John BethuneEarlier this month, frequent 24×7 contributor Valdez Bravo made his case for putting experience before educational attainments. Many hospital systems—most notably, those in the Veterans Administration—require that the heads of their clinical engineering departments have not just college degrees, but engineering degrees. Bravo thinks that’s nuts. For him, experience trumps a degree any day.

When we first posted his article on our website, I figured his views would get some attention. What I didn’t expect, though, was the number of thoughtful and detailed comments his article would generate.

Because website comments are easily overlooked, I want to draw attention to some of the responses here. But before you go any further, make sure you have read Bravo’s column.

 Disappointment By Degrees

A number of commenters agreed that insistence on specific degrees limits well-deserved opportunities to move up. One noted that he had applied three times for a director’s position at a VA medical center, only to be told each time that he was not qualified simply because he had no engineering degree. “I am a biomedical tech with 28 years of experience,” he wrote. “I have managed maintenance shops [ranging in size from] 22 techs down to only 6 techs. I have a BS in Business Management. Yet I could not get the position.”

Another put the same view more fancifully. “Imagine saying this,” he wrote: “ ‘I am sorry, John, Paul, George, and Ringo. None of you have a degree … so we can’t hire your band for our hospital Christmas party.’ ”

 Education Still Matters

Another respondent, while agreeing “that an engineering degree is not required to effectively manage an HTM department,” pointed out that formal education is valuable nonetheless. “Too often HTM professionals stop their formal education at the Associates level,” he wrote. “As we seek to escalate the profession and, perhaps more importantly, the perception of the profession, 4-year and advanced degrees become desirable. While working with a community college to assess the curriculum, it was made clear to me that there simply aren’t enough hours available in a 2-year program to cover the broad range of knowledge required of today’s HTM professional.”

When discussing career paths with his staff, he added, “my recommendation is this: Pursue a related, technical 4-year degree, followed by an MBA. Like it or not, our industry is dollar driven. To successfully rise beyond department manager in the HTM department of the future, expect to possess both technical and business and leadership skills.”

Engineering Skills Needed

A self-described former clinical engineer wrote to say that while he “basically” agreed with Bravo, he also believes that both Bravo and “the field in