Learning should be a lifelong endeavor for biomeds. With education comes the skills needed in the ever-more-complicated technology of medical equipment and the opportunity for advancement.

f01a.jpg (11439 bytes)For biomedical equipment technicians and clinical engineers, career options do not end at the door of the biomed shop, but qualifying yourself to step into positions ranging from hospital safety officer to corporation chief executive requires education and training—plenty of it—from the right sources.

“No matter which credential you hold, you’re not going to be held back from branching out,” promises Frank R. Painter, MS, CCE, director of the University of Connecticut’s clinical engineering internship program. “There are so many opportunities. Some of the more obvious include facilities management, information technology management, safety, and corporate administration. Even if you prefer to stay with what’s familiar, there are still opportunities to advance. For example, BMETs who acquire the necessary expertise can work on equipment that is among the most sophisticated found in a hospital. CE know-how, meanwhile, is in big demand among hospitals needing people to manage the activities of outside service providers.”

Painter also finds career trajectories carrying advanced-educated BMETs and CEs from jobs as entry-level staffers to heads of companies they themselves have started.

“Biomeds are very effective in the role of entrepreneur,” says Painter, himself a business founder who a few years ago launched Technology Management Solutions LLC, in Trumbull, Conn, to provide technology evaluations, deployment assistance and expert-witness services to hospitals.

Sales is another avenue for both BMETS and CEs to follow on their journey away from traditional career confines, suggests Roger A. Bowles, MS, CBET, master instructor in biomedical equipment technology at Texas State Technical College in Waco, Tex. Bowles also sees where it is possible for biomeds to exchange screwdrivers and slide rules for pens and paper by moving into positions as technical writers and creators of advertising copy. Last but certainly not least, there is opportunity aplenty for them in the role of educators—as Bowles mentions, instructors are needed, not just to teach the ins and outs of equipment maintenance or management, but in emerging specialty areas, such as bioterrorism response.

Lifelong Learning
A good piece of advice for the biomed who wants to go places: Never view education as something that ends with the conferring of an undergraduate degree.

“Start thinking of your education as a lifelong process,” recommends Painter. “Whether you’re a BMET or a CE, you can’t function in health care without some level of ongoing education throughout your entire career. Technology is changing too fast to allow for anything less.”

An easy way to acquire more knowledge—career-advancing knowledge—entails turning to equipment manufacturers and local or regional professional associations, all of which either produce, sponsor, or otherwise support instructional programs in a range of subject areas, says Painter.

“Don’t just look into programs offered by entities serving the biomed field,” he says. “You can also find useful educational programs from, for example, the professional associations specific to radiology and surgery.”

Another route for enhancing what you already know is re-enrollment in vocational school or college. That can be a pricey way to go, but Bowles hints that your current employer might be willing to pay your back-to-school tuition just for the stronger, more valuable employee he’ll gain in return. Inquire about it with the boss, he urges.

Schools, for their part, have done much in recent years to accommodate biomed graduates who want to further their educations.

“A lot of BMETs have 2-year associate of applied science degrees [which, in the past] were considered terminal degrees,” says Bowles. “Now, some universities are offering ‘reverse transfer’ or ‘inverse degree’ programs where the BMET can transfer a block of their BMET credits into a degree plan. Some of these inverse degrees are in majors such as ‘business occupations’ or ‘human performance technology.’

“I call them ‘leadership’ degrees, as they enhance the BMET’s perspective and open their options to positions in management, training, consulting, risk management, health care administration, allied health occupations, or others.”

Finding Your Voice
No matter how education is approached, you’ll never go astray by spending a portion of your time in the classroom (be it the actual or virtual kind) learning how to cogently articulate your thoughts in speech and on paper.

“Most biomeds are not known for being the best communicators in the world, which is an unfortunate tendency that does a lot to hold us back from advancing in our careers,” says Painter.

f01b.jpg (7149 bytes)David Harrington, PhD, enjoys a light moment.

So true, concurs David Harrington, PhD, head of staff development and training for Technology in Medicine, an ISO in Holliston, Mass, with hospital clients from Maine to Virginia. Harrington illustrates the point by mentioning an acolyte of his who was brilliant as a technician but a flop as a communicator. “He was such a poor speaker, that I was afraid I was going to have to wash him out of our training program,” Harrington recalls. As it turned out, the trainee eventually found his voice and developed into what Harrington describes as someone who’ll be a solid candidate for a management position within a few years.

And on the subject of management, taking courses in basic business administration amounts to one heck of a smart move in Harrington’s book.

“If you want to get into management, you have to be capable of doing things like reading a spread sheet, understanding contract language, and knowing the meaning of return-on-investment and other financial terminology,” he says.

As crucial as a good education is to career advancement, Harrington believes degrees and credentials in and of themselves aren’t an automatic passkey. Demonstrable talent and a passion for work count for more than class credits, he insists.

“So does having good connections within the industry,” Harrington says.

That’s why he recommends ladder-climbers seek to be taken under the wing of a mentor, someone who’s already reached the upper rungs.

“Mentorship is another way to make doors open—and to continue opening them long after you’ve become established in the field,” says Harrington, who estimates he’s served as a mentor to hundreds since the mid-1970s. “Some of the relationships with biomeds I’ve mentored way back then are still going strong. That’s because mentorship isn’t a formal arrangement. It’s typically casually structured and mostly involves being available to answer someone’s questions or provide some friendly counsel every now and then.”

Meanwhile, if you’re an advancement-bound biomed, consider it a mistake to only set your sights on career opportunities that pay fabulously, but yield little or nothing in the way of personal satisfaction.

“[Biomeds] should also consider their motivation—what they enjoy doing the most,” Bowles says. “I think it boils down to what motivates the person to go to work each day; what does he or she really like doing? What are their intrinsic motivators? Whether it be CT, MR, infusion pumps, respiratory equipment, or dialysis machines, or maybe just the ‘people’ aspect, desirability should be based on what a person finds challenging and satisfying enough to make them excited about the work.”

Bottom line, says Bowles, biomeds should take every opportunity to enhance their skill sets and explore just where this career can take them. Evidently, where it can take them is to the top, the very top.

Rich Smith is a contributing writer for 24×7.