Before earning AAMI’s HTM Leader of the Year award, Gieras distinguished herself with a hunger for learning, enthusiasm for the field, and drive for success

Good fortune, parental influence, and perfect timing have been instrumental in guiding Izabella Gieras through her professional journey in life. But don’t underestimate the role hard work, passion, and personal interest have played in boosting her career, culminating in the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s (AAMI) 2015 HTM Leader of the Year award.

The foundation for Gieras’ career began at an early age. Somewhat of a globetrotter, she was exposed to several different cultures before she turned 13. “I grew up in different countries, living in Poland, Jordan, and South Africa,” she says. Her father’s job as a professor in electrical engineering exposed her to his work when she attended his lectures and went on some of his business trips. “Also, I started early with Lego blocks and it was always my favorite activity as a child. My family certainly had an influence on my career, especially my engineering career. However, I also developed a passion for the medical field early on and was always interested in medical equipment and its application to healthcare,” she says.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa working toward her degree in electrical engineering, Gieras had an opportunity to sample some courses in biomedical engineering, which she found intriguing. This experience whetted her appetite for more, and she wondered if it was possible to create a career by melding engineering with medicine.

Laying the Groundwork

Luck was with Gieras. When she and her parents moved to the United States, she discovered the University of Connecticut, near their new home, offered a Masters degree in biomedical engineering. Gieras enrolled immediately. She was delighted to find that the university not only offered top-notch coursework, but also made internships available to students. She had the good fortune to engage in two clinical engineering internships, one at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut and another at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

“I studied in the evening and worked 20 to 30 hours [each week] during the day in the hospital, where I learned about the equipment and the field in general,” she says. These internship experiences laid the groundwork for future positions in a hospital environment. For 2 years, she had the opportunity to evaluate and troubleshoot new and existing medical technologies. By rotating through different clinical departments, she gained a taste of the various clinical and technical aspects of each one. Gieras was also given a chance to help develop policies and procedures for The Joint Commission survey and contribute to a Y2K project during her internships.

Gieras’ work in a hospital setting continued following graduation when she landed a job at Beaumont Hospitals, a three-hospital regional healthcare system in Royal Oak, Mich, where she rose through the ranks from clinical engineer to director of clinical engineering and technology management during her 8-year tenure.

From assisting with the technical development of employees and facility and equipment planning for construction and renovation projects, to department oversight and participation in collaborative projects with the information technology (IT) department, Gieras continued to expand her professional portfolio.

Technology, Committees, and a New Passion 

At Beaumont, she had her first experience with human factors engineering testing and process improvement, which became a new passion. “Beaumont became the highlight of human factors work and usability,” Gieras says. Charged with oversight of the Beaumont Technology Usability Center (BTUC), she managed a team of clinical and human factors engineers as it focused on improving and adapting technology and equipment to the clinical work environment. She also collaborated with medical device manufacturers during clinical trials, usability testing, process improvement, and user experience related to human factors engineering.

Gieras became involved with committee work at Beaumont as well, serving as codeveloper and cochair of the hospital’s Strategic Technology Management committee with IT; cochair of the Corporate Misconnections Task Force; chair of the Equipment Quality and Performance committee; voting member of the hospital’s Institutional Review Board committee; and Joint Commission Environment of Care chapter leader for equipment management. In addition to her extensive committee work, Gieras found the time to serve as president of the American College of Clinical Engineering (ACCE) while working at Beaumont. She also became engaged in teaching on an international stage in Nicaragua, Argentina, and El Salvador through advanced clinical engineering workshops.

In 2008, Gieras moved on to work for Aramark at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and became director of the clinical engineering department, where she continued working with new technologies and serving on several committees. During the next 2 years, she played a key role on several diverse projects, including hospital-wide patient monitoring implementation; early planning phases for the medical device integration with an electronic medical record (EMR) system, starting with patient monitors and then moving on to ventilators and infusion pumps; implementation of real-time location system tracking applications; and middleware integration between patient monitoring systems and wireless communication devices.

Continuing her committee work, Gieras became a member of the safety, critical care, nursing education, bariatric, medication safety, and environment of care committees, to name a few. Notably, she served as an active member of the latter, developing the medical equipment management plan and associated policies and procedures.

A “Perfect” Opportunity

When her husband, an aerospace engineer for Honeybee Robotics, was asked to open a west coast office, Gieras began looking for a professional opportunity in that geographic area that matched her career interests. Fortune served her once again when she found the “perfect opportunity close to his office in a very nice environment.” At Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif, she is currently the director of the clinical technology department.

Building on previous experiences, at Huntington Memorial she has been able to enhance her knowledge of innovative technologies, specifically through a new EMR roll-out project in which she has worked with the implementation team on developing a strategy that supports the integration of patient monitors and anesthesia gas machines with the new system. The initial planning has already started for the subsequent phases to this project, where Gieras is already looking into the integration solutions for ventilators, infusion pumps, and vital sign monitors. She also continues her work on the evaluation of a real-time location system for medical device tracking.

Gieras serves as chair of a committee formed in response to The Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goal for clinical alarms. “[Alarms] are a huge component of everything we do and of medical equipment. We’re inundated with alarms. You have to decipher what is a true actionable alarm and we’re working through the process, how it impacts end users, patients, and the clinical engineering department. I’m involved in the planning perspective and execution.” A board member of the Healthcare Technology Foundation, she also chairs its clinical alarms workgroup.

