Horace Hunter arrived at Archbold Medical Center in 1979, where he would spend over three decades building up the Georgia-based health system’s first biomedical engineering department.
Armed with a degree in biomedical engineering (from one of the few schools that offered them at the time), he was able to build up a team with people who had less formal training than he did.
In addition to training technicians, Hunter helped the hospital reorganize its maintenance department into an engineering department with several subdivisions, including clinical engineering, telecommunications, systems maintenance and fleet maintenance. In time, he found himself promoted to assistant director of engineering.
“In my day, being a biomed was not recognized,” Hunter, who is also the founder of the Georgia Biomedical Instrumentation Society (GBIS), told HCB News. “It was relatively unknown. There weren’t many schools and most people had never heard of biomedical technology, so I took the challenge to my CEO and the next thing I knew I was invited to sit on the advisory committee formed by Georgia Tech University to develop a curriculum to teach the biomedical engineering technology program for the state of Georgia.”
Today, several universities in the U.S. offer BMET programs, enabling students who pass through them to pursue a number of career options as HTM professionals. Resources for continuing education and networking are also available in the form of local, state and national conferences, webinars and certification programs.
But choosing the right path, as well as deciding if the HTM field is the right area to pursue a career, requires an understanding of what it entails, the demands put on BMETs, and what changes are on the horizon for the profession.
Never stop learning
According to Hunter, one of the most important assets an HTM professional can have is a formal education from a certified BMET program. Beyond that, the most successful biomeds are those who continue their education after leaving school to stay on top of changes in technology, regulations, best practices and the overall hospital equipment landscape.
“I like going to at least one HTM-related conference per year,” said Jessyka Helton, CBET, assistant director of clinical engineering for Crothall Health. "I recommend the AAMI conference as well as attaining a certification through AAMI. For continuing education, each conference has dozens of classes, Q&A, and presentations. There are countless webinars, seminars, college courses, instructional videos, educational magazine articles, and books. I have been very fortunate that Crothall has provided me opportunities to grow within my field including through attendance at AAMI conferences and other educational offerings."
Numerous organizations offer certification courses for teaching BMETs new skills or how to manage specialized technology, such as laboratory or radiology equipment.
“A certification is just a great way to show your employers and peers you meet a minimum competency and you have the minimum knowledge and skills to do your job,” said Danielle McGeary, vice president of healthcare technology management at AAMI. “It also shows the initiative that you took to advance your professional career.”
Learning as much as you can about technology is important not just from a device perspective, but also in terms of understanding how different pieces fit together for care delivery. “The more you understand the clinical environment,” McGeary said, “the more successful you’ll be in your role and the more you’ll be able to help implement new technology.”
Having a trusted advisor, perhaps a department leader, is another invaluable way to better understand health technology management and your role in the department.
“Look for a mentor because you really need someone to guide you through that initial phase,” said Sudhakar Nagavalli, president and principal at SunagMED, a certified MBE firm that provides consulting for health technology management and planning.
Advancement requires diverse skillsets
For many HTM professionals, upward mobility is a top objective. Some seek out management and supervisor roles, while others pursue opportunities in research or working alongside providers and nurses. Different resources are accessible in different work environments.
Attending industry events can be useful in this respect too, according to Nagavalli, who recommends meeting with other people in the industry as a way to get perspective on how things are getting done in your own facility. Above and beyond conventional educational opportunities, networking in this way can reveal useful opportunities for improvement that your managers and directors may not have considered.
The inexorable link between health technology and information technology is also something that BMETs should leverage to their advantage, and not shy away from.
“Any newcomer in this field has to double up on some skill sets in IT,” said Nagavalli. “All equipment is becoming interfaced with the electronic medical record, so that requirement of moving data into the EMR requires a general familiarity with IT terminology and integration with clinical information systems.”
In some cases, a BMET may discover that their core interests lay outside of the conventional health technology management department and seek a transition. Interfacing with other groups in the hospital is a great way to build up those relationships.
“I have seen [HTM] open doors in hospital administration, OEM administration, healthcare sales and marketing, non-healthcare technology industry, and many more,” said Helton.
There’s no “I” in HTM
A successful BMET requires more than just education and a willingness to learn and grow. According to McGeary, some of the best traits you can have are a positive attitude and, more importantly, the ability to admit when you make mistakes.
“Taking the time to understand why an approach you suggested isn’t the best solution to a problem and using that guidance from experienced leaders as constructive criticism will really help you grow as a professional,” she said.
Also, don’t be afraid to communicate your frustrations when they arise. Every team member knows what work-related stress feels like because they have also experienced it at one time or another. McGeary suggests that by being open about those experiences and feelings, an HTM department strengthens the trust among its members and develops a team mentality that will benefit them as they face new challenging scenarios together.
“The first trait that any BMET wants is a positive approach or positive attitude,” said Nagavalli. “You need to be inquisitive, and also cultivate team spirit. One has to understand that they can only do so much as an individual but the team can do so much more.”
Another useful skill is the ability to communicate problems and important news in a clear way that makes colleagues and superiors think constructively on how to approach different scenarios.
“The most inspiring and well-rounded professionals know how to work with and lead others using leadership and interpersonal skills,” said Helton. “This requires much more than being the best at performing your daily tasks.”
Hunter asserts that in addition to working well on a team, anyone entering the HTM field should exhibit a sense of self-reliance and be able to address problems and accept challenges as opportunities to help others.
“When you go into a hospital as a biomed tech, they’re not going to babysit you,” he said. “You need to have the motivation, self-esteem and charisma to take it on as it comes. It’s almost like making your own business and the challenge is that everything changes with time. It changes by the minute.”
And the need for self-starting BMETS is only going to intensify as times goes on.
“I think the profession is going to become more about equipment management, and regulatory in nature,” predicts Hunter. “It’s going to become more about risk and liability. It’s almost like BMETs are going to transition from being the fix-it place, so to speak, to being the go-to place for information when it pertains to patient care with the use of medical equipment.”