Physiology Time Bomb
Wake Up Call for Exercise Physiology Professors
G. Wattles, MS
President of the
Idaho Association of Exercise
I AM UNCERTAIN if
many exercise physiology professors are aware of the current state of employment
prospects that await students once they have graduated. I have compiled
various facts and figures to provide a basic understanding of what students
are faced with when they leave school and the rewards that await them after
dedicating 4 to 5 years to obtain a degree in exercise science.
First, let’s look at what
it is costing the students to obtain the bachelors degree from a college
or university institution. The following figures are based
on the estimated national average cost of college for the 1999-2000 school
year. The yearly cost includes tuition and fees, room and board,
books and supplies, miscellaneous/personal expenses, and travel (1
Currently, it takes most
students 5 years to complete the bachelor’s degree. So based on the
above figures, a bachelor’s degree in exercise science costs in-state students
at a public institution between $44,000 and $54,000. Out-of state
students pay between $65,000 and $81,000 for their education. The
real shocker is that students at private institutions will pay between
$95,000 and $118,000 for their exercise science degree. OUCH!
Once students have graduated,
it’s time to pay back all those students loans. Unless of course
their parents were lucky enough to pick up several thousand shares of Microsoft
stock at the Introductory Price Offering. In order to repay the student
loans within the average 10-year period, at an 8.25% interest rate, students
will pay approximately
$539.67 per month for a
$44,000 loan. This is the minimum it would cost to complete a bachelors
degree in 4 years. Students will pay $674.59 per month if they borrow
$54,000 and do like most
students and take a fifth year to complete the degree. If the students
live in Minnesota and want to attend Michigan State University, they had
better look at the out-of-state tuition fees closely, if not it will cost
approximately $993.49 per month over a 10-year period to repay the $81,000
borrowed to have the honor of being a Spartan over the last 5 years.
Private colleges, where you
are sure to get a better education (haven’t we all heard that), would guarantee
bankruptcy for any recently graduated exercise physiologist I have ever
known. If the students need to rely on student loans to finance their
education, and they use the first year to decide a major (exercise science
of course) and spent 4 more years to complete the degree, they can expect
to pay out $1,447.30 per month for the $118,000 loan. Not to worry though,
the newly graduated exercise physiologists will have a full 6 months to
secure employment within the exercise physiology field before the first
payment is due.
“Stop right there”, you say!
“It is the students choice to get the degree in exercise science; we are
not forcing them into the field”. Right you are, but what you forget
is if the professors continue to pump out students after students with
a degree in which they cannot find a job in, or secure a livable wage in,
how long do you think the field, and how long will the departments survive?
How long will it be until the word gets out that there is NO JOB market
in the field for a graduate with a bachelors degree in exercise science?
The healthcare field is licensing allied health professionals with 2-year
associate and technical degrees and paying the graduates very good starting
salaries (i.e., nurses, COTAs, PTAs, radiation therapists, radiology technicians,
echo tech’s, CT tech’s, and surgical tech’s, etc). How long will
it be until exercise science students start to realize that if they are
going to spend $50,000 and 5 years for an education, then there should
be employment opportunities. The present conditions are simply not
cutting it anymore!
I know people with master’s
degrees in exercise physiology that are wiping down benches at the local
YMCA for $6.50/hr, just so they can say, “at least I am working in my field.”
How long do you think it will be until the nurses, COTAs, PTAs associations
write into “develops and implements exercise programs” their state licensures.
There is a lot of money to be made in the exercise physiology field.
It is a shame that the exercise physiologist will not make it. Finally,
how long do you think it will be until your students start dropping out
of the exercise science programs and new students stop enrolling?
It’s very simple math, no students, no exercise physiology programs.
Honestly, how long do you think the field of exercise physiology will last
if there is no job market and graduates know they will not be able to make
a living? There are very few of those $6.50/hr jobs wiping down benches
left, they have all been filled with former students. Without those
jobs, where will the graduate work?
