When James Mazurek graduated from his local high school in Buffalo, NY, he had no idea where the future would lead. But like many before him who wanted to “see the world,” he entered the military to fulfill that dream. His decision to join the US Air Force did indeed lead to tremendous travel opportunities, but also brought professional advancement and personal growth, culminating in his selection in May as the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s 2015 BMET of the Year. At the 2015 AAMI Conference & Expo in Denver last June, Mazurek was recognized alongside other award winners with a plaque and honorary stipend.

Mazurek completed his basic training in 1984 at Lackland Air Force Base (AFM) in Texas and then finished the AF biomedical equipment technician course at Sheppard AFM. He then began accumulating academic credits at night, completing an AAS degree in biomedical equipment technology and finally earning the CBET designation, one of his proudest accomplishments.

Overseas Adventures

Ready to hit the ground running after biomedical school, Mazurek was first assigned to England, where he was one of six biomedical engineering technicians stationed at Royal Air Force Little Rissington, UK. For the next 26 months he worked on war reserve medical equipment for a 1500-bed contingency hospital. He explains that the facility had no patients and “the equipment wasn’t mothballed,” but that his team’s mission was to make any necessary repairs and calibrate the equipment. During his time in England, he performed maintenance on a variety of medical devices, from Puritan Bennett adult ventilators and Hill-Rom three-crank manual beds to burn treatment equipment and Physio-Control defibrillators.

From 1992 to 1994, Mazurek was stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and served as shop supervisor and lead BMET for a new 20-bed hospital during its construction and opening, ensuring that facility and medical equipment systems were compatible. He also developed all standard operating procedures to establish a new Air Force medical equipment repair center (MERC) and acted as regional service manager. While in Turkey he traveled to Italy, Greece, and Spain as part of MERC visits. He explains that the US State Department engages the services of personnel from the different branches of the military to refurbish and install equipment and train clinical staff in various parts of the world. “We would typically go [to these locations] to do calibrations of imaging and audiology equipment as well as QC of the local biomed work” on equipment such as defibrillators, ECG machines, and anesthesia devices, he says.

Three years later, Mazurek was sent to Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany. During 6 months of that 4-year tour he was assigned to the State Department as clinical engineering branch operations chief. He again had the opportunity to participate in medical repair missions; one of the most memorable was the Baku, Azerbaijan Operation Provide Hope. “I spent 18 months in Azerbaijan in 6-week chunks. We were ready to go when the African embassies were bombed [in 1998] so the government pulled us out. There was an 8-month delay and then we returned,” he says.

During his overseas assignments, Mazurek enjoyed some time off to soak in the various cultures. While living in Germany, he made several friends and decided to learn the native language. “I knew enough to get by. I could read the language better than I could speak it. My German friends sometimes had a hard time understanding my accent,” he says.

Domestic Assignments

Travel and career opportunities also presented themselves stateside. At Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, Mazurek worked in a number of different capacities, first as a junior technician and later servicing x-ray equipment and respiratory therapy devices. During this assignment, he utilized skills he acquired at Siemens factory training and raised the in-commission rate of nine Siemens x-ray rooms from 50% to 85%. Additionally, he developed a process to reverse a negative trend in overdue work orders from 10% to less than 0.2%. Mazurek also created a training package for patient ventilator maintenance that established consistency in procedures. At Travis Air Force Base in California, one of the largest medical centers in the Air Force, Mazurek served as medical facilities manager between 1994 and 1997 and was MERC superintendent for another 6 months.

Between 2001 and 2008, Mazurek was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska as medical logistic superintendent/operation manager for biomed, logistics, and facilities management. He also performed as Air Combat Command’s biomedical equipment career field manager. In 2008, he transferred to the VA Omaha medical center in the role of biomedical equipment support specialist (BESS), where he still works today. “I was responsible for audiology, dental, MUSE cardiology, ward equipment, and developed specs for new dental clinic equipment and performed/coordinated installation,” Mazurek says. He is currently supervisory BESS for an 18-person service line. “I directly supervise 13 biomedical equipment support specialists and am responsible for medical and nonmedical equipment maintenance support for the Nebraska–Western Iowa (NWI) Health Care System’s three campuses, including a 100-bed medical center in Omaha, a super clinic in Lincoln, a long-term living center, and outpatient clinic in Grand Island and six community-based outpatient clinics across Nebraska and western Iowa,” he says.

In addition to fulfilling his usual work responsibilities, Mazurek finds time to serve on several VA committees. He represents the biomedical engineering service line as a member of the Environment of Care, Infection Control, Patient Safety, Equipment Purchase, and Invasive and Noninvasive Operating Room committees at his facility. At the national level, he serves on the Biomedical Engineering Recruitment and Retention Committee.

Other Opportunities

Mazurek’s storied career in the Air Force has led to some interesting opportunities. Every couple of years, the Air Force changes its skills knowledge test, a 100-question examination that measures an individual’s level of expertise in relation to possible promotion. Due to the longevity of his career and the range of responsibilities he has held, Mazurek was asked to participate in the time-intensive process for a recently updated version. “For 3 weeks, 10 hours a day, we spent our time coming up with questions, as well as some good and bad answers,” he says. “We then sent the questions to psychologists who evaluated them and determined their appropriateness.”

