By Jeffrey Ruiz

I have been very fortunate to be a part of a great clinical engineering team at a large hospital that has had little turnover. As a leader, we can get caught in the weeds of the day to day challenges. Sometimes, we can get so focused on solving daily issues that it can take away our focus on preparing for the future,  such as succession planning and developing talent pipelines. This would become very clear when, as fate would have it, we suddenly needed to recruit talent for two vacant positions and quickly discovered that our industry is in serious need of qualified candidates.

The first opening was for an entry-level equipment distribution position. This would be a great opportunity for a student in a biomedical engineering program. However, there were no applicants that fit this mold. When a second position became available, this time for a full-time biomedical engineering technician, again we had no applicants with any biomedical engineering experience. Nor could we find any entry-level techs who were enrolled in a biomedical engineering program.

During this time, an opportunity came from our local community college to teach as an adjunct instructor for their biomedical engineering program. I always wanted to give back to this community that has been so giving to me. But I also needed to get out of my comfort zone as well. This opportunity would require a lot of me. I had never taught before, but I did have an idea of what topics and skill sets I wanted to instruct on. However, I didn’t know the exact classroom and electronic lab protocols or approaches. I needed some help and guidance.

Where to Get Help

Thanks to the internet, our ability to network with others these days is better than ever before. For me, social networking tools, such as LinkedIn, has helped me develop a large and focused network within the biomedical engineering and CE-IT community, not just in my state, but around the country and the world. Through my social network, I was able to get help and support from other instructors in biomedical engineering programs, such as Indiana University-Purdue University, Texas Tech, Schoolcraft, and many more. Resources, such as books and sample syllabuses were shared, and best practices and helpful suggestions were also provided by the other instructors. This allowed me to not only have an established foundation for the program courses I would be teaching but also gain an understanding of how to impart my own personal perspectives that I feel would be beneficial for today’s BMETs, based on my many years of experience in the field.

My first class was to have five students, but one student would switch to a different curriculum and I was down to 4. Early on, I set precedence by letting the students know that I am actively working in the biomedical engineering field and that they would be learning key skills that I know will help them be prepared to succeed in this industry. Drawing from what I and my team have seen over the years and what my social network and other professional resources had to offer, I could share these real work experiences. There were challenges, of course, ranging from a textbook that was quite a few years out of date, to the donated medical devices that were from the 1970’s. However, this provided opportunities for me to implement my own personal stamp on the education material, as well.

What to Teach

One of my first challenges as a new biomedical engineering instructor was deciding which of the ideas I had, or that had been shared with me, for teaching my class, and how to implement those ideas into the program curriculum. One idea was to bring in my local test equipment vendor and have him do an in-service for the students on the various test devices they offer and their applications. I let the vendor know that this would be a great way for him to connect with BMETs early in their career.

Another idea was to bring the class to my hospital and have a tour of our shop and also visit the various departments of the hospital serviced by our clinical engineering team. This gave the students a way to connect with those already in the field and ask questions about their careers and what lessons they have learned on the job. I highly recommend other managers in our field contact their local community colleges and others with biomed tech programs to volunteer to do this as well, because it gives your team pride in their work and their careers as they share their stories with the students.

Another suggestion for teaching the class was to familiarize the students with the industry associations and other industry resources. I introduced them to AAMI, RSNA, the Michigan Society of Clinical Engineering (MSCE), which is our local BMET association, and others, so they can get a glimpse of the industry and what it means to be a lifelong learner.

I also shared with them the value of attending association events, like the AMMI annual conference I was planning to attend in Austin, Texas in 2017. I was amazed when one of my students showed up at the opening ceremony after driving 20 hours to the conference—which he got the most out of, incidentally, attending numerous educational sessions, meeting vendors, and networking with other attendees. However, I’m pretty sure there will be other association conferences or meetings closer to home that you can suggest your students attend if they can.

Worth the Investment

In addition to these areas, I was able to incorporate experiences that we encountered with my team. I brought in a list of our service calls from our hospital. We went over each call and discussed how we would handle them. This gave the students a taste of real work experience and what we see on a day to day basis. It also provided insight into what today’s hospitals are expecting from us—both our soft skills, i.e., how to stay professional and develop good listening skills when our customer may not be having the best of days; and, the increased focus on CE-IT related troubleshooting calls. For soft skills, we were able to do some role-playing on how to handle these real-life scenarios. For our CE-IT service calls, we worked on basic network infrastructure and best approaches to working collaboratively with IT.

Because I am able to introduce real-world experiences to the students in the biomedical engineering program, I am confident they understand whether becoming a BMET is something they are truly interested in pursuing as a career, which benefits any hospital where they choose to work. It also has allowed me to develop a pipeline of talent for our facility. In fact, we have hired two students from the program. Since I was able to take a hands-on approach to their education process, I was able to develop and cultivate this talent to meet the needs of our industry. And with two more of our technicians approaching retirement age, I know where I will be looking to find replacements for those positions.

So, what can you do? Get involved with your local biomedical engineering education programs. See how you can help. Could you teach? Could you provide your site as a possible tour location? Could you be a site for an internship? If there are no programs nearby, could you develop one? Could you do remote learning? Be creative and come up with your own ideas. If you need help, develop your network and reach out to the educator leaders in the field for best practices. As our industry is aging, we need to take active steps in cultivating our own talent. Why not teach? You may find it rewarding—and you might just hire your own students, too.

Jeffrey Ruiz is technology manager for a large hospital, and also is an adjunct professor in the biomedical engineering program at a community college, both in western Michigan.