What can new exercise physiologists
expect to earn in their field? It is very difficult, if not impossible
to locate any national data on exercise physiologists, because those jobs
barely exist. Sure, I can pull up figures here and there to show
certain salaries in different parts of the country, but that is not the
issue. I can go to the Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau
of Labor Statistics and in an instant, pull up the national average salary
for a nurse, a physical therapist, etc. Why is it that there is no
information on exercise physiologists? Until someone can produce
solid facts and figures on exercise physiologists earnings, we will have
to use some figures that are close to the field. The closest I could find
to an exercise physiologist in the Bureau of Labor Statistics is the following:
Instructors and Coaches, Sports and Physical Training. They earn
on average $12.68 per hour or roughly $26,380 per year (2).
To show how that compares to other jobs, the national average hourly earnings
in May 2000 was $13.65 ($28,392 per year) for production and non-supervisory
workers on private non-farm payrolls (3).
Let’s take a look at a few
other healthcare positions. I am in no way trying to simplify these
greatly needed positions. I am simply using them to establish a time
reference to complete their program and the amount of compensation they
receive compared to the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree in
exercise science and the expected compensation that an exercise physiologist
can expect to earn.
An emergency medical technicians
(EMT) average salary in 1998 was $10.75 per hour or roughly $22,360. Completion
of EMT training can be finished within four weeks (4
Licensed practical nurses spends 1 year of education in their program and
can expect to earn on average $13.98 per hour or roughly $28,040 per year.
As expected, as you go from technical programs to 2-year associates programs,
the earnings dramatically increase.
Averages for Selected
Registered Nurses are $20.71
hour or $43,070 per year
are $16.51 hour or $34,340 per year
Radiation Therapists are
$19.88 hour or $41,360 per year
Physical Therapists are
$27.49 hour or $57,190 per year
are $24.65 hour or $51,260 per year
Again, as you progress from
associates to the bachelors degree in healthcare fields, the average wages
increase dramatically. In nearly every case in the healthcare field,
as the level of education and degree status increases, so does the income.
In most cases, the increase is dramatic. Unless of course, you are an exercise
physiologist, because we are not considered a “true profession”.
Remember, I had to close my eyes and select a field I believed to be the
closest, Instructors and Physical Training, who made on average $12.68
per hour or roughly $26,380 per year. Most of the exercise physiologists
that I know make nowhere near that. They would do back flips if they
were offered that kind of money! All kidding aside, very few of the
exercise physiologists that I know or have gone to school with work in
the field at all. They simply can’t! There are either no jobs
or the wages are so low they can’t afford to live. I have a friend
who graduated with his masters a year after I did and was offered $26,000
a year to work with a major corporate fitness program in San Francisco.
After renting a $1200 run down apartment, I can tell you he wasn’t eating
very well. Then again, he was working in his field.
For simplicity, let’s use
the $12.68 per hour or $26,380 per year as what an exercise physiologist
makes on average. We would fall between an EMT ($ 22,360 per year,
with 4 weeks of coursework) and a licensed practical nurse ($28,040 per
year with 1 year of education). The majority of exercise physiologists
that I know are at the master’s level and have spent on average 7 years
to complete their education. Don’t forget the $50,000 price tag just
for that undergraduate degree. My point is very simple: If you cannot
work in a field or make a living after 7 years of formal education and
you see that associate- degreed healthcare professionals are making $35,000
and $45,000 per year, who is going to go into our field?
In my opinion, this wraps
up our standing in the healthcare industry. Described below is a
help wanted ad taken from St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, TX.
We are currently seeking
an Exercise Physiologist
Qualifications - “Requires
high school diploma, experience in Cardiopulmonary Rehab and exercise testing
(2 years), will train in EECP” (6).
So now go and tell your students
that the 5 years they just spent earning a degree was in vain. Now
it appears that hospitals are requiring simply a high school diploma for
their exercise physiologists. I am sure that your graduating seniors
will be thrilled to see this! What this information shows is that
exercise physiologists are on the bottom of the feeding chain in the health
care industry. Even a certified nurses assistant requires at least
1-week worth of training. For the exercise physiologist, a high school
diploma will do. What a sad state our field is in! I do not
know about you, but that makes me mad as hell.
Now on to our exercise physiologists'
World Living: “And dreams of sugar plums danced through their heads.”
Let’s take a look at what exercise physiology students on average will
be paid for other living expenses. How will the new exercise physiologists
get to work? Well for one, they still have that 6-month grace period on
their student loans and most of the big auto manufacturers will approve
loans for recent graduates, even without a job. You might as well
reward yourself and get something nice, hey you’ve earned it, up until
now, those were probably the 5 toughest years of your life. Let’s
not get too fancy. How about an average vehicle? The Auto Affordability
Index from November 17, 2000 shows the average-priced new vehicle was $21,804.
