By Kristi McDermott
As the work of healthcare technology management (HTM) becomes more complex, biomeds are becoming less common. Hospitals are grappling with a shortage of biomeds, whose charge is to ensure that medical devices from insulin pumps to MRI machines are clean, available, updated to manufacturer specifications, and working correctly.
An aging labor force and the consolidation of training schools have squeezed the labor pipeline. Meanwhile, curbing interest in the profession is public perception. The industry is viewed by insiders as a critical role but by outsiders as far less lauded and appealing than the doctors and nurses commonly recognized as healthcare’s heroes.
With the need for skilled HTM professionals only rising, advanced training increasingly is falling on the private sector. Through on-the-job training, advancement opportunities, and other incentives, companies can help fill the gap in biomed training and development while building a greater appreciation for the field.
What’s Behind the Biomed Shortage
At first glance, the shortage of biomed jobs is curious. The median annual pay of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as medical equipment repairers is nearly $50,000, with a high range of $82,000. Education requirements typically include an associate degree or technical training.
Some occupations—say, a registered nurse—typically do earn more (median income: $75,000) but require four years of schooling, while other occupations—say, an HVAC technician—may require only two years of schooling but pay less ($51,000). From the start, the return on investment into a career as a biomed is an attractive option. So, why the lack of interest?
For one, the biomed is not a patient-facing role. It lacks the notability and resulting appeal of other healthcare roles, such as doctors and nurses. And as a healthcare tech job, it may lack the appeal of some of its IT brethren, who can sit behind a desk at work or at home. HTM professionals, however, are on their feet most of the day, moving from one piece of equipment on the hospital floor to another.
Noteworthy, though, is to acknowledge the critical unsung role biomeds play in delivering healthcare, a function underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic when respirators and other medical equipment played such a significant part in treatment.
For those job-seekers who are interested in pursuing the career, training opportunities can be limited. Colleges coping with reduced funding are closing or consolidating training programs. Meanwhile, amid the limited interest and limited training opportunities comes an exodus of existing biomedical equipment technicians as they reach retirement age. Nearly half of the current HTM workforce is over the age of 50, according to 24×7’s 2021 job compensation and salary survey.
“Across the U.S., we’re seeing job openings for BMETs not getting filled for eight or nine months at a time, and colleges are being forced to drop their BMET programs due to budgetary constraints,” Danielle McGeary, AAMI’s vice president of HTM said last year. “This only serves to widen a training gap between the county’s most senior and soon-to-be retiring BMETs and the next generation of HTM professionals.”
AAMI launched a new apprenticeship program in 2021 to help close the training gap. The private sector is also taking on an increasing role.
Why the Biomed Shortage Matters
Companies are getting more involved in biomed training because they must. HTM is becoming more complex, and maintenance on any single medical device requires more time. One technician can’t service as many devices each day as in years’ past.
Compounding the expertise required for the role today is the increasing number of medical devices connected to a hospital’s network. A recent Deloitte report projects that nearly 70% of medical devices will be connected to networks by 2025. Today, medical devices need to be clean, inventoried, operating safely, and updated—as well as cybersecure.
After all, the healthcare industry is a favorite of hackers, according to IBM Security’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report. The industry incurs the highest average cost of a security breach at over $7 million. In other words, the job of the HTM professional is becoming as complex as it is critical.
How Training Yields Opportunity and Advancement
Companies involved in clinical engineering services and staffing are helping to fill the training gap in several ways. Most directly, they provide specialized training to enhance a biomed’s skill set to work on specific makes and models of devices. Training is provided onsite in a hospital to recent graduates of two-year programs.
One route to employment in the industry is via an internship, but those opportunities are rare. Hands-on training through companies, on the other hand, provides recent graduates an opportunity to further develop their skills while earning a working wage. Tuition reimbursement is a bonus.
Training opportunities allow HTM professionals to become more specialized in specific areas, such as imaging or biomedical equipment, or move up from more entry-level positions, such as a medical equipment sanitizer. Further training also can extend beyond technical matters to leadership and management skills, which can give biomeds an opportunity to move into supervisory roles.
Each of these approaches enables them to advance their skills, get promoted, earn higher pay, and grow in their field without having to relocate. The opportunity to learn new skills is a key driver in attracting and retaining top talent.
Hospitals need biomeds, and the private sector is playing an increased role in helping to fill the training gap. Through on-the-job training and advancement opportunities, companies are helping to recruit, train, and retain HTM professionals now and in the future.