Money doesn't just talk. It also sleeps.
More than 400 sleep professionals responded to the ADVANCE for Managers of Respiratory Care and Respiratory-care-sleep-medicine.advanceweb.com inaugural salary survey, and the results reflect the booming field. Now more than ever before, bleary-eyed sufferers ask their doctors about sleep problems and get checked into sleep labs.
With this surge in clients, new facilities dot the countryside and, of course, they need workers to keep the operations running. Salaries are competitive because top-notch technologists are hot commodities, and increasing numbers of young professionals are entering the field to fill the voids. Most survey respondents fall between the ages of 31 to 40 and 41 to 50 (34 percent and 39 percent, respectively).
An overwhelming majority (83 percent) said they work in a hospital setting at least part of the time, while 23 percent practice in a freestanding clinic, and 7 percent provide home care. Survey questions about patient volume and staff showed that 42 percent said their facility sees 15 patients or less each week, and the same percentage said their facility devotes between two and four full-time equivalents to sleep services. Thirty-nine percent said the American Academy of Sleep Medicine accredited their sleep lab/center. (For the full salary survey breakdown, click here.)
Now that you know a little bit more about our responders, here's what they had to say about the age-old paycheck puzzler: How much should I be earning?
Keep in mind, however, that this unscientific survey sampled only a small percentage of sleep professionals in the United States. Therefore, the results are part of a picture that's still emerging. At the very least, the findings will give sleep technologists something to talk about around the polysomnography equipment.
Dollars and Cents
About one-third of respondents (31 percent) earn between $40,000 and $49,999, including bonuses. Not too far behind are those who bring home $30,000 to $39,999 (26 percent).
Sixteen (4 percent) fortunate respondents see their yearly salaries reach $80,000 or more. On the other side of the scale, nine people (2 percent) make under $15,000.
Ninety percent of respondents received a raise either this year or last. Fifty-nine percent saw an increase in the 1 percent to 3 percent range; 32 percent said they made 4 percent to 6 percent more.
However, people shouldn't expect raises to go much higher, according to Andrew E. DesRosiers, RPSGT, RRT, MS, director of the sleep disorders center at Holy Family Hospital and Medical Center in Methuen, Mass.
"Unless managed care starts reimbursing more, I don't think you're going to see salaries jumping up besides the 1 to 3 percent for cost of living," he said. "About 25 percent of the hospitals in the country are losing money, and just over 50 percent of hospitals in Massachusetts are in the red. I think for the next couple of years the sleep salaries are going to hold, just like a lot of other fields."
Others seem more optimistic. If the marketplace allows for it, salaries could increase because sleep technologists are in demand these days, said Cynthia Mattice, RPSGT, MS, legislative chair for the Association of Polysomnographic Technologists, member-at-large of the APT board of directors and director of sleep operations at AccuHealth Inc. in Oklahoma City.
"You have a huge investment in your employees," she said. "You spend time and money training them, and with the shortages in well-trained sleep technicians, you do not want to lose them to another sleep lab facility because they offer a little more than you."
The survey results revealed that sleep medicine isn't immune to the gender gap in salaries that is present in most industries. On average, male respondents earned $8,514 more than female respondents ($49,843 vs. $41,329). In terms of number of responses, women edged out men (54 percent vs. 46 percent).
"Some of that difference may be equated with those who have been in the field longer and have gone to different kinds of positions," Mattice said. Survey results showed that female respondents had fewer years in the field than their male colleagues, although the difference was slight. Thirty-nine percent of men had eight years of experience or more compared to 35 percent of women. When looking at respondents with less than four years of experience, 42 percent of males and 46 percent of females fit into that category.
Time in the Field
Overall, 63 percent of responders have less than seven years of experience in sleep medicine, reflecting the field's newness. It's reasonable to expect that the amount of time in the field is a crucial element in determining employees' worth, and the survey results supported this. Rookies (one year or less) earn $35,403, while sleep professionals with 15 years plus make $57,102. Those in the middle of the road with five to seven years of experience earn $44,435, and eight to 10 years receive $48,911.
|Average Salary by Years of Experience
|15+ - $57,102
Almost one-quarter of respondents (22 percent) had at least 10 years of experience, which bodes well for sleep medicine, Mattice said. "That's a pretty positive sign for the future of the field and job satisfaction," she said. "It shows that sleep is a profession that people choose as a lifetime career choice. It's not something they do for a while and move on."
Cry For Credentials
Although the sleep field doesn't require credentials, it appears having them can be a huge asset. Those with at least a RPSGT cashed in $49,205 yearly, compared to sleep technicians (BRPT-eligible) who made significantly less at $37,839.
More than half (53 percent) of the respondents had RPSGT credentials, and about one-third carried the RRT (38 percent) and RCP (36 percent) titles. Twenty-three percent checked off sleep technician, and only a handful (3 percent) had an MD or PhD.
Employers put too much weight in credentials when determining salary, DesRosiers said. "I know a lot of people registered in sleep out there who I wouldn't let treat my mother."
Many qualified, uncredentialed people work in sleep, he said, but they don't get a fair shake when it comes to dollars and cents. "Unfortunately, if they go into some places, they're going to be frowned upon. A RRT or RPSGT probably will get paid more."
Mattice said credentialing and salary can be tricky because the background of sleep technologists varies along with their formal education. In addition, hospital and facility policies factor into the salary equation.
"There has to be some value to the registry status," she said, "yet there also should be some value to years of experience."
When it comes to who gets hired, DesRosiers favors giving recent grads a shot. "I'd rather take a student in college who's hungry and train them than take somebody who has gone to one of these sleep courses," he said. "You can't learn everything in a week."
