Starting out or ready for a change? Find out what the experts say and get your career on the right path

Career opportunities for biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) couldn’t be better. Between an aging population in the United States and the increasing demand for sophisticated medical devices, BMETs—in most cases—will experience job security throughout their careers. In addition, many biomeds currently in the field are nearing retirement, which will create even more opportunities for those interested in joining the profession. With the opportunities so strong, what is the best career strategy for biomeds?

As with most professions, it depends on the specific stage of one’s career. An entry-level technician clearly has different needs than a more seasoned biomed. “The best thing for a BMET starting out is to be exposed to as many different areas in the hospital and as many different types of equipment as possible,” says Rich Dubord, ARAMARK Healthcare’s manager of biomedical engineering at Norman Regional Hospital in Norman, Okla. “Their first position is essentially a launching pad for their career—they start out as a generalist and can gradually specialize based on their aspirations and interests.”

According to Cindy Stephens, president, Stephens International Recruiting Inc, Lakeview, Ark, entry-level BMETs have a more difficult time finding work if they have less than 1 year of actual experience. However, Stephens adds that many hospitals and independent service organizations (ISOs) will consider hiring an entry-level BMET if they have a strong electronics background or have successfully completed a biomedical instrumentation training program that has an internship requirement. Other health care-related experience, such as working as a medical technologist or in other clinical positions, can also help. “Home health care and medical equipment rental companies offer many opportunities for BMETs with little work experience,” she says.

Starting Out
According to Ron Greenwalt, an ARAMARK Healthcare site manager of biomedical engineering at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, the strength of a local school plays a large role in the quality and availability of entry-level job candidates. Since Texas State Technical College in nearby Waco has a strong accredited BMET program, Greenwalt is able to hire many of its graduates. “I don’t start new technicians off at any particular level of equipment complexity; I let them work up to their level of confidence, but as they gain exposure, they develop preferences for specific areas,” Greenwalt says.

Individual motivation and desire also can determine how quickly a biomed advances through the ranks. In most hospital settings, entry-level technicians are classified as BMET 1. After some experience, which typically includes specialization in a specific area, BMET 1s eventually go on to become BMET 2s, 3s, or even 4s, if a hospital uses that type of designation. In some hospitals, biomeds are simply designated as general BMETs, specialists, senior technicians, supervisors, or managers.

Early in their careers, most BMETs are faced with the decision of whether to work for an ISO or an individual hospital. Stephens stresses that although ISOs offer a wide range of career opportunities, it often means the BMET must be willing to travel or even relocate with the ISO as it takes on new accounts. “Yet ISOs typically provide BMETs with more responsibilities and often additional training and experience on different equipment than an in-house position,” she says. On the other hand, the value of in-house positions is that they usually provide substantial stability for long-term employment. To assist in the area of career growth, both in-house institutions and ISOs offer a greater number of opportunities to specialize in particular modalities of equipment such as laboratory, sterilization, respiratory, and medical imaging.

The Educational Advantage
Traditionally, most biomeds enter the field with either military training or an associate’s of science degree from a community college. Only a few institutions in the country offer a bachelor’s degree that is specifically related to biomedical engineering. As a result, the big question for many BMETs is whether they should continue their education to receive a bachelor’s degree and in some cases even a master’s degree. If an individual is interested in going into management, the answer is unequivocally yes.

“In order to be competitive in moving into management positions, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree should be attained,” Stephens stresses. She points out that BMETs today can enroll in many different technical management degree programs that include a health care focus. “An MBA is helpful if the individual is seeking an executive position in a multi-hospital system, regional account and field service management position,” she adds. 

Gene Schott, a Masterplan site manager for two hospitals in Victoria, Tex, concurs that a bachelor’s degree is definitely essential in today’s health care environment. Schott is seeing increasing numbers of biomeds going back to school to complete degrees in biomedical engineering, applied sciences, or even business.

“The MBA or master’s in health care management are also being pursued by those who want to work in upper management,” Schott says. Many hospitals and ISOs offer a tuition-reimbursement program in which BMETs can receive reimbursement to cover the cost of additional education.