Lets say our students take out a 5-year loan at a 9% interest; they can
expect to pay about $ 445 per month (7). You can
already see that between student loans and a car payment that exercise
physiologists right out of college are in some serious trouble. But,
if the students stayed in school, as many come to understand is important
to financially survive, and after realizing that the average 9-month salary
for a college professor is $72,700 (8), then maybe there
Where shall graduates live
on the $500 or so they have left for the month to pay nearly every bill
imaginable? A home is completely out of the question for exercise physiologist
graduates. An apartment may be next to impossible at this point.
The national average for an existing home is $177,500 and $201,100 for
a new home (9). An existing home with a 30-year
loan at the current 8.5% interest with property taxes, mortgage insurance
(unless you had $37,000 to put down on the home), homeowners insurance,
and association fees will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $1747.30
per month or about $1931.84, if you build yourself a new home. How
about the necessities like food, utilities, gas and insurance for the car,
and how about medical insurance, and of course the list goes on and on.
Oh yes, we shouldn't forget about the $7564 average credit card debit racked
up while attending college (10).
The sad fact is exercise
physiologists have no sense of themselves, no sense of a profession.
We need people to step forward with a vision – a vision of creating a dynamic
new profession in exercise Pphysiology. A profession that we can
all be proud of. A profession in which we get the respect we have
all worked so hard to achieve. A profession that will give us financial
as well as career stability. A profession in which we can help educate
our clients/patients on the necessity for exercise to improve the quality
of their lives and prevent the debilitating diseases caused by life long,
Ultimately, we control our
own future, and we will control the future of exercise physiology.
The choice is ours. We can choose to come together unified and to
be strong, or we can stand alone, divided and weak. We need as much
input from the exercise physiologists in the field as we can get.
We won't agree on everything and that is a good thing. However, we need
to have a common goal, to promote and advance the field of exercise physiology.
The nursing profession today
is BOOMING. They are commanding top salaries and earning great respect
in the healthcare field. They have a strong association and are unified.
Can you imagine nurses sitting back waiting for the American College of
Sports Medicine to promote the profession of Nursing? Why don’t they?
Plain and simple, because it is stupid and would get the nursing profession
nowhere. ACSM is not a professional association. It is made
up of a variety of healthcare providers interested in advancing the study
of sports medicine. I have heard this statement repeated over and
over by exercise physiologists, “We do not need another professional exercise
physiologist association; we already have ACSM, AACVPR, etc.”
I think if I hear that statement
one more time I am going to scream! So what makes the exercise physiologist
so dense? I cannot figure out if it is a shear lack of common sense,
or if we have been guinea pigs for the Wingate and VO2 max tests one time
too often. Anyone in our field can see that we are not cutting
it. Our field is stalled and going nowhere, yet the other healthcare
professions continue to flourish and continue to promote, unify, and support
their profession. Exercise physiologists, on the other hand, have
gone in the opposite direction. We have no unity. We have been
fighting with each other for decades. As a result of this, we find
ourselves lost without a profession. We call ourselves exercise physiologists,
fitness specialists, fitness directors, fitness consultants, personal trainers,
and a cast of other non-unified names. We need professors and department
heads to come together and name our programs by its true name - Exercise
Physiology. The Heinz 57 variety of exercise physiology programs
throughout the country is ridiculous. How many Physical Therapy programs
are called Physical Rehabilitation Science? None, because it would
be asinine. Every Physical Therapy program throughout the country
is called Physical Therapy and every one of the graduates are Physical
Therapists. We need to have Exercise Physiology programs accredited
by one governing body. We command very little power within the healthcare
setting and it shows in our salaries and our career opportunities.
NO MORE!!! It is time for us to choose to come together to legitimize
the field Exercise Physiology that many of us are extremely proud of and
have work so hard to earn a living in. We have done the research
to show the tremendous effects that exercise can have on every physiological
system in the body. We have research supporting the positive effects
exercise has on the quality of human life. Everything is in place
(except for the Exercise Physiologist) for us to claim a stake in the healthcare
profession. With that said, I think you can see where I am coming
from, and I will be direct about my vision of the profession of
the Exercise Physiology.