Mazurek’s long career has also made him an official subject matter expert (SME), capable of lending his institutional memory, experience, and acquired knowledge to a variety of projects. He was invited to join a team that conducted a 2-year program, during which he and his colleagues examined the work order flow and identified ways to improve it. “I also have the opportunity to participate on an SME team of five who rewrote job descriptions. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to do so many different things,” he says.

Years ago, Mazurek also tested the entrepreneurial waters when he collaborated with three other biomedical engineers to form a private company. “We found a niche area doing lab equipment inspection work for civilian companies,” he says. “These companies loved for us to come in on the weekends. That way we didn’t cause any disruptions to their workflow.” He explains that these labs were seeking reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid and had to pass certification requirements to qualify. “We made sure the labs were safe and all equipment was calibrated,” he notes. However, the endeavor was short-lived—each member of the trio was eventually transferred to a different geographic area of the country.

While Mazurek has always been willing to help others and offer advice on an informal basis, he has become involved as an official mentor through the VA’s internship program. With VA mentor status at the residency level, he was selected as one of five mentors VA-wide to recruit and train the first ever biomedical engineering support specialist paid interns. A central board accepts the résumés and then sends applicants willing to be assigned to Omaha to Mazurek, who evaluates each candidate and indicates his first choice. “We train them from the ground up,” he says, pointing out that assistance covers job-related as well as personal matters. In one situation, he coached an intern through some family separation issues. “I helped him manage his vacation time so he could get home to see his family. We also worked around the holidays to connect them,” he says. “I worked with his supervisor, and we got him on the list for a job in Houston where his family lived. He eventually landed a job there. I am proud to have helped him.”

Professional Recognition

On more than one occasion throughout his career, Mazurek has been recognized for his strong leadership qualities. He was selected as the primary contact to work a region-wide benchmarking initiative for Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 23 standardizing medical equipment. He was also one of three technicians appointed to revamp the preventive maintenance program, which included risk analysis for more than 200 equipment categories, retagging all medical equipment in the hospital, and updating computerized maintenance files in the VA’s VistA medical equipment record system.

Most recently, a lifetime of career achievements and contributions to the field of biomedical engineering, as well as leadership skills, diplomacy, and ability to work effectively with staff, interns, administration, and vendors prompted AAMI and GE Healthcare to select Mazurek as 2015 BMET of the Year. Angela Mulinix, a VA regional manager, nominated him, citing his ability “to support and give guidance and advice” to those with whom he works. “He has a great way of troubleshooting and responding to any issue. He has extensive technical knowledge of biomedical equipment,” she says. “He is well respected at the facility and is a very good resource. His experience in the field is far more than mine.”

Mulinix has worked with Mazurek during the last 6 years on multiple medical equipment implementation projects. “During this time I have witnessed his exceptional work ethic and passion for biomedical engineering, which has enabled him to effectively lead teams while valuing others’ contributions and allowing for their personal growth,” she wrote in her recommendation letter. She continues to rely on him for assistance and considers him her mentor.

She adds that individuals and entire departments seek Mazurek’s advice on a range of matters “from contracting to finance to facility engineering questions.” Mulinix points out that under his leadership, the medical technology management program at the NWI VA Health Care System witnessed necessary process improvements, which “included changing the way the clinical departments view and interact with the biomedical engineering department.”

Mazurek’s manager is not the only person to feel he deserves the award. William Boyd, supervisor of Imaging Services, cites Mazurek’s “dedication, steady hand, and commitment to service” as some of his best qualities. In his recommendation, he noted that Mazurek accomplishes every task “in an exceptional and professional manner, whether beginning a program that requires [biomeds’] expertise from the ground floor up through completion, or for equipment, installation, or a required upgrade for existing equipment.”

A third letter of support from Steve Fogerty, administrative officer in the Department of Medicine at the NWI Health Care System, recognizes Mazurek for his “personalized assistance, [with] which he makes you feel as though your need or question is the most important item he has on his plate at any given time.”

Kudos to the VA

As for Mazurek, winning the award came as a complete surprise. “I didn’t even know I had been nominated,” he says, and gives the VA much credit for providing the chances for professional growth that led to this award. From the time he entered the Air Force to today, he has been offered outstanding educational and training opportunities, he says; his worldwide travels have introduced him to cultures far beyond the borders of Buffalo; and the responsibilities he has been given throughout the years have helped him grow as a person and as a biomedical technician.

He advises those considering a career in the biomedical field to find a good school with a good program—and then apply to the VA or the military. While competition is tough and veterans do have preference, the chances to grow and advance in the field surpass that of other workplaces, he says. “In the military you are given more responsibility. The government has a good program that allows you to grow a lot faster.”

The path Mazurek has taken in the last 30 years has included incredible experiences with a few twists and turns. He figures he has about 15 years before he plans to retire. No doubt, with another decade-plus on the job, he’ll add many more accomplishments and adventures to the list.

Phyllis Hanlon is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact editorial director John Bethune at [email protected].

Lead photo caption: James Mazurek receives the AAMI & GE Healthcare BMET of the Year Award at the 2015 AAMI Conference & Expo in Denver.