By Chris Hayhurst
It’s been nearly three years since Greg Czajka sat down in front of a computer to take the CBET exam. He was nervous, he recalls, unsure if he was ready; and then he took a second to glance around the room. “There was nobody else in there. It was just me all alone with the person giving the test.”
The rest of that day went by rather quickly, at least the way Czajka remembers it. He trained his focus on the task before him, drawing from the nine years of experience he had in the field as a BMET, and from the two days of formal test preparation he’d undergone just a few weeks earlier.
In retrospect, what stands out most to the Clinical Engineering Supervisor at Downers Grove, Ill.-based Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital is the sense of accomplishment he felt after finishing the test and seeing his score. “Because it’s on the computer, you get your results right away,” he says. “You either pass or fail depending on how many you get right.” Fortunately for Czajka, he fell into the former camp.
Reason to Certify
The Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician designation is one of three credentials AAMI offers to HTM professionals via its AAMI Credentials Institute (ACI). (The others: Certified Radiology Equipment Specialist, or CRES, and Certified Healthcare Technology Manager, or CHTM.) As an ACI brochure on its programs explains, the CBET credential provides a way for HTM pros to demonstrate their accomplishments, their “mastery of skills,” and their experience in core competencies.
Certification “adds instant credibility with employers;” “is the next step to your career advancement;” “demonstrates your commitment to the industry;” and “increases job responsibilities,” according to ACI.
Applicants for CBET certification, the institute notes, must have at least one of the following: an associate degree or higher from a biomedical equipment technology program and two years’ full-time BMET work experience; an associate degree or higher in electronics technology and three years’ full-time BMET work experience; or, in the absence of an associate degree, four years’ full-time BMET work experience. A final eligibility path: Completion of a U.S. military biomedical equipment technology program and two years’ full-time BMET work experience.
The exam itself, says Martin McLaughlin, AAMI’s manager of certification, consists of 165 multiple-choice questions that must be completed in three hours or less. Every five years or so, ACI conducts a “job-task analysis” to determine the current expectations of a working BMET and revises the test content accordingly. McLaughlin says the last job-task analysis took place in 2017, and the latest exam is a product of that work.
“In general, the test is focusing more on IT and networking and less on anatomy and physiology,” McLaughlin says. As it stands now, the exam includes questions that fall into six main categories: anatomy and physiology (about 12% of the total questions), public (employee, patient, visitor) safety in the healthcare facility (14%), fundamentals of electricity and electronics (10%), healthcare technology and function (25%), healthcare technology problem solving (25%), and healthcare information technology (14%). Moreover, the exam is closed-book, but takers are permitted to use a five-function calculator on questions that require math.
According to McLaughlin, the CBET exam can be administered at more than 1,000 approved testing sites worldwide during the exam window (May 1-15 and November 1-15). Finding an opportunity to sit for the exam shouldn’t be an issue for most HTM professionals, he notes. Their challenge, instead, will involve preparing for the test—ensuring that they’re ready to take it successfully. (According to ACI’s records, in 2018 a total of 443 people took the CBET test; 255 passed the exam and 188 failed.)
“Any time somebody calls my office asking for advice, the main thing I tell them is to download the Certification Candidate Handbook [see sidebar],” McLaughlin says. The guide includes “everything you need to know about the exam and a detailed outline of what it covers,” he says, and it includes references to the sources that were used to develop the exam’s questions.
“So if someone is pretty solid in anatomy and physiology and in the fundamentals, but they need to beef up on their public safety documents, one approach I’d recommend is to highlight that area and its subcategories and then go to the references to kind of create their own study guide.”
Alternatively, he says, they could go to the online AAMI store and download the BMET Study Guide (Again, see sidebar), which was updated earlier this year. “It has about 950 multiple-choice questions that cover all six topic areas, and it includes a program that tracks your progress as you go.” Candidates can log-in to the program and complete 100 questions, for example, and then view a report on their performance in each of the test’s different areas. “And then using that,” McLaughlin says, “they can get an idea of what they need to do moving forward.”
Another consideration to keep in mind, McLaughlin says, are the two paths of eligibility for taking the exam. “There’s the full path and there’s a ‘candidate’ path—and there are different options within each.” Following the full path (outlined above) results in full CBET certification once the test is passed.
The candidate path, on the other hand, is for individuals who don’t meet all of the full-path eligibility requirements but still want to take the test. So someone with an associate degree in biomedical equipment technology but lacking field experience can take the exam, pass it, and earn the “candidate CBET” status.
