How to navigate staffing challenges in the biomed sector

By Cindy Stephens

Hiring authorities and human resources professionals are finding that there is a critical shortage of qualified and experienced biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) and imaging service technicians available to fill the many vacant healthcare technology management (HTM) positions throughout the United States.

In fact, healthcare employers are struggling to keep up with the surging demand for these individuals, with the use of increasingly complex medical devices driving the need for professionally trained and experienced service professionals. And, to add to this problem, our education system is failing the healthcare industry on the technical services side.

Put simply, the demand for professionally trained BMETs has grown at a faster rate than our technical programs can provide. It is estimated that within the next three years, we will need about 5,000 BMETs to meet the demand. However, many of our associate-degree-producing schools have closed due to a lack of students. Consider these statistics:

  • Thirty-three degree-producing schools (24 AAS and nine BS) have recently closed their biomedical instrumentation programs.
  • Nationally, there are only 22 accredited colleges, with approximately 400 BMET students graduating annually.
  • The military training center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, has approximately 450 BMET students graduating annually—only 325 of whom plan to enter the civilian marketplace.

Based on the need that is seen nationwide, this declining enrollment rate is very hard to understand—and it’s adding to the shortage of available and qualified BMETs and HTM professionals. We can only speculate as to why interest in these fields has declined; however, it appears that our millennials do not seem to be focusing on the technical/service type of education.

Some healthcare organizations and independent service organizations have even hired basic electronics technicians and taught them how to repair clinical equipment while on the job.

Unfortunately, these organizations soon realized that most of these individuals could not replace professionally trained BMETs since they lacked the medical terminology/anatomy and physiology training required to understand device interaction with the patient. And lacking such knowledge could have a detrimental impact on patient care.

Employer Beware

Another challenge for hiring officials is recognizing professionally trained BMETs and imaging service technicians with appropriate compensation. While historically not at the top of the pay range for technical positions, salaries have increased for professionally trained BMETs over the past few years due to the classic economic law of supply and demand.

Furthermore, the demand for experienced BMETs and imaging service technicians is significantly increasing, and wages continue to rise due to the labor pool shortage. So to retain qualified staff, employers need to continually evaluate market trends and keep up with the appropriate pay and benefits.

It’s also important to remember that candidates often move on to other opportunities when hiring officials take too long to make employment decisions. When employers finally find qualified talent, taking too long to make a job offer can result in the selected candidate becoming very discouraged and seeking opportunities elsewhere. In other words, a delayed hiring process causes both the employer and the candidate to lose out.

But on a positive note, this very tenuous and uncertain economic period has created a shift in hiring trends that helps employers and candidates—with many employers considering temporary-to-permanent placements to lock in prospective candidates.

Employers are also turning to recruitment and staffing companies for temporary and contract staffing as an alternative to the economic risks of hiring permanent employees. After all, contract staffing is an excellent alternative for companies and hiring managers who are dealing with staffing shortages—despite increased workloads—in the HTM field.

However, a word of caution: Hiring organizations need to ensure that they are working with a reputable company, which has contract staffing experience and meets all legal and IRS requirements. For instance, an experienced contract staffing firm brings on a contractor as a W-2 employee; when staffing agencies supply BMET contractors as 1099 employees, rather than W-2 employees, it can result in significant fines and penalties for the organization that contracts with the temporary staffing agency.

After all, the government is continuing to crack down on companies who mistakenly hire or classify workers as 1099 independent contractors versus W-2 employees.

In conclusion, don’t get frustrated with the challenges of today’s recruitment process, whether you are an employer, an HR professional, or a job candidate. In this tight labor market, recruitment and retention of professionally trained BMETs and imaging service technicians can be painless and successful by utilizing the right resources and incentivizing prospective employees.

Cindy Stephens is president/CEO of Lakeview, Ark.-based Stephens International Recruiting, Inc.