Wanted: Technician-Psychologist-Manager-Teacher for Life-and-Death Mission

d05a.jpg (12859 bytes)Hiring qualified personnel with the right combination of aptitude and attitude is never easy, and you must invest in training to make sure new hires perform to the highest standards — something that’s particularly important when servicing anesthesia and critical care equipment. You must get it right. So what kind person should you look for? My own career gave me insight into how a mix of technical proficiency, experience and interests can add up to a meaningful career in field service.

I didn’t set out to be a field service tech; I dreamed of being a teacher. Then I discovered that I loved teaching, but not necessarily school. My career took a new direction. I earned an associates degree in electronics. This led to becoming a field service rep for what was then Ohmeda, and ultimately to a job that combines everything I love doing — managing the Datex-Ohmeda training program.

Based on what I learned working in the field and from training thousands of technicians, here’s what it takes to be a great field service tech.

Technical Proficiency
Over the past several years, the caliber of technical proficiency among service reps has risen dramatically. As a group, they are far more sophisticated technologically than the traditional image of a “guy” (and, since I was a field rep, I use the term advisedly) with a screwdriver. Today’s rep must be adept at working with computerized equipment that relays a patient’s vital signs and alerts clinicians to the slightest changes.

Technical proficiency is at the top of the list for good reason. Servicing anesthesia and other life support equipment is unlike servicing any other kind of medical equipment. For one thing, meticulous attention to the smallest detail is an absolute requirement when a life may hang in the balance. Service reps also need to be logical thinkers, able to visualize how a piece of equipment works and where the trouble spots might occur. When a microscopic crack in an O-ring can interfere with the machine’s accurate operation, the service rep must know what to look for and how to troubleshoot it.

To help instill these skills, we require field service trainees to pass rigorous examinations, both written and hands-on. If a Datex-Ohmeda trainee does not earn a passing grade, there are no second chances. That person is terminated immediately. There is too much at stake to permit anyone with less than perfect skills to be responsible for life and death equipment.

Trainees not employed by Datex-Ohmeda, such as in-house biomedical techs, are held to the same criteria as our own reps. If trainees from outside the company do not pass the exams, they are not certified, do not receive manuals and cannot order parts.

Interpersonal Skills
Field service techs who work in different locations need the diplomacy of an ambassador, the communications skills of a master teacher and the patience of a saint. They must deal with many different types of people at varied levels of understanding and expertise, from the sophisticated techie to the “Did you plug it in?” type, who may also be a high-ranking clinician.

Field techs need to be very flexible. They may be called on to train someone over the phone, respond quickly to a customer crisis or adapt their schedules to customer needs.

They must be excellent communicators, particularly because so much is at stake. A misunderstood direction has the potential to put patients at serious risk.

Business Management
When people consider becoming field service reps, they think about how much they love fixing things or how good they are at troubleshooting a piece of equipment, but rarely about the business skills they need to be successful.

Being a field rep is a lot like running your own business. Field reps must be self-starters. There’s no one standing over them, checking off a job sheet. A major requirement is to be able to manage schedules, maintain inventory and manage contracts and budgets. And, when you’re the only person in the OR in the middle of the night, you have to be able to maintain that critical attention to detail.

Technical genius, psychologist, business manager, computer expert, teacher — it’s an ambitious recruitment and training formula, but one that serves our customers well.

Linda Yeager is the manager of Service Education for Datex-Ohmeda.