At that point, McLaughlin explains, they have five years to meet the minimum eligibility requirements for full CBET certification (two- to three years of on-the-job experience, depending on their degree). “We do suggest that people take advantage of that path since those straight out of school are at a unique advantage since their fundamentals and theory knowledge is still fresh.” Individuals with no degree but two years of work experience can also take the exam under candidate status, McLaughlin notes.
Tobey Clark, CCE, CHTM, engineering supervisor in the Technical Services Partnership (TSP) at the University of Vermont (UVM) and co-director of the WHO Collaborating Center for HTM, also suggests that new graduates take advantage of the CBET test as candidates.
For starters, notes Clark, who is also an instructor—alongside his colleague, Laurence Robert, CBET, CHTM—in an online CBET-exam review course offered through UVM, recent graduates are probably more comfortable with taking tests due to their academic background. “That familiarity can be very helpful, especially compared to people who haven’t taken tests in a long time,” Clark says.
In his experience, Clark adds, those who have been working in the field the longest generally need to focus on anatomy and physiology, electricity and electronics, “and the book-learning-type activities.”
Newer biomeds, on the other hand, tend to be weaker in healthcare technology problem-solving due to their lack of experience, he explains. In the UVM course, which is offered via webinar, participants review all the content (sent in advance) and go through long lists of questions similar to those that are found on the exam. “In the webinar, we will go around the virtual room and ask them for their answers, and then we present the answers with the justification, [as well as the] references,” Clark says.
His advice to future test takers? Enroll in a class like his own where individuals are encouraged to bounce ideas off each other while working on difficult problems and concepts, Clark says. “It’s really important that they review closely the topics that are covered in the CBET handbook. And then they should review the test-taking aspect—everything from the most logical way to approach different questions, to the importance of getting plenty of rest and being prepared mentally for a test that lasts three hours.”
Like McLaughlin, Clark suggests looking at the percentage-breakdown for each of the test’s topics and using that information to determine where it makes the most sense to focus. “If you’re in the field but you don’t have a lot of experience in medical device integration or areas like that, you’d probably want to spend more of your time learning about health technology IT systems, for example.”
He and his colleagues at UVM first offered their review course in 2015 as a way to increase CBET certification among the staff in their own department. The course was such a success internally that they started offering it on a regional level and, later, to HTM professionals nationwide.
At one point, Clark says, around 65% of the UVM HTM team had some level of professional certification. Recently, however, they’ve had a number of retirements, and that has caused the percentage to drop. “Our goal is 100% eventually, but we’d like to get back up to 65% in the near future.”
A Test-Taker’s Perspective
In his case, Greg Czajka says, he waited all those years to get his CBET mainly because he didn’t know anyone else who had taken the exam. Eventually, though, he decided it would help his career, so he registered for the test and began to prepare. A member of the Clinical Engineering Association of Illinois, he enrolled in a two-day study session offered by the group that covered all aspects of the test. “And that,” he says, “was enough to push me over the edge and pass the exam on my first try.”
Personal successes aside, Czajka believes that there are steps HTM professionals can take to improve their chances of earning their CBET. “I’d probably try to learn a little about a lot of things,” Czajka says. “What I gleaned by taking that test is you don’t need to be an expert in any one modality, like anesthesia or ventilators or dialysis. But they are going to ask you some basic questions on all of them, so you can’t afford to ignore any of them.”
His recommendation is to become a “jack of all trades,” and to “get your hands dirty with as many things as you can.” Take a review course, either online or in person, and read the AAMI literature, including the study guide. But in the end, if you’re an HTM professional looking to obtain CBET certification, it’s important to dig into your work and get involved as much as possible. After all, Czajka says, that’s where you’re bound to learn the most. “The more you get to see and touch, the better the odds are you’re going to pass the test successfully.”
Chris Hayhurst is a contributing writer for 24×7 Magazine. Questions and comments can be directed to chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].
Sidebar: Registration and Preparation
To learn more about the CBET exam, register for the test, and to locate a testing site near you, see the webpage of the AAMI Credentials Institute. Also check out the ACI Certification Candidate Handbook and consider purchasing the latest edition of AAMI’s BMET Study Guide: Preparing for Certification & Sharpening Your Skills ($120 for AAMI members, $200 for non-members).
Future test takers can also prepare by enrolling in the online University of Vermont CBET Exam Preparation Course. The next session of the course is scheduled to begin on August 22 and is limited to 25 attendees ($249 for individuals, $199 when registering a group of four or more).
The Colorado Association of Biomedical Equipment Technicians also offers a CBET Study Group that candidates can attend in-person in Denver or online ($150 per person).