For those BMETs who prefer not to pursue careers in management, their best strategy is to keep up with technical skills. “Nothing is wrong with carrying a tool bag well into your career or all through your entire career,” Dubord stresses. “The key is finding your niche, whether it’s in imaging, lab, PACS, or   another area.” Dubord notes that most people are drawn to the biomedical equipment field because they enjoy maintaining and repairing equipment. “It can be a whole lot less rewarding trying to ‘fix’ people from a management perspective than trying to fix a monitor,” he says.

Finding Your Niche
As biomeds gain experience, they develop preferences for specific areas within the hospital. “The environment they work in definitely plays a role in job satisfaction,” Schott says. “Some prefer not to work in the ICU with critically ill patients while others don’t like working in the lab,” he says. Specializing in medical imaging—specifically ultrasound—is extremely attractive to many BMETs because reimbursement tends to be higher, yet it can be a more stressful environment. One of the big challenges in medical imaging is that when equipment fails, it needs to be repaired immediately compared to other areas that may have back-up equipment or lower rates of patient utilization. Other biomeds are attracted to general biomedical services because it tends to have greater growth potential for upper management.

According to Stephens, one of the best ways for BMETs to grow professionally, whether they want to pursue management or not, is to obtain certification as a certified biomedical equipment technician (CBET), certified radiology equipment specialist (CRES), certified laboratory equipment specialist (CLES), or in other specific areas. In addition, she points out that with the proliferation of computer networking in health care institutions and its relationship to clinical equipment, biomeds should consider further training in computer technology and network principles.

“Certification in computer maintenance (A+ certification) and networking skills—MCSE or CCNA—will only enhance the technician’s ability to grow their biomedical instrumentation career,” she says.

Mentors, Resources, and Skills
Throughout their careers, biomeds should also seek out mentors who will help them grow professionally. “Many senior BMETs are happy to take an entry-level person under their wing and provide leadership and guidance to them,” Stephens says. After a biomed selects an individual that he or she thinks would make a strong mentor, they should ask if they could work more closely with them to learn some of the potential mentor’s strategies for success. Most senior biomeds are flattered when approached in this way and are more than willing to share information.

Schott recommends networking through organizations such as the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation and the American Society of Healthcare Engineering, or local organizations. For example, biomeds in Texas find many opportunities through the North Texas Biomedical Association or the Southeast Texas Clinical Engineering Society. “All of these groups offer regular meetings with guest speakers and opportunities for networking,” Schott says. Employers are often willing to pay for training and conferences offered by these organizations.

The biomeds who have been most successful in their careers agree that strong communication and interpersonal skills play a major role in getting ahead in the field. “Employers are looking for individuals with initiative, enthusiasm, and excellent customer service skills,” Stephens says. “They must be articulate and clear-spoken, have a positive and energetic personality, and must be known as more than the person in the basement who fixes equipment,” she says.

When Schott interviews candidates, he assesses their philosophy, attitude, and ethics, and believes that their technical experience represents only 50% of their attributes. “You can have a great technician, but if he can’t communicate or get along with other people, he’s of limited use,” he says. Another quality that Schott looks for is if the candidate grew up helping with a family-owned business. “These people are some of the hardest workers you can find,” Schott says.

Since currently there is a major shortage of professionally trained BMETs, the career opportunities in this field are extremely strong. However, a major challenge is that in many instances a BMET must relocate in order to find the best positions. Many candidates do not want to move because of family commitments and ties to their communities.

“As a result, many BMETs are finding themselves out of work or working in a lower-level position,” Stephens says. “Many in-house organizations and ISOs will not hire the overqualified candidate because of the fear of the candidate moving on as soon as a better opportunity arises.” Yet in some instances, Stephens adds that some senior BMETs are ready for a change from an ISO and are willing to accept a lower-level, in-house position for less travel and responsibility.

Regardless of where a biomed is in terms of his or her career, the future looks especially bright. With the increase of computer-based equipment and the continued crossover with IT, biomeds who are open to new possibilities will find work not only in the traditional BMET positions within the health care setting, but in these new and growing areas as well. “This is an exciting time to be a biomedical technician,” Dubord says. “The field is evolving quickly, and if individuals are willing to accept new and different responsibilities as well as be willing to learn and apply new skills, they will have many opportunities.”

Carol Daus is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact us at [email protected]

Not sure which classes you need or which school to choose? 24×7 will cover these questions next month.