By Kurt Woock
Certification is essentially a way for customers to outsource trust. Those who become certified might think they are doing it for themselves, or maybe for their employer, but certification is for customers. Rather than assess the details of a prospective business, customers hire (indirectly) a third party familiar with the given field to show whom they can trust. Being certified does not make something better or someone more capable—a five-star restaurant and a fast food chain undergo the same public health test. Instead, certification is an indication that something or someone passes a threshold of basic functionality; it is something you can trust.
Becoming certified is a given in many industries. A lawyer who does not pass the bar is a lawyer who will not find a job. An accountant who does not add the initials CPA to his or her name barricades himself or herself from many future opportunities. The cleanliness of a restaurant, the safety of a car—customers want quality assurances in these areas.
One of the primary certifications in the field, certified biomedical equipment technician (CBET), turns 40 this year. CBET is a formal recognition by the International Certification Commission (ICC) for biomedical equipment technicians that designates individuals who have demonstrated excellence in theoretical as well as practical knowledge of the principles of biomedical equipment technology. The Board of Examiners for biomedical equipment technicians, operating under the direction of the United States Certification Commission and the ICC, maintains the certification program. It serves the same function as it did in 1972, though the content of the test has evolved with new technology.
Certification is undoubtedly a factor managers take into consideration when they hire and promote.
Arif Subhan, MS, CCE, FACCE, chief biomedical engineer, VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System, Omaha, Neb, and chairman of the United States Certification Commission, describes the importance of certification in the biomedical field in similar terms. “Certification is a hallmark of distinction in any profession,” he says. “It shows that a person is knowledgeable in their field and is recognized by their peers. Everybody is expected to have a certain core knowledge. My point is that professionals in the health care technology management field should be certified, not only because it is required by other professions, but because their work has an impact on patient safety.”
About 6,500 biomedical equipment technicians are CBET certified—roughly 15% of all technicians. It is not as ubiquitous as other professional certifications, but the distinction is still widely recognized. “It’s a general consensus in the field that people who are certified have taken that extra step to better educate themselves,” Subhan says. “It demonstrates a trait in somebody that he or she is always looking to learn and to advance in his or her chosen profession.”
When learning about the past, present, and future of CBET certification, one sees that it is not simply a precursor to a career in biomedical engineering. Rather, it is interwoven throughout careers, providing a structure engineers can rely on to keep them learning and growing.
The Road to Certification
Today’s landscape is different from when Roger Bowles, MS, EdD, CBET, department chair and professor at Texas State Technical College, Waco, Tex, became certified in 1993. “It really wasn’t even encouraged when I did it,” he says. “But I saw a benefit then, and not only with opening up career possibilities. It’s really not just the certification, but also the journey it takes to get there—the learning and the dedication required. That’s what I tell people, even today.”
Ed Snyder, vice chair of the United States Certification Commission and biomedical supervisor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, received his CBET certification even earlier, in 1979, thanks in large part to a Penn State professor who pressed his students to become certified. After graduation, Snyder worked at a community hospital in upstate New York. He credits those four letters for moving his career forward to a bigger facility. “I published a paper, and having CBET after my name caught these people’s attention,” he says. “They called me up and offered a job. I really don’t think that would have happened if I were not certified.”
CBET certification is not required. Some departments and companies prefer it, and some help current employees obtain it. “We encourage it,” Snyder says. “The department typically pays the certification fee.”
Becoming certified is a process that takes about 6 months and costs $375. Applicants must have 2 years of work experience and an associate’s degree in a biomedical program or military training, 3 years of work experience and an associate’s degree in electronics, or 4 years of work experience. If they wish, applicants are able to take the exam and then accrue the necessary experience.
The exam consists of 150 questions, and applicants must answer at least 105 correctly. The test covers a wide range of subjects such as anatomy and physiology, safety, the fundamentals of electricity, and information technology. Most people who take the test spend a few months studying and often sign up for a review course to help guide them. The topics cover such a vast amount of knowledge that few people could pass without studying, even if a person works on various types of equipment on the job. Of someone who thinks they could pick up everything they needed to know for the exam on the job, Snyder says, “I would tell that person that’s not likely to happen. Certainly you can pick up skills, you can be cross-trained on the job, but you’re not going to be trained in a wide array of technologies or a wide array of situations. I’ve recommended that people participate in some sort of study group or take a review course, even if they have no intention of taking the exam. It’s a good review of technology and of the things a BMET is supposed to know.”
“I spent about 4 to 8 hours a week reviewing,” Bowles says. “Yeah, it’s an extra time commitment, but it’s an investment. I didn’t get a raise when I got certified, but for my next job, it was definitely a factor in getting an interview.” He suggests that people new to the field spend at least 6 months before they sign up and start studying. “School is just the beginning. Getting certification provides direction. When I was going through the certification process, I had covered some of it, but some of it I hadn’t. I learned where my weak points were, and, in reviewing that, it helped me in my day-to-day job.”
Logging the Benefits
The benefits of being CBET certified are many. One common question is how it will affect a person’s paycheck. The answer comes in two parts. First, while some exceptions exist, most technicians do not get an immediate raise after completing certification. However, investing in CBET is almost always a solid long-term investment.
“If and when you move on to your next job, you’ll command a higher salary if you’re certified,” Snyder says. And, because CBET certification encourages and requires holders to keep learning throughout their career, it holds its value over time.
Certification is undoubtedly a factor managers take into consideration when they hire and promote. “It demonstrates enthusiasm, dedication, professionalism,” Bowles says. “It doesn’t mean ‘you get the job,’ but it will definitely get you in the door.”
For Snyder, it carries with it even more weight. “Experienced BMETs are hard to find, period,” Snyder says. “Having someone apply for a job that actually has CBET after his or her name is like the Holy Grail. You jump at that person.”
Gaining certification also has intangible benefits, according to Snyder. “I think it’s a tremendous boost of confidence to anyone who gets it,” he says. “And when you’re confident in what you do, that becomes apparent to other people around you. People have more trust and faith in what you do, you’re able to communicate to other medical staff in their language.”
Adding CBET credentials to a resume also can give a boost to people in the middle of their career. “Generally, if two people are competing for a promotion, and all else is equal, the person who is certified would get the edge,” Subhan says.
Those who have been in the field for some time might hesitate, thinking they would not benefit. Bowles disagrees: “It’s cliché, but it’s true: Grow or die. That’s what it boils down to. It’s imperative. You either continuously learn, or you’ll find yourself out of date, and probably unemployed. You need to continue your education in some way. It’s particularly important in health care right now.” A new section on the test that covers IT proves relevant for anyone in the field, regardless of how many years they have been in it.
Recent years have heard discussions of making certification mandatory, but for now, it remains optional. Regardless of how that discussion concludes, certification will continue to be a multipurpose tool, as it is in other occupations. For individuals in the biomedical field, it will continue to serve as an insignia, identifying a particular level of achievement and education. For the biomedical field as a whole, it will continue to be a unifier, creating a common language and common standards whereby a person can move from Maine to Montana and be on the same page. And for others in the health care field looking in, a certification program such as CBET confirms that the field is organized and has a mechanism for keeping its members relevant and updated with changes in procedures and technology. 24×7 Focus On, November 2012