in specialized settings offer extra compensation. Full-time neonatal/pediatric specialists took home $61,064 annually. Pulmonary function technologists earned $61,235 annually.
Sleep tech dreams
Despite receiving the second highest hourly wage ($35.17), those in sleep disorders draw in an annual take of $55,859. "Right now, that is a very profitable service; it is going to pay," said Andrew DesRosiers, MS, RRT, RPSGT, director of the Caritas Centers for Sleep Medicine in Caritas Christi Health Care System in Methuen, Mass. But the wage and demand for sleep technologists might drop after lower reimbursement rates for polysomnography kick in Jan. 1.
Those sleep centers looking to hire are turning more toward credentialed professionals. Eight percent of respondents plan to earn the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists-backed RPSGT credential, and 3 percent will pursue its brand-new entry level CPSGT.
The National Board for Respiratory Care offers another credentialing option for respiratory therapists who want to enter the sleep field. Three percent of respondents will pursue the NBRC's RRT-SDS credential, and 1.5 percent will start off with their CRT-SDS credentials.
Those who accomplish both the BRPT and NBRC's pathways, cash in an average annual paycheck of $62,234, which is $10,280 more than their RPSGT-only peers bring home.
RRT vs. CRT: Which pays off?
There also is good news for the 15 percent of respondents who plan to sit for the RRT exam in the next three years: The advanced respiratory care credential is worth the effort. RRTs earned nearly $4 more per hour than their CRT counterparts ($29 vs. $25.36). However, CRTs closed the gap in annual wage, earning $58,318 to RRTs' $60,397.
Overtime hours appear to punch up CRT-holders' salaries. Fifty-seven percent of CRTs worked overtime this year compared to 49 percent of their advance credential counterparts. CRTs also put in more overtime, with 5 percent (vs. 2 percent of RRTs) spending an average of an extra 12 hours a week at work.
The power of education
Patient educator roles offer a backdoor to big bucks. Consider this: Sleep facility positive airway pressure/education coordinators reported earning more than any other full-time sleep facility role, at $74,046 annually.
What explains their higher wage? "When you look at a core respiratory therapist who is managing ventilators in the ICU, it appears they are just a cost," DesRosiers said. "If there are additional billing codes for a service, you can see that they are bringing in money and hence, they make more."
Asthma educators and respiratory educator/education program directors also are reaping the rewards of this trend. Respiratory educator/education program directors netted $70,745. Asthma educators cleared $55,715, but they did so by working fewer hours than staff therapists, $54,042. Their hourly pay of $31.35 is $5 more than staff therapists' rate.
Those in academia can land a job near the top of the salary pile. Full-time academic faculty bring in $36.51 hourly, $75,404 annually. Clinical researchers are not far behind; they earn $66,600 a year.
That surprised DesRosiers. "I couldn't even pay my rent when I did research," he said. "I had to get other jobs." But much has changed in the 15 years since he earned $33,000 as a chief research tech in New York City. New pharmaceutical research and those who study interventional pulmonology and bronchoscopy likely drive those higher wages, he said.
What is not surprising is that older professionals are hanging onto their jobs longer due to the economic slump. Eight percent of our survey respondents are within retirement age (60 to 69 years old), but less than 2 percent plan to retire in the next two years. "That is what I see locally as well," DesRosiers said. "People are delaying."
But new opportunities are on the horizon. Ten percent said they plan to leave the profession in the next five years - marking a significant rise from the 6 percent who answered affirmatively in our 2009 salary survey. Specialties expecting the largest retirement rates over the next five years are academia (22 percent), acute care (13 percent), critical care (11 percent), respiratory care (10 percent), and sleep (7 percent). In six to 10 years, retirement begins for a larger segment: 17 percent.
Those openings cannot come soon enough for new grads looking for their start. "There is not a full-time respiratory position available in my city," said Will Hayes, CRT, who has been in the profession for two years. He started job searching when he heard that his employer is closing the Mississippi branch where he works as a home care therapist.
Over the past two years, 78 percent of graduates found jobs within three months after leaving school, and another 15 percent waited six months. Only a dogged 4 percent hung onto their career goal 10 months or longer before getting that first job.
So what can new professionals expect once they secure a job in their favored field? New graduates working full time in respiratory for less than a year make $22.15 hourly and $40,518 annually. Newbies in the sleep field make $17.95 hourly and $31,246 annually.
Career satisfaction rate remains high as ever: 94 percent agree that the profession affords them a good quality of life. "It is very satisfying to successfully treat a sleep apnea patient and hear them say how much better they feel in the morning," said Louise Dover, RPSGT, of Alabama.
And after 20-plus years in respiratory care and more than 43 years in the medical field, Judy Woehler, RRT, of Nebraska, still loves her job. "Helping people feel better and breathe better with a smile on their faces makes the days a lot better," she said.
Contact Kristen Ziegler at email@example.com.