For the right kind of person, working in a hospice or a long-term healthcare facility can be a very rewarding experience.
"You have to be compassionate, not easily shocked, and very caring," declares Sandy Williams, an administrator with California Hospice Foundation. "It takes a very special disposition to work with those who have been handed a sentence of six months or less to live."
Although the hospice concept is not new, it was not until in the 1980s that it was offered readily as an alternative to end-of-life care.
"Many people want to be home in their own surroundings at the end of their lives rather than in a sterile hospital. It’s a very peaceful, comforting thing," observes Londoner Dr. Cicely Sanders, considered the mother of the modern hospice movement. "And those in this profession seem to emulate a peaceful space about them."
The jobs in hospice include registered and vocational nurses, touch therapists, physicians, social workers, spiritual counselors, and administrators. As the movement grows, so do job opportunities.
Life on the Ward
The decision to move to a convalescent hospital can be stressful for both patient and family.
"Working in any type of convalescent setting is hard, but it’s also very rewarding," notes Kathleen Smith, activity director at El Camino Convalescent Hospital in Carmichael. "I make sure the residents have fun things to do to increase their quality of life without patronization and loss of their dignity."
A convalescent facility involves all levels of patient care – from those who are recovering from surgery or going through some form of rehab, to those who cannot care for themselves and will not be returning home.
"Most of our staff has some nursing background," says Smith. "We serve people with all stages of difficulties, so employees must be organized, caring, compassionate and loving, but also able to handle stressful situations in a peaceful manner."
For Smith, the hardest aspect of her job is leaving the residents behind when she closes her office door at the end of the day. "I wish I could take them home with me and somehow turn back the clock," she muses. "In some cases we are their only family and we will be with them until the end. Some people might say I care too much."
Because people are living much longer, long-term healthcare provides excellent career opportunities. "The levels of care in facilities such as ours are increasing along with medical technology," Smith reports. "For example, antibiotics have made huge advancements in the past few years and that has allowed people to be functional longer."
Home Sweet Home
Shirley Cohen, owner of Home Sweet Home Care in San Francisco, began working in elder home care for personal reasons. "My career choice was in response to refusing to place my mother in a nursing home," she recalls.
"Finding an appropriate nursing home can create a lot of worry because some have had reports of uneven care," she states. "There are many random problems that arise that most want to insulate their parents from having to experience. For example, sometimes a resident wants to read quietly in bed later into the night but the regulations require lights out at 9pm.
"So, I set out to find her the help to stay at home." Cohen discovered that employing a caregiver is a viable alternative to the nursing home choice. In fact, she found so many great caregivers that the word spread to friends and neighbors who wanted help with their aging parents. She began to realize also that this career helped body and soul.
"I call entering into caregiving a win-win situation," she says. "It provides help for sons and daughters, support and attention to seniors in their later life, plus we find good jobs for big-hearted caregivers."
The caregiver application process is strict – each applicant is screened, and prior experience is paired with a senior’s needs. For example, Cohen says she never places neophytes with an Alzheimer’s patient because not everyone has the psychological makeup and skills to deal with the challenge. The same is true with victims of stroke or Parkinson’s disease. Only those with extensive end-of-life care experience are assigned to in-home hospice care because this is a difficult transition for the entire family.
The Daily Routine
The daily work schedule can include assisting with personal care such as bathing and personal hygiene, helping to keep clothing laundered and in good condition, and light housekeeping.
"Our caregivers are not Cinderellas who watch the ‘soaps’ all day," she jokes. "They run the vacuum once a week, make the meals and shop for groceries if needed." They are often available to escort seniors on errands and medical appointments.
Cohen is quick to point out that her service is nonmedical, although the caregivers do encourage exercise and remind elders about taking their medications.
"I think those who excel in this profession are those who have a personal background of care and respect for seniors," she says. "I think other cultures have a more loving connection with seniors being at home and revered as they grow older, rather than seeing them as old people who have outlived their usefulness."
The job opportunities in the home healthcare field continue to grow as the huge baby boomer population approaches retirement. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, home care jobs are projected to increase 44 percent over the next seven years, making it one of the fastest-growing occupational fields.
Moving a loved one to new surroundings can be traumatic, whether it’s a hospice, nursing home or assisted-living center. But as Cohen reminds us, "employing a caregiver is an alternative to that choice. We believe that home is where the heart should stay."
For more information on healthcare careers, visit these websites:
AllNursingSchools.com – Access detailed information on any college or school of nursing. Linked to online and continuing education programs.
HealthcareJobstore.com – Healthcare job openings include nurse practitioner, medical director, emergency physician, pharmacist, research associate, paramedic, etc.
HealthCareerWeb.com – A part of CareerWeb.com, provides job searching and resume posting for all healthcare fields. Other resources include an Education Center and Career Services with links to resume services and articles on career and job-hunting advice.
HospitalJobsOnline.com – Thousands of jobs are posted on this site by hospitals, healthcare companies, and staffing and recruitment firms.
MedCareers.com – Healthcare career site with job listings and resume posting.
MedHunters.com – Healthcare job board with over 14,000 jobs at hundreds of hospitals and other direct employers.
MedicalJobsOnline.com – Jobseekers choose a category and browse all listings (no keyword searches). Site includes resume posting and ability to apply online.
MedJump.com – Job listings and resume posting in the medical industry. Search categories include non-medical positions.
Medzilla.com – Provides job listings, articles, forums and resume posting for all healthcare professionals.