The Biomed Profession Needs a Woman’s Touch

 Looking at the biomed profession as a whole, it is very evident that it is a man’s world. More than 90% of all biomeds are male, and the female presence is not noticeably increasing. As a manager, technician, and part-time educator, I cannot understand why the female technician is not emerging as prevalent in the field.

This profession should be appealing to a woman interested in electronics technology. Unlike a field service position, a hospital biomedical equipment technician works in a controlled and safe environment. Field service professionals are required to travel to service sites; there is always the possibility of being dispatched into a dangerous neighborhood or even into the house of a criminal. Most hospitals now have controlled access, and technicians are deployed into departments with which they are familiar. Furthermore, every hospital employee wears a name tag, making them easily identifiable.

A hospital setting also offers female technicians the comfort of working in an environment that generally employs more women than men. Nurses, housekeepers, technologists, ultrasound technicians, and lab technicians are all predominantly female-populated professions, so the hospital would seem to be a gender-friendly environment. Also, hospital settings are environmentally controlled, which means no sweating it out in the summer or fighting the snow in the winter—as field service technicians often do.

Pay and benefits are often better in a medical electronics position than in a consumer electronics position. Biomedical pay is as much as 40% more than that of an average electronics technician position, and hospitals can offer better health care benefits. Most hospitals also offer tuition assistance, making it more affordable to attain higher degrees and ultimately promotions in the profession.

Aside from the appeal that biomedical electronics should have to female technicians, the biomedical profession should likewise find female technicians appealing. For centuries, women have been caregivers, such as nurses, aides, and, more recently, physicians. Biomeds are service providers, or caregivers, to the hospital’s staff.

Many of the skills that today’s biomed needs are the traits that female workers have brought to the workforce. It has been suggested that technicians are not diligent with their paperwork. Women have been performing clerical roles since the secretary was created. Now that the majority of biomed departments are using some type of computer-based equipment-management system, typing skills are important to productivity. Filing and developed telephone skills are also very important.

In the past, many tasks in biomed required strength as well as technical skill. The modernization of medical equipment has miniaturized equipment, lightened it, and transformed it into CPUs and network peripherals. The need for strength to lift, tighten, or loosen parts has diminished to the point that the general biomed need not look at physical tasks as a possible barrier to job performance.

The transformation of medical equipment into information systems (IS) accessories will lead to the eventual rise of the female technician, since IS has not been as male-dominated as biomed. These women have the networking, troubleshooting, and software skills to make them productive biomeds. The logic required to troubleshoot CPUs and networks is easily transferred to the electronic, pneumatic, and mechanical troubleshooting required in the medical equipment field.

The patient and the patient’s family also may benefit from the presence of female biomeds. Technicians often are called into a patient’s room, operating room, or exam room. Many times the patient is exposed, or a nervous family member is present. In our culture, it seems more acceptable for women to be present when a patient (man or woman) is unclothed. A woman rather than a man intruding during an embarrassing situation may make the patient and family feel less uncomfortable.

Women are viewed as more empathetic than men; thus, contact between patients and technicians during a repair may be less stressful. This empathy also could translate to our customers, nurses, and other hospital employees.

This is all not to say that only women possess the above-mentioned traits that today’s technician needs, but technical expertise, logic, computer savvy, clerical skills, phone presence, and empathy are certainly traits that many women have that will allow them to become very successful biomedical equipment technicians. 24×7

Glen Wolfe, CBET, CET, is the manager of biomedical engineering at LaGrange Hospital, LaGrange, Ill.