After reading comments from several students on evaluations of their internships, it was obvious that students really have very diverse expectations of their careers in exercise physiology. On one hand, this is not surprising considering how diverse the field is. Some students know what specialty area they want to work in early in their professional education, while others have trouble deciding even after completing an internship.
Where diversity in professional expectations among students is somewhat surprising is with respect to salary and compensation packages. Some students expect to be relatively poor all their lives, but they enjoy one area of exercise physiology so much that they are willing to make that sacrifice. Others have much higher expectations. They believe they are going to make “big bucks” working in whatever area interests them. All too often this is an unrealistic expectation. Granted, exercise physiologists can enjoy a good standard of living, but a six figure annual income is not so common. Exercise physiologists who are making those “big bucks” are typically entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses and worked hard to succeed in their business ventures.
As educators, what should we tell our students and potential
students about what they can expect as a professional exercise
physiologist? Certainly we have to be
honest. Job opportunities and
compensation packages vary considerably among specialty areas and among
different geographic regions of the country . According to Salarycom, a typical exercise
physiologist working the
We should also tell them that educational programs vary. One program cannot offer everything in the curriculum. Different programs have different strengths. Students should shop around to find the program that best matches their career goals. They should also be aware that some programs are better than others. A review of the curriculum including course content should provide useful information regarding suitability and quality. Program accreditation is another indicator of quality, although students need to investigate the standards and criteria an accrediting agency uses to accredit programs. It is well known that accrediting agencies have the potential to significantly influence professional expectations to the extent that they influence professional outcomes. Accreditation is part of the professionalization of a field. Other health care fields have been professionalized for decades and have well established accreditation agencies and processes. Employers typically only hire graduates from accredited programs who are certified or licensed to practice in their chosen profession.
Unfortunately, this is relatively new for exercise physiology. Many employers are unaware of the accreditation status of programs, and certifications can be confusing due to the large number of organizations offering certification in some specialty areas. Consequently, employers may not know what to expect of exercise physiology graduates from any program. Exercise physiologists who have graduated from an accredited program (e.g., ASEP) and are certified (e.g., EPC) may have to educate their employers or potential employers about their competencies. As more employers become aware of the quality of certified exercise physiologists who have graduated from accredited programs, status and salary will improve. In other words, as exercise physiology becomes more professionalized, professional expectations will rise. This is precisely one of the goals of ASEP .