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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Healthcare is Not Recession Proof

Published December 12, 2008 9:20 AM by Glen McDaniel

One of the things we have always taken as gospel is healthcare is pretty recession proof because people will always need healthcare services. My dad used to say "people will always need to eat and will always get sick" when describing the most stable professions to get into. Economists and popular writers pretty much second that statement.

With the economy in a tailspin worldwide, companies folding and the unemployment rate going up, one wonders if healthcare will still be immune. I was speaking to a nurse just yesterday who said the agency for which she works is now calling her less for last minute assignments at area hospitals. In her last paycheck they also sent out a memo saying the traditional bonuses (based on nurses most willing to take last minute shifts and work in some hospitals) would be scaled back this quarter.

While people will use healthcare if they absolutely must, healthcare is not going to be totally unaffected by the recession. Elective procedures will be delayed because of more pressing priorities. People are losing health insurance along with jobs so hospitals and doctors will see lower revenues, a higher level of unreimbursed care and bad debt.

Some hospitals might scale back services or close patient floors. The use of per diem staff will decrease and regular employees might have to work more unattractive hours or face a cut in their hours.

I have friends in different healthcare professions who, due to job cuts in other industries in the last 4 months, have suddenly become the only bread winner in a family where previously both spouses worked.

I was asked by a friend in retail to give some suggestions on how to weather the recession. Actually, the same advice holds true for most people, including those of us in healthcare:

  • Start stashing away as much cash as you can each paycheck. Experts suggest an emergency fund of 3 to 6 months that is very liquid and easy to get to (savings or money market).
  • Make yourself as visible and indispensable as possible at work, from volunteering to work extra to offering suggestions to being visible to your boss. You need to be the person first thought of as a "go to" person and therefore one of the last considered for lay off.
  • Be flexible with your schedule. Now is not the time to argue about working nights or weekends. In fact, you might be proactive and come up with creative ideas such as four 10 hour shifts to provide cross-shift coverage while saving on gas by going to work 4 days instead of 5.
  • Consider taking a second job. Interestingly, many part-time jobs will crop up as organizations try to staff up only "as needed." This should allow you to increase income while hedging your bets in case one of the employers cuts back.
  • Like everyone else, reduce consumption wherever possible.

I am interested to see if anyone has been affected by the recession so far, and also what everyone is doing (yes, "everyone!") to minimize the effects of the downturn in the economy.

3 comments

JP:

I feel your pain, and I empathasize completely. Yesterday I saw a feature on CNN in which they identified healthcare (and CLS by name!) as one of the safe profession to get into in these uncertain times.

I also read in the latest copy of ASCLS Today about a CLS who convinced a friend (a graphic artist) who was struggling financially and no longer enjoyed her work to get into CLS. This friend has now graduated with an AS degree as a CLT and is ecstatic with her pay and loves her job.

It is true people will always get sick and need the services of health care practitioners like CLSs and CLTs. However for people like JP it is lttle comfort to say " you are in a great profession where you will always have work". It is difficult to suddenly find yourself the sole breadwinner in  a family, to have hours cut, or to make subsistence wages.

For these people-and for all of us, really- I still advocate the strategies in the initial post.  These times call for thinking outside the box and as Jason suggests, "making it" might even necessitate moving to where the grass is greener.

I know one person who works a Baylor shift at one hospital (32 hrs in

one weekend) at one hospital and then pick up 2 days somewhere else. So for a 4 day week she gets paid weekend differential, 48 hours total pay, overtime sometimes if she works more than 8 hours/day at her second job.

I heard from one reader who has sold his car, rented out his house in Florida and now travels as a tech with all expenses paid (housing, transportation etc). The rent more than covers his mortgage. He picks up extra hours whenever he can at client hospitals where he is a traveling tech. In between assignments he rents a room from his brother and sister in law.

Another CLS reports she gets paid a flat $100 for working in a 3-physician clinic lab for 4 hours every Saturday. She approached one of the physicians with the idea and he jumped at it because of the convenience to his patients and he knew her reputation from a  local hospital where he also practices.

Again: do what you can where you are, think creatively, be bold and proactive, be prepared to work more, be willing to move to where the work is.

Glen McDaniel March 18, 2009 4:25 PM
Atlanta GA

Hey JP, I understand that you are having a hard time finding work,  I work contract work on 13 week intervals, and trust me there is not lack of work out there.  I have been traveling constantly for 4 years now all around the country, and the companies I work for never have a problem finding me work.  That to me indicates that there is work out there.  Maybe not where you are located, so you might have to relocate.  Its the nature of the beast, you can sit where you are and hope something opens up, or you can do something about it.  There is a reason why some people are able to find jobs that pay them well, because they are willing to go get them.  I have friends that work all around the country that usually start off around 20.00 and hour.  Granted they live in suburban, or metroplolitan areas, but thats where the work is.  

To address your union issue, not a good idea.  I have been to many labs that have been unionized, and many that are not unionized, and the labs that are not union operate much better, and there is a friendly relationship between managment and their personnel.  The thing people do not realize is that it takes work to make administration realize what you do, and what you actually do for them.  I think if they have to deal with a "demand enviroment" they will be more inclined to say you know what we could care less about you.  What does it say to patient care when nurses, or lab, or radiology go on strike.  Make your case, and if administration doesn't like it you can leave.  If enough people leave then they have to change something.  The concept is very similar to market economics.  Supply and demand if you will.  You have to be willing to pick up and move if you have to, thats just the case, and if you are not then well quit your complaining, and find another line of work.

Good luck

Jason Ouellette, lab technician January 1, 2009 3:07 AM

upon grad from a MLT program, i landed a contracted position in the hospital that i did my clinical study.  the pay was excellent and life was great.  the position lasted 7 years and the contract ended.  it was 8 months before i was able to land another job.  7 years experience (Hemo, BloodBank, and Serology) and was offered 10.50 hour plus bene's.  this particular hospital lab was ran/owned by a private lab.  just as nurses have a union, all lab personnel should unite and form a union.  a union would allow better wages/conditions in our field.  we have the power to do this because we cannot be replaced by "average joe"

JP, lab - unemployed December 17, 2008 10:48 AM

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