So what as professors can
you do? You need to have a face to face talk with your students and
tell them that unless everyone in the field (including the students) begins
to unite and support the professionalization, licensure, and certification
there will not be any viable careers for them when they graduate.
The students do listen and respect your input. Help them to develop
student chapters and give them hope and promise of the career they are
studying. We need to have your support. Professors can advance
the professionalization of Exercise Physiology. It is simple.
We have a national association in place, an association that the only goal
is to support and advance the profession of the Exercise Physiologist.
We need professors to support the American Society of Exercise Physiology,
the only association dedicated solely to the Exercise Physiologist.
So there it is. The
choice is up to us. I have been very blunt and direct in my analysis.
If I have offended you, I think you should take a serious look at your
department and at yourself. If this article offends you, then you
are in denial about the profession and cannot see the truth or the reality
of the profession today and most likely, you are one of the reasons why
the field is going nowhere. This is difficult to say, and I don't say it
without understanding that everyone is already up to his/her ears with
work. But, there are some difficult questions that professors must
ask themselves. How many of your students are finding careers in
their field? What is the average income of your students after leaving
your program? Are you involved in an Exercise Physiologist organization
and, if so, are you promoting that association to your students? If you
are not able to answer the questions above, you are part of the problem!
When students see the almighty PhD professor, the ones they look to for
guidance, not taking ANY stance in the professionalization of their own
field, then neither will they. By looking at the state of the field
today, the majority of professors are not taking an interest in the field
that they are teaching and, ultimately, they are taking no interest in
their students lives or careers and in my opinion they are sellouts.
The bottom line is that exercise
physiology professors have immense power to direct the role of the Exercise
Physiologist profession. They can either choose to stand together
united and promote the field or they can continue to stand alone, divided
and wallow in our self-pity because they do not have a true profession.
At the same time, they can watch the other healthcare professionals begin
to develop and implement Exercise Physiology into their professions as
we idly sit by. The choice for me is easy. That is why I founded
the Idaho Assocation of Exercise Physiologists
and affiliated with the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP).
ASEP has everything in place to move our profession to the forefront of
the healthcare field. We need the support of the Exercise Physiologists.
We cannot do this on our own. We need the help and support of every
Exercise Physiologist in the country to make Exercise Physiology a true
profession. You do have a voice. Stand up and use it!
Be direct and honest about what you feel and don’t let anyone stand in
the way of your dreams and goals. Together, we can make our visions
and dreams a reality. I for one am here to stay and make a difference
in our field. Will you join me?
Annual Survey of Colleges, Trends in College Pricing, 1999-00 by The College
Board. (1999). New York, NY: The College Board.
Retrieved November 6, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.collegeboard.org
Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 1998 National Occupational
Employment and Wage Estimates. (1998). Retrieved October 25, 2000
from the World Wide Web: http://stats.bls.gov/oes/national/oes_prof.htm#b31000
of Labor Statistics, June 16, 2000, Economy at a Glance: Retrieved October
15, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.us.htm#FnoteP
4. The University
of Iowa Health Care, EMT website. (1999,2000). Retrieved December
16, 2000 from World Wide Web: http://www.uihc.uiowa.edu/pubinfo/EMSLRC/EMTtraining.htm
National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates Professional, Paraprofessional,
and Technical Occupations. Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of
Statistics. Retrieved December 16, 2000 from World Wide Web: http://stats.bls.gov/oes/national/oes_prof.htm
Job Network: Exercise Physiologist position listing Retrieved January
7, 2000 from World Wide Web: http://www.nationjob.com/showjob.cgi/stle544.html
Economics: November 2000, Auto Affordability Index: Retrieved January 4,
2000 from World Wide Web: http://www.comerica.com/comerica/ac/affdqtr_c.html
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2000-2001 edition. College and University Faculty. Retrieved
November 25, 2000 From the World Wide Web: http://stats.bls.gov/oco/ocos066.htm
Housing Market Conditions, Third Quarter 2000: Historical Data. U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved January 8, 2000 from World
credit card debt per U.S. household – Cardweb.com Retrieved January 8,
2000 From the World Wide Web: http://www.maxfunds.com/MF2000.nsf/DisplayContent/2173
©1997-2009 American Society of Exercise Physiologists. All Rights