The 2024 AAMI BMET of the Year, Chace Torres, became a biomed because he always wanted a career with purpose and security. Now, he’s focused on spreading the word about the field.

By Steven Martinez

Chace Torres, CBET, CHTM, is the 2024 AAMI & GE Healthcare BMET of the Year, a distinction that honors individual dedication, achievement, and excellence in healthcare technology management. Torres is the Dallas/Fort Worth branch manager for SPBS, a third-party clinical equipment service provider.

Torres is probably best known for his biomed-focused podcast, Bearded Biomed, and for writing a children’s book about the profession, Ollie the Biomed. His career began 15 years ago when he enlisted and trained to become a biomed for the U.S. Army, but before he ever turned a wrench, Torres aspired to be a geologist.

A Fascination with Rocks

Growing up in San Antonio, he received a scholarship to the University of Texas at San Antonio and majored in geology due to his lifelong fascination with rocks.

“I’ve always had a fascination with gems and stuff being made from pressure over time—the science behind how things are created without us looking at it all the time,” says Torres. “It just seemed like a cool job. You can go into oil; you can go into astrogeology, archaeology as well. So, there’s a lot of different avenues, and it wasn’t just a regular stab at a normal career either.”

Torres says he didn’t have much money growing up, and despite his scholarship, the demands of working while attending school forced him to put it aside. He worked the jobs that young people often find themselves in just to make ends meet: Dollar Tree, a tool company, a commercial garage door warehouse, and a telemarketer. But he quickly realized that none of those jobs were leading to a career. Although his geology dreams had faded, he wanted a career that aligned with his interests and offered growth opportunities.

Finding His Career in the Army

That’s when Torres decided to enlist in the Army. He wasn’t initially inclined to join, but he realized he needed a career and believed the military could provide the necessary skills and direction.

“Before I knew what jobs were available, I said, ‘I want something in medical, and I want something that’s technical,’” says Torres. “I didn’t have many options. So, when I was looking, I thought, ‘I know in the medical realm, you will always have a good chance of retaining a job.’ On the technical side, I like to tinker and pick stuff apart. I like the sense of fixing something. And the benefit of doing that while also knowing you’re making an impact on healthcare seemed like it suited me.”

In 2009, Torres signed up for a four-year enlistment, which was eventually extended to another four. Based out of Ft. Hood, Texas, he deployed across the globe, doing tours in Afghanistan and Liberia. While there, he gained a ton of experience, working as a technician, then supervisor, and eventually as a maintenance manager. He says one major difference between civilian and military biomed roles is that in the Army, being a biomed was just one of his duties.

“In the military, I was a biomed. I ran a biomed shop and was a field sanitation officer, a generator mechanic, and a military driving instructor. I was all these extra things,” says Torres.

Military equipment is also not quite the same as the medical devices in your average healthcare facility. While the manufacturers are often the same, the equipment he worked on in field hospitals was ruggedized to withstand the rigors of combat. The equipment must be built for wear and tear and meet the needs of mobility and transportability.

Torres says that when he started out, the work order system he used was the same one they used for vehicle maintenance. It was all pen and paper, using yellow sheets with a pink carbon copy attached to track all their jobs. Later in his military career, they transitioned to a web-based approach.

Despite the differences in equipment and methods between the military and civilian worlds, there were many similarities, and what he learned was directly applicable to his civilian career.

“In regard to servicing equipment, at the end of the day, it’s broken; you assess it; you fix it; troubleshoot it; do PM inspections—you’re doing it based on manufacturer recommendations and specifications that they lay out for you to follow,” says Torres. “That translates both ways.”

The Bearded Biomed

Men in the military must keep a clean-shaven face, with mustaches allowed within specific dimensions, and short hair while in uniform. After leaving the service, many grow their hair and facial hair in ways they couldn’t before. These days, Torres still sports closely cropped hair that would likely still be within Army regulations, but his face features a full beard.

In December 2021, he started a podcast called “Bearded Biomed” to raise awareness of the HTM field. (When asked if the branding prevents him from ever ditching the beard, he said, “I never would, and my wife would never let me. If you’ve seen a lot of my military pictures, you’ll understand why I’ll never shave.”)

Not many people know about the job of a biomed outside of the healthcare industry, and Torres says that it’s one of the things he’s trying to change. It’s an existential problem for him. He worries that as senior biomeds retire, there won’t be enough new talent to replace them.

“A lot of our senior folks that have been fighting the fight are eyeing retirement,” says Torres. “I think the fear is, will people step up to continue that endeavor? I don’t know how enticing it is to the newer generation.”

Torres regularly receives emails from people outside the industry, saying they learned about the biomed field from his podcast or had heard of it before but couldn’t find much information on how to enter it.

“I get flooded with those emails all the time from across the world asking, ‘Hey, how do I step into this?’“ says Torres. “More people want to get more information because they don’t know where to find it. I hope everybody in biomed and HTM knows where to get the resources. But people are looking in through the glass. They don’t know where to go.”

Spreading the Word

He also wrote a children’s book, Ollie the Biomed, to teach kids about the profession. When Torres visits high schools to promote the biomed career field, he often finds that students already have an idea of what they want to do with their lives. He believes outreach should start earlier, planting the idea of this rewarding and necessary, yet often overlooked, career in more impressionable minds.

For a while, Torres mulled writing a children’s book about biomeds. He remembers talking about it with his father, one of his biggest supporters, who encouraged him to write it.

“Then he ended up passing, and then a couple of months went by, and I was just like, I need to do something to keep my mind off of losing my dad,” says Torres. “So, I just decided to go ahead and put 100% of my time into doing it.”

After his day job, Torres would write at his computer and sketch stick figures to outline his vision for the illustrations. He admits the hardest part was “trying to make stuff about medical devices rhyme.” Fortunately, he found an illustrator to bring his vision to life. The entire process, from writing to publishing, took three months.

“Looking back on it, I don’t think I could do that again,” says Torres. “At least not that quickly.”

2024 AAMI BMET of the Year

Suffice it so say that Torres is a very driven person. When he started his podcast, it was audio only, but when people told him that he needed to expand to video, he created his own home studio with proper lighting, a stylish chair, a professional mic, and his own Bearded Biomed LED logo. “If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna go into it full-board,” he says. All the outreach he’s done, Torres believes, helped him to win the 2024 AAMI “BMET of the Year” award.

“I see all of it as part of my career; I just kind of combined it all. Even though it’s not a full-time paid job, like my regular biomed 9-to-5, I wouldn’t have the award without it,” he says. “If I didn’t do the podcast or the book, no one would know who I am.”

He appreciates the recognition, not only for his hard work but also for his desire to impact the industry.

“You never know if people really appreciate what you’re doing, especially with the amount of time that I’ve put into the podcast and the book and just the general outreach and everything I do,” says Torres. “[This award] reassures me that people see what I’m doing.”

With the recognition that comes with the award, he hopes that his voice will gain validity within the biomed community and that, someday, it might allow him to make lasting changes within the field. He wants to expand his media outreach through the Bearded Biomed and someday become an AAMI fellow.

“Whether or not I achieve it, I don’t know,” he says. “But you have to plan big and hope it works out.”

Steven Martinez is associate editor of 24×7. Questions and comments can be directed to [email protected].