Not only does Gieras invest considerable time in her work at the hospital as department director and committee chair and member, she is also a prolific writer with a lengthy list of book and journal publications, conference proceedings, and professional presentations to her credit. “I am happy to share what I’ve learned to perfect a process. Someone else can learn from my experience,” she says, noting that professional articles enhance conference participation and make a good substitute when distance prohibits travel to professional meetings. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get to a conference, even on a management level. Articles can share information you have gleaned from a conference,” she says.

Early in her professional journey, Gieras began to pursue additional academic achievement with an eye toward managerial positions. In addition to her Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Cape Town, she earned her MBA from Walsh College of Accountancy and Business Administration in Troy, Mich, in 2004, maintaining status on the president’s and dean’s list throughout her 3 years of study. She also holds a Clinical Engineering Certification (CCE) and is a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB). “I’d like to take additional courses or get a degree to complement my other accomplishments. I might pursue a doctorate related to human factors engineering,” she says.

Finding Balance

On an everyday basis, Gieras cites the people with whom she works as one of the best aspects of her job. “Not everything happens within the hospital, so I work closely with other organizations and interact with people internally and externally,” she says. The type and variety of work she does ensures a high degree of excitement in the job. “Every day is different,” she says, noting that patient safety and good quality care “center on medical equipment and new technology.” Her department has the chance “to look at different aspects of equipment from replacement to evaluations.” She adds, “I get to have the opportunity to look at and see how technology has evolved. Equipment is no longer stand–alone. Everything is integrated and highly interconnected with each other and other systems. I am able to live and breathe technology.”

Although she thrives in a busy work environment, Gieras admits that managing all the tasks in a day can sometimes be a struggle, but she finds satisfaction in resolving issues. “You have to find a balance in everything—people, tools, finances. You have to be creative and innovative to allocate resources. At the end of the day, everything we do impacts safety. There is a trickle–down effect to patients. Safety and effective care are the drivers,” she says. “It’s not just workflow, but you have to be cost–conscious. Finances always play a role. You need to balance safety, cost efficiency, and usability aspects. We need to eliminate medical errors. You have to think outside the box and bring in a more innovative approach.”

Advantages of Mentoring and Teamwork

Before focusing on a career in biomedical engineering, Gieras had to find a direction that inspired passion. She advises others to “fight the fear, especially when it comes to biomedical/clinical engineering.” She says, “Sometimes this profession is a mystery. But explore and learn as much as you can. Reach out to professional organizations like AAMI, ACCE, and HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society).”

A proponent of mentoring, Gieras suggests high school and college students volunteer in a hospital clinical engineering department to see firsthand what the career path involves. “Be as involved as you can. Take advantage of internships, volunteer, and learn more about the profession. It’s a wonderful field, a versatile field,” she says, adding that career opportunities are available in hospitals, manufacturing, the Veterans Administration, academia, and with regulatory bodies.

She is extremely pleased that the field is experiencing an influx of women and encourages more of them to give serious consideration to the possibility of a career in clinical engineering. “Through work within professional organizations, we’ve grown the field for women. There are quite a few who are technicians, clinical engineers, and, better still, in management positions across the country.”

Gieras’ well-rounded experience, deep involvement with AAMI—she has served as a presenter, copartner, and coordinator for some of its conferences, and also contributes to the nominating, editorial, clinical/IT, and strategic committees—as well as her outstanding leadership capabilities have led to national recognition. “It’s exciting to think about the new opportunities I’ve been exposed to with medical device integration. One of the biggest, high-profile projects that continues to evolve is the new EMR system rollout and its subsequent developments as related to medical device integration. I was involved in the management and design aspects,” she says. “I’ve worked with my staff, IT, clinical users, and vendors on the path between medical device and EMR integration. This was a 2014 highlight for me.”

In 2006, Beaumont Hospital won the ECRI Institute Health Devices Achievement Award for a project Gieras was involved in, “Strategic Management of Healthcare Technology: A Study of Human Factors in the Use of Wireless Telemetry and Communications Systems.” Also while at Beaumont, she and other members of the Misconnections committee were awarded ECRI’s Excellence in Nursing Practice–Patient Safety award for their “Catheter and Tubing Misconnections” project in 2007.

With all her accomplishments, you might think Gieras would be ready to slow down and bask in the glory. But she continues to push forward and remains involved with several projects. “Beaumont was the highlight of human factor and usability work. I am still very much involved with human factors work at Huntington. This work is embedded in everything I do, comprising a number of critical factors including equipment evaluation, risk assessment, and investigations.”

She will be the first admit that she “got lucky through [her] 12 years in the field” and is “thrilled” to have won the 2015 HTM Leader of the Year award, calling the honor the “highlight of [her] career.” But she is quick to point out that “no one does anything alone.” She adds, “It takes a true team effort to be successful.”

Phyllis Hanlon is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact chief editor Jenny Lower at [email protected].

Lead photo caption: Izabella Gieras advises Christian Haggett, senior clinical technology technician, at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif. Credit: Michael Justice.