Mattice agreed that it's hard to absorb all the nuances of sleep in a short course. Instead, she said, these courses make a good augmentation to the education process once a person has several months of on-the-job experience.
Moving On Up
For those dedicated, fast learners, ample opportunity exists to climb the ladder quickly, DesRosiers said. "If you stick with the field, with all these labs opening up everywhere you can move up and be running your lab," he said. "There's someone I trained two years ago and now she's in charge of a 16-bed system."
|Average Salary by Age
|61+ - $80,000
|Under 20- $15,000
Workers can strive for two main supervisory positions, DesRosiers said. The chief tech or main supervisor usually handles much of the scoring, troubleshooting and daily maintenance.
The technical or associate director oversees the chief tech and everyone else on staff. "That person runs the whole show," DesRosiers said. They look at reimbursement issues, insurance, quality improvement and evaluate the competition. Some facilities also will have shift supervisors, Mattice added.
|Average Salary by Job Responsibility
|Sleep Researcher - $55,714
|Sleep Consultant - $55,000
|Sleep Program Administrator/
Director/Manager - $54,272
|Sleep Educator - $47,155
|Other - $44,122
|Hands-on Patient Care - $39,520
According to the survey, 39 percent of respondents had sleep program administrator/director/manager (averaging $54,272) on their resume. But for those in managerial roles, longer hours usually go hand-in-hand with higher salaries.
"I can't remember the last time I worked 40 hours," DesRosiers said.
Where You Work
Job setting doesn't appear to sway salaries: $45,911 for freestanding clinic, $45,547 for hospital and $44,828 for home care. However, the survey shows facility size plays a factor. Most respondents (43 percent) work at a location that has three or four beds at their main facility and earn an average salary ($44,432). People who work in facilities with seven or eight beds listed higher incomes ($52,632).
The region your sleep lab is located in also matters. Those people working in the Pacific states saw the fattest wages ($48,375), while those from the Western area took home the least ($41,167). The higher cost of living and sleep medicine's origins account for this disparity, DesRosiers said. "Sleep started more in the California area, so I can see where people might have been doing it longer and get that yearly increase," he said.
|Average Salary by Region
|Pacific - $48,375
|Southcentral - $48,300
|Northeastern - $47,029
|Northcentral - $43,641
|Southeastern - $43,114
|Western - $41,167
The survey zoomed in a bit closer to compare the differences between metropolitan, suburban and rural facilities. People in suburban facilities ranked at the top. They made $47,483 compared to $44,957 for metropolitan and $42,320 for rural.
DesRosiers isn't shocked that suburbanites get a higher paycheck. "We're 15 to 20 miles north of Boston, and we're seeing our hospital grow while their city hospitals get smaller. That's because nobody wants to go into the cities. The doctors don't want to work there, and they're all coming to suburbs. This is showing a coming trend that not everyone has to go into the city for good care."
Bonuses and Benefits
Not surprisingly, a sizeable portion (33 percent) of respondents works the night shift. But still, more than half (52 percent) punch in during daytime hours. Another 10 percent of respondents rotate their schedules between days and nights.
People average an extra $2.33 per hour for working the night shift and a $2.28 boost for reporting to the office on the weekends. One lucky person got a $25 hourly perk for the weekends, and a few others saw $15 an hour more for overnight employment. However, DesRosiers noted that some places build in a bonus for off-hour work into a person's paycheck right from start.
Benefits have become a more important aspect of employee hiring packages, Mattice said. With the current sleep technologist shortage, employers will use sweeter benefits and sign-on bonuses to entice candidates to their facility over others.
"For an employee, benefits can be the weighing factor between two places," she said.
The importance of these incentives depends on the particular candidate, DesRosiers said. "Family people look at the long-term, such as 401(k) and health insurance, but younger applicants seem to be more interested in just the dollar amount."
Paid continuing education can be a huge perk for those who've been in the field for a long time, Mattice said. "Continuing education opportunities help people advance in their job skills and expand their knowledge base, and that is why the APT offers regional basic and advanced review courses to meet the needs of polysomnographic technologists."
Nearly every respondent reported having at least one benefit. Vacation/sick days led the way with 90 percent, and health insurance followed close behind with 88 percent. Slightly more than half (54 percent) participate in 401(k)/profit sharing.
Those sleep professionals who want to further their education will be happy to know that 58 percent of respondents can collect tuition reimbursement. Forty-two percent receive paid continuing education.
Malpractice/liability insurance and professional association dues rested at the bottom of the list, with 21 percent and 16 percent respectively.
A Healthy Future
For some people, it doesn't matter as much how high their salary stacks up. They prefer to measure their success in terms of job satisfaction and importance. When asked if they would recommend sleep medicine as a profession to others, an astounding 96 percent answered positively. Phrases such as "interesting," "rewarding," "potential for growth" and "security" filled the survey.
Joel Rhodes, BS, RRT, RPSGT, enjoys the one-on-one care he can give in the pediatric lab setting. "Sleep medicine has been good to me," said Rhodes, senior technologist at All Children's Sleep and Breathing Lab in St. Petersburg, Fla. "I make a good salary, and I love working with the kids. It's low stress and low impact compared to a lot of things out there."
Sleep professionals play a significant role in health care and can have a profound effect on society, said Laura Becke, RPSGT, clinical manager for the sleep medicine center at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Sleep is one-third of your life," she said. "If you aren't sleeping well, how can the other two-thirds be productive?"
Mike Bederka is assistant editor of ADVANCE.