when disaster strikes

Monday, May 23, 2011

It often takes a disaster to appreciate why career planners get it wrong. A variety of employment websites talk about the next best job, the best recession proof job, the job with the best financial upside or under the radar jobs that require less training. Perhaps the most important job search criteria not mentioned is passion. The response from the medical personnel at St. John’s Medical Center in Joplin is a reminder why people enter the medical profession. The dedication to care for patients outweighs the risk to personal safety and even the responsibility to family.

Stories are emerging from St. Johns of nurses moving patients to safety while windows were exploding and equipment was flying through the air. But the commitment begins when the dust settles. Thousands of injured arrived at the local hospitals for care and the staff had the option of leaving and sorting out what damage befell their personal life or stay on duty and care for those needing help. Overwhelmingly the doctors and nurses, technicians and cleaning staff stayed. This is a not a unique event .With every natural disaster, the same story emerges as hospital personnel work endless hours to care for others while neglecting their own needs.

Employment websites promote statistics about baby boomers entering their golden years and qualifying for Medicare and how nurses will be in high demand. During the latest recession, even as unemployment rose throughout the economy, jobs were being added to the health care field. The list of jobs includes not only nurses but x-ray and lab technicians, physical therapy assistants, and a myriad of other behind the scene people who make the engine that is medicine run smoothly. The discussions fail to talk about the most important part of the compensation package and that is personal satisfaction.

There is a special skill that potentially cannot be taught. The ability to perform at the bedside requires more than technical skill. The art of medicine and nursing combines knowledge with the passion and compassion needed to care for patients. Personal responsibility and ethical behavior are nurtured by example and are taught generation to generation. While newer nurses and doctors have different lifestyle expectations for their medical careers than their predecessors, the commitment to help others is usually as strong.

Career and personal life balance has become an important topic in training programs with home responsibilities becoming more of a priority. When disaster strikes, the need to help remains strong. Joplin was the latest example of people rushing into potential danger. Similarly, doctors and nurses ran into a flooding hospital to help during Hurricane Katrina. The images and memories endure of the police officers and firefighters who entered the World Trade Center as it collapsed. Around the world, people serve at great personal risk as witnessed by the recent hospital bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed six and wounded twenty.
Of course, it would be hard to fill a job whose description included working long hours including nights, weekends and holidays, exposing oneself to disease and infection, and asking for extra commitment in times of emergency. Add pay that is under pressure because of a failing economy, the risk of lawsuits and you would think that nobody would apply. Surprisingly, people want these jobs and are willing to pay thousands of dollars to get the training needed. Not surprisingly, people do it because they care. But that wouldn’t make headlines.

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