KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — More healthcare workers are leaving the field. According to a study from the Morning Consult, a global decision intelligence company, nearly 1 in 5 health care workers quit their jobs during the pandemic. Many of them left because they said they weren't paid enough.
They also cited concerns about COVID-19 and burnout as reasons to hand in their resignations. About 50% said they left to seek better pay or benefits.
There have always been high turnover rates among emergency workers, but the pandemic has made things even worse. Anderson County EMS Director Nathan Sweet said they’re seeing more calls than they did before the pandemic.
"It did add a lot of stress," he said. "Our call volume as a whole has significantly increased and it's not just overdoses, it's not just COVID, it's really, it's everything.”
A survey from the American Ambulance Association also found that nearly a third of the workforce left their company after less than a year.
Tristen Sellers was an advanced EMT in Knox County for around 10 years. She said she worked at the University of Tennessee Medical Center for around 5 years before that.
"I was in a very dark place," Sellers said. "Going into a field like EMS, emergency medical services, where you do see other people's worst days every day. when you get on that truck, that's what you're doing."
She left the field at the height of the pandemic after she said seeing traumatic experiences became normal. On top of that, Sellers had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
"I was making, after 10 years of service, $12.48 an hour," she said.
She's not the only one who struggled with low wages. Emily Lawrence has been an EMT for 16 years. She said she started at only $9 per hour or around $17,750 per year.
"We get horrible pay," Lawrence said.
Many are leaving the field to find better pay, and many are finding higher-paying roles easily. Target’s average hourly pay for starting employees is usually more than $15. At Starbucks, it's also $15 an hour and the company plans to raise their minimum wage to $17 in the summer. Hobby Lobby now pays $18.50 an hour.
At $15 per hour, former emergency workers can take home around $31,200 per year.
It's more than double what many emergency workers made in the field. Lawrence said there is something wrong with the way people are paid when people caring for others can't even afford to go to the doctor themselves.
Most of the time, she said emergency workers are paid so little that they don't even have insurance for themselves. She said she can see why people are getting out.
"So now on top of the stressful pandemic that we're going through, we're also going home and working a second job," she said.
When she leaves her job as an EMT, she said, she goes straight to another. She is working three jobs just to pay bills and live a normal life.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, EMTs earn about 40% less than the average employed American. It is ranked around one of the worst-paid medical jobs.