Salaries stagnate amid ‘chaotic’ and ‘unprecedented’ times

By Keri Forsythe-Stephens

**The January/February issue of 24×7 will feature more statistics and exclusive salary charts.**

To say that 2020 was an unprecedented year is a vast understatement. “Chaotic,” “stressful,” “extremely challenging,” albeit “exciting at times,” were some of the ways respondents of 24×7’s 2020 compensation and job satisfaction survey described the year unlike any other. They should know.

As COVID-19 raged and brought the world to its proverbial knees, the healthcare sector undoubtedly bore the brunt of the burden. “How hasn’t COVID affected operations?” one survey respondent quipped. Those in healthcare technology management (HTM), in particular, had to mobilize spare equipment to build triage sites, the respondent wrote, in addition to contending with parts shortages and vendor shutouts. “The list goes on!”

Unfortunately, such heightened responsibilities didn’t mean fatter paychecks for many members of the HTM field. In 2019, salaries rose in nearly all major job categories—including BMET 2, BMET 3, clinical engineer, radiologist equipment specialist, director/executive, and managers. Not so in 2020. Although directors’/executives’ salaries jumped from $124,700 to $136,100, year-over-year, in 2020, this figure was largely an outlier. [Note: To tap into an even larger pool of HTM professionals, 24×7 conducted this year’s survey in conjunction with AAMI, which represents a diverse community of more than 9,000 professionals.] 

The median national salaries for BMET2s, clinical engineers, and radiology equipment specialists fell slightly in 2020, with BMET1s, BMET3s, and managers seeing only nominal salary growth. (Only BMET3s experienced a more than $2,000, year-over-year, salary increase. Their salaries rose from $74,200 in 2019 to $76,700 in 2020.)

Despite these less-than-impressive gains, the majority of survey respondents were rather content with their salaries. Exactly one-fifth of those surveyed deemed their salaries “very fair” with respect to their education and experience level, with a further 32% categorizing their compensation level as “fair.” Only 6% said their salaries were “very unfair.” The rest of respondents—15% and 27%, respectively—designated their compensation as “not very fair” and “somewhat fair.”

Nearly half of survey respondents—46%, to be exact—also indicated that they were “very likely” to promote the HTM profession to others. (A solid 19% said they were “likely” to do so, with a miniscule 3% saying they were “very unlikely” to endorse the HTM field.) When asked about their favorite aspects of managing healthcare technologies, respondents of 24×7’s 2020 compensation and job satisfaction survey cited a variety of benefits.

Several survey respondents praised the “dynamic” and “fast-paced” environment of HTM, with one individual lauding the satisfaction of keeping equipment—and, subsequently, patients—safe. “I, personally, feel a great sense of accomplishment when I [learn something new] or repair a piece of equipment that is challenging,” the survey respondent added.

Another respondent similarly extolled the merits of repairing sophisticated medical equipment—and how it directly impacts patient care. “I love the variety of equipment I work on,” the individual wrote, “and I’m especially grateful for panic situations where biomed saves the day.”

The chance to save the day certainly became more frequent in 2020, as HTM professionals were increasingly called on to repair life-saving equipment such as ventilators. COVID-19 increased biomeds’ visibility, one survey respondent asserted, with another remarking how it “really showed our value to the organization. We were a major contributor in planning and reallocating medical devices.”

2020 was, no doubt, a transformative year, but despite all the changes the HTM industry saw, one aspect remained largely the same—the demographic.

Deconstructing the Data

In 2020, the “typical” respondent in 24×7’s compensation and job satisfaction survey was a 49.5-year-old-male—a statistic in line with previous years’ findings. (The average age among survey respondents was 49 in both 2018 and 2019.) And like in past years, females accounted for only a small minority of 2020 survey respondents—11%, down from 13% in 2019.

Also down was the number of millennials—those under the age of 35—represented in 2020’s survey. In 2019, millennials accounted for 17% of 24×7’s survey respondents—3% more than in 2020. The lack of young people entering HTM was a major concern among many survey respondents—especially as baby boomers continue to exit the field. Simply put, one person wrote, “There aren’t enough people going into the field to subsidize the anticipated retirees in the near future.”

Another respondent validated this person’s fears. “I teach biomed classes at the local community college and, this year, we will only graduate three students,” the survey respondent revealed. “This won’t replenish the aging workforce that is retiring.”

The numbers seem to agree. In 2020, 40% of survey respondents were in the 55-and-older age bracket, with more than one-fifth—22%, to be exact—over the age of 60. “A ton of knowledge and experience will go out the door” when these professionals retire, one survey respondent lamented, while simultaneously highlighting the general “lack of awareness” about the field.

Despite this seeming lack of awareness—which other respondents also mentioned—working in HTM is stressful, many of those surveyed said. COVID-19 or not, HTM professionals are increasingly being asked to do more with less resources, several respondents pointed out.

“Our facility recently finished a large expansion but only hired one extra full-time biomed,” one individual wrote. “We were already spread thin, and the extra space on top of the pandemic has kept us feeling like we’re constantly [struggling] to keep up with our workload.”

This person wasn’t alone in his or her sentiments. Among the roughly 1,000 respondents in 24×7’s 2020 compensation and job satisfaction survey, 52% characterized their workload as “heavy,” with a further 12% calling it “excessive.” (Only a miniscule number of those surveyed—2%—deemed their workload as “light.”)

“There is always a high volume of work,” one survey respondent said. “Hospitals steadily climb in size and equipment count, but staffing can be slow to follow.”

Considering the delicate nature of medical equipment—and what can go wrong when devices fail or are compromised—the staffing challenges are even more precarious, some say. When it comes to what keeps HTM professionals up at night, however, two issues were continually cited in 24×7’s compensation and job satisfaction survey: cybersecurity and the Right to Repair.

As one survey respondent posited, “As more devices become networked, how do we effectively screen devices and put controls in place to allow for full functionality, without compromising the safety of our patients, staff, network, and other devices?” After all, another survey respondent pointed out, “[Medical] equipment can be a weak point in cybersecurity standards.”

The other top issue respondents cited—the Right to Repair—became even more relevant in 2020, according to some of those surveyed. “I feel like it should be mandatory to have a service manual and parts with every equipment sale to ensure that medical devices are maintained optimally,” one individual wrote.

“Having the ability to work on systems that are not completely locked down” is crucial, another survey respondent said, with yet another imploring manufacturers to provide equipment purchasers with service keys. Pipe dreams, perhaps, but the unprecedented nature of 2020—in which HTM professionals often found themselves maintaining more devices than normal—certainly brought the Right to Repair battle to the forefront.

Suffice it to say that 2020 brought many issues to the forefront. But it also shed light on the important work HTM professionals do every day and why they’re indispensable to the clinicians that rely on them—whether their largely stagnant salaries reflect it or not.

Keri Forsythe-Stephens is chief editor of 24×7 Magazine. Questions and comments can be directed to [email protected].