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.
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.
Good to know! Why do people keep lumping BMETS with Imaging Engineer’s? That’s like lumping a Podiatrist and a Cardiologist together….not even close to the same realm. Good article though!
I still wonder if there has been too much focus on supply of staff and too little on the demand. I don’t mean demand in sheer numbers but rather the nature of the demand (soft skills, IT support, wireless, etc…). Depending on how the demand is framed, it is quite understandable that a millennial would look on the opportunities as little more than dead ends.
One thing that caught my eye in the article is the claim that people with an electronics background can’t learn what they need to be successful BMETs via OJT. Is there evidence to support the claim? If not it shuts out a potential solution to the problem. And even it can be demonstrated that prior attempts haven’t worked, it begs the question could OJT be tailored in such a way to help address the demand.
It is a different day and time, but I know quite a few people who succeeded in this field with an electronics background. Like, for instance, me. My degrees are a BSEE and MSEE. I started an MSCE program in 1980 and completed a graduate physiology course, but after two years of working as a CE I realized the rest of the curriculum would not teach me anything I hadn’t already learned OTJ. Instead, I followed my more academic interest of signal processing and control. And many of the BMETs I worked with in those early years had associate degrees in electronics.
Looking back, I recognize that I worked in a relatively large department which afforded me mentoring opportunities that smaller institutions probably could not so easily provide. This begs the question as to whether something equivalent could be developed by a coalition of smaller hospital BMET departments, e.g., develop relationships with community college electronics programs where members of the surrounding BMET community would offer seminars every so often… something along those lines… Students wouldn’t receive a BMET degree, but some might discover they want the job. If enough of them end up being interested, maybe something can develop out of that.
This is not to say that an alternative along these lines is to be preferred. Around the same time that I decided to drop my pursuit of the MSCE, I began teaching in the BMET program at Howard Community College in Columbia MD. I ended up teaching the lab for one year and lecture for three. I thought at the time and continue to believe that students with the healthcare specific components provided in a BMET curriculum would make a smoother transition into a BMET job, but my experience also tells me that the motivation of the student to learn once OTJ is far more important. The trick in interviewing is discerning whether that motivation exists; often a question about hobbies helps.
The above is anachronistic and therefore may be applicable to the current situation. And I recognize that when you’re up to your ears in alligators, swamp drainage is low on your priority list. But the field has to think about different ways of obtaining its staffing objectives.