How Richard ‘Lee’ Chamberlain is propelling the field to the next level

By Aine Cryts

Richard “Lee” Chamberlain, CHTM, CBET, CLRT, CET, a national support specialist at Chicago-based nonprofit CommonSpirit Health, who created and now runs Tier Three Support Services, says his typical workday didn’t change much during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many during the pandemic, he wore a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 and adapted to stay-at-home measures. But Chamberlain, who’s employed by the health system’s facility in Erlanger, Ky., has worked on a remote basis for the last nine years. “My work is all remote, and it was before the pandemic. There was no learning curve for me,” he says.

Learning curve or not, Chamberlain’s professional successes speak for themselves.  

The 2022 BMET of the Year

Chamberlain is the recipient of the 2022 AAMI & GE Healthcare BMET of the Year Award, which he received at the AAMI eXchange conference in San Antonio in June. The award is co-sponsored by GE Healthcare and recognizes a biomedical equipment technician who exemplifies “individual dedication, achievement, and excellence in the field of healthcare technology management,” according to an announcement by AAMI.

Tier Three Support Services, which he runs, is a national in-house program that includes billing, inventory, service management, training, and outsourced cost-saving initiatives. One of its benefits to CommonSpirit are the millions of dollars in savings each year, he says.

In addition, he provides service and support on specialized equipment while working on research and development projects across the nonprofit Catholic health system that spans 21 states across 1,000 care sites, serving 20 million patients across rural and urban America.

Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

One valuable lesson Chamberlain took away from the most difficult days of the pandemic—when many of his BMET colleagues were also working remotely—were the challenges of virtual training sessions.

During a virtual training session, he had to be more deliberate about providing visual examples to trainees. A particular challenge with virtual training, according to Chamberlain, is training colleagues about the physical nature of repairing biomedical equipment.

His solution to this was to use a GoPro camera to provide a more detailed visual for sessions. This made the experience “more immersive” for trainees, he says. 

While working remotely during the pandemic was “old hat” for him, most of his colleagues were used to being physically present for their jobs. The experience taught him that not only did he have to read people differently during remote trainings, but it was harder to know if a trainee understood what was being taught; it was more difficult for him to read someone’s body language.

Since then, Chamberlain makes a concerted effort to focus on more than just technical know-how in his training sessions. He pays more attention to his colleagues’ body language to gauge their understanding of his training than ever before. 

Perks of the BMET Job

The level of autonomy Chamberlain has in his position at CommonSpirit Health is probably the best part of his role, he says. The fact that his leadership team trusts him and his colleagues and encourages everyone to continue to pursue their education and to innovate on the job keeps Chamberlain engaged with his work on a daily basis. 

For example, if he can find a better way to work on a piece of equipment, Chamberlain is encouraged by leadership to go for it. He’s particularly passionate about the Right to Repair movement, which asserts that individuals who don’t work for original equipment manufacturers should have access to parts and other components to repair products they have purchased.

One story that springs to mind for Chamberlain which emphasizes the significance of the movement was when he needed to fix a piece of surgical equipment whose flow sensor had sprung a leak. After doing some research, he was able to cut out the “middleman,” and successfully bought the part directly from a manufacturer for approximately $20.

It’s the type of work that he bases his career on, says Chamberlain. “That’s one of our responsibilities [in clinical engineering], to make [repairing medical equipment] more affordable,” he adds.

When asked about areas of growth in his professional career, he mentions communication with others in a more straight-forward manner and being more confident in his work. Regardless, the hard-won lessons learned in these areas has helped him grow, says Chamberlain. 

“When I came into this field, I wasn’t very confident…it just helped me to know that what I did was important,” he says, harkening back to projects such as surgical equipment repairs. These devices have been used to improve health outcomes for patients and even save lives. 

A  Biomed ‘Trial Run’

He got his start in the biomed field as a biomedical engineer at Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) in Paducah, Ky., in June 2010, a position he held until June 2013, when he took on the role of regional field service specialist. (CHI combined with Dignity Health in 2019 to become CommonSpirit.)

In those two roles, he provided service on critical medical equipment for facilities dotted across three states. That’s in addition to partnering with biomedical engineers to provide maintenance and cost-avoiding repairs. During his tenure with CHI, he earned 15 recognition awards for “exceeding the call of duty.”

But he arrived at his initial role at CHI not knowing that a career in the biomed space was for him. Looking back, Chamberlain thought it would be a “trial run.” He had an associates degree in electronics engineering technology under his belt—subsequently, he went on to get a bachelor’s degree in project management—and he discovered that a career in biomed was a good path to follow, considering his education.

Before landing at CHI, he worked as a field service technician with First Response Security Services in Union City, Tenn. In that role, he installed and serviced residential and commercial security and surveillance systems. Prior to that role, he had taken a series of jobs where he says he felt like “just a number, just a lineman.” But CHI—and that first biomed role—offered him “something different.” 

“[CHI] wanted me to work for them,” says Chamberlain. “That was probably the turning point. It made me more loyal to the [organization].” While he considers himself a modest person, Chamberlain thinks his hiring manager at CHI saw that he had drive for the field. “I wanted to do the best that I could,” he says. 

BMET Mentorship and Career Achievement

Chamberlain defines mentorship simply as “setting people up for success.” “As far as how I’ve been mentored, I’ve been lucky, more blessed to have very good mentors in my career. I’ve had people that were willing to build me up so that I’m able to work autonomously,” he says.

“Over the course of his career, Chamberlain has demonstrated that he is a valuable subject matter expert for Common Spirit Health,” reads part of AAMI’s announcement of his 2022 AAMI & GE Healthcare BMET of the Year Award honor. “He has demonstrated the ability to enable others to advance their skills and knowledge despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented and allowed his colleagues to thrive instead of struggle. He is celebrated in particular for his role in implementing a new hybrid training program that adapts in-person and on-site curriculum for virtual and remote learning strategies.”

Considering his career thus far and his receipt of the 2022 AAMI & GE Healthcare BMET of the Year Award, Chamberlain says: “I want to be around people that are willing to put you up when opportunities arise. That’s what mentorship is. When you see someone excelling or they need a type of training or education or interaction, a mentor gives you what you need.”

Aine Cryts is a contributing writer for 24×7 Magazine. Questions and comments can be directed to chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].

Chamberlain: Beyond the BMET Field

Chamberlain is a native of Martin, Tenn., which is an 18-minute drive from Union City. With a current population of approximately 10,484 peopleMartin was named “one of the happiest towns in the United States” by Esquire magazine in 1970, and it’s home to University of Tennessee at Martin. 

Following are Chamberlain’s favorite things in his personal life:

  • Preferred Hobby: Gardening. “I find getting your hands in the dirt and nurturing plants to be both calming and therapeutic,” he says. “It just makes you feel more in touch with nature.”
  • Top movie: Cool Hand Luke. Chamberlain describes it as “a classic story of a man who is down on his luck, feeling downtrodden and unappreciated but he refuses to let the challenges in his life keep him down.” Instead, he adds: The character “tries to make the best of each opportunity that presents itself, no matter how hard the struggle is to get there.”
  • Top Tunes: “This is a tough one since I don’t really have a favorite,” he says at first. But Chamberlain’s musical interests span multiple genres. “My tastes range from classical to country classics like Hank Williams, Sr., to indie rock, like Marcy Playground. All the way to New Age like Fujiya & Miyagi,” he adds.
  • Perfect Day: “My ideal day would be canoeing all day on a lazy river with a cool breeze and a mild sprinkle of rain, followed by cooking dinner over an open fire and camping with family and friends,” Chamberlain says.