Within 5 to 10 years, somewhere from a quarter to a third of senior technicians and managers in biomed and clinical engineering departments will be retiring. This will have a major effect on healthcare technology management (HTM) for some time.
Younger and midcareer biomeds looking to get ahead may want to consider working to make the transition into management. But that move has changed over the years. You can’t just be a good technician and shop leader anymore. The shift from technician to manager requires some educational and perception changes. You now need to start planning your advancement as soon as you start in your current position—or even before.
The Old Days
In the past, you started as a BMET I and learned both general medical equipment and the test equipment required to do preventive maintenance. You made repairs on general equipment. Hopefully, your department or company had an advanced technician or manager that could mentor you. A lot of times, you were left to learn things on your own.
As you moved up the ladder, your customer service skills improved and technical classes were made available to you. The equipment you worked on became more technical and expensive. As time went on, you became a team leader and trained other young technicians starting in your department. When the manager retired or moved to greener pastures, the position was offered to you.
Now, when that glorious day comes, you put on a tie and walk into your department and find a bunch of strangers. The friends and coworkers who were happy for you last week are now employees. Each one will test you to see what they can get away with. With luck, none of your old friends will volunteer to get fired. You now have budgets, tons of paperwork, and meetings to attend. Without the proper planning, this may not turn out well.
When it ends, it can end badly. I know of some managers who have left their positions (voluntarily and not) that have deleted their hard drives and removed files and backups. In some cases, all the department’s reports had to be rebuilt.
To help ease this transition when the time comes—and to make sure it does—it’s worth taking steps now to prepare yourself.
Education is the most important thing you can work on, both formally and informally. A biomedical or electronics associate’s degree will not cut it anymore. A lot of hospitals are requiring a bachelor’s for managers and directors of other departments. Clinical engineering will have to keep up, or be moved back to the basement.
You could get a degree in engineering or information technology, but I recommend pursuing business administration or healthcare administration. Those degrees are broader, and that way you would not be limiting yourself only to jobs in the first two fields. Independent service providers, equipment manufacturers, and hospitals often hire managers, directors, and vice presidents with these degrees even if they don’t have much knowledge of clinical engineering operations.
If I had it all to do again, I would also get at least two mentors—of course, one or more from the clinical engineering field, but at least one from another hospital department. Learning to look at things from another point of view is a very helpful tool to have in your toolbox. A manager or director from nursing or x-ray will give you another perspective. To find a good clinical engineering mentor, get involved with your local biomedical association or the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation. Get to know the managers in these groups. When you think you have established a relationship, ask them if they would mentor you.
In addition, talk to your own manager about wanting to plan for future advancement. Ask him or her to let you help with budgets, teach you to pull data for reports, and attend meetings. A good manager will have a “replacement in training” at all times, or be looking for one. He or she should be testing the department’s informal leaders to gauge their promotion potential. You should strive to be on this list.
The hardest thing a manager has to do is provide employee evaluations and employee corrections. I have seen a few managers give an attitude adjustment where the employee came out happy, but these meetings are usually stressful for the manager and the employee involved. It is always good practice for a manager to have a witness. Volunteering for this position moves you toward the department’s management structure and gives you an opportunity to begin developing a crucial leadership skill. Employee correction is a verbal art form in a class of its own. I have not seen it taught very well or at all, but it should be part of every management course.
A final major learning point is The Joint Commission and DNV standards. Every technician needs to understand both agencies and the differences in their application of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulations. Ask you manager to let you help review their guidelines and attend planning and document meetings.
Like most careers, healthcare technology management has gotten more competitive in recent years. Don’t take your professional advancement for granted. If you want to move up, it’s important to start planning now. With some preparation, you’ll stand out among your coworkers—and be better prepared if (or when) you decide to make the leap.
Rick Davis, CBET, is a 38-year veteran of the clinical engineering field living in Virginia Beach, Va. For more information, contact chief editor Jenny Lower at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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