According to the US Department of Labor, there are only about 29,000 workers who are labeled as “medical equipment repairers,” with growth expected to be approximately 14,000 over the next 10 years. This statistic for the number of workers, given the quantity of medical devices and systems, was much lower than I expected. Part of this device proliferation is due to hospitals, clinics, and other health care centers increasing their efficiency with improved technology. Today’s BMETs also have responsibilities that extend beyond clinical equipment as their employers realize what a technical resource exists in their biomedical/clinical engineering departments. If only the rest of the world knew the story behind the scenes ….

So where am I heading with this discussion? It is about technology and a particular issue that has been discussed in a number of venues but with no apparent change: access to certification testing. As technology-oriented as clinical engineering is, I find it more than a little troubling that we do not leverage technology more effectively when it comes to our most recognized industry-standard credential. While the availability of training for the CBET, CLES, and CRES examinations has improved, testing locations and dates remain a barrier to some who would otherwise pursue certification.

The number of certified individuals is relatively low when compared to the number of practitioners for a number of reasons. For those who do consider certification a goal, what can be done to improve access?

I offer the following: What about using existing regional centers (such as Prometric or equivalent) as testing centers? This could potentially reduce costs to AAMI and to most examinees, while significantly increasing availability and convenience to candidates. I understand that there are regional testing locations now, but are they constrained by the same limited testing schedule? Having the tests reside at these regional commercial testing centers would virtually eliminate the date restraint, assuming that the staff at AAMI could follow up year-round on any test-takers to validate their results. Any cost increase in the testing fee (currently $285 based on my information from the ICC) would, in most cases, be more than offset by the transportation, lodging, and lost work costs incurred by those using the current system.

I made this observation (again) last year, while sitting for my project management professional (PMP) certification in one such testing center (Thompson Prometric). After taking my test (and immediately knowing my score), I recalled my testing experience for the CBET examination, as well as those from some of my coworkers who more recently completed the process, and could not help comparing the two.

During my Prometric testing experience, the environment was well-regulated and comfortable. The staff at the center were also helpful and ensured that no distractions to test-takers or “cheating” occurred. At least eight different highly recognized certifications were being delivered during my visit—could the CBET, CLES, and CRES work here as well? How many more would become certified if this format was adopted?

Many of you may recall Charles A Rawlings, PhD’s weeklong seminar in biomedical instrumentation held during two, or sometimes three, sessions each year with a CBET exam scheduled at its conclusion as a convenience. Today, we can take convenience a few steps further. This was the route I was able to take for certification preparation due to an employer who strongly supports education and credentialing. Not everyone enjoys this level of support, and some individuals bear the entire cost themselves. I understand this and for years tried to think of ways to make taking the test the hardest part, rather than the logistics involved in “being there.” Now that there are options that seem to work for other tests, why not use these same tools for biomedical certification?

My main objective is to encourage discussion, as it should be the decision of those working in this industry and administering the examinations. Unfortunately, in my preparation for this article, I have not solicited input from AAMI and other organizations. However, I firmly believe that they should also be included in this discussion, and I would enjoy having their active participation on this topic. This is not an attempt to change ownership of the exam but rather to increase the quality of the experience and grow the profession.

Are the current limitations of location and test dates preventing more from becoming certified? What are your thoughts?

Brian Blackwell, CBET, PMP, has more than 20 years of experience in clinical engineering and is currently a project leader for Centra Health Inc (Lynchburg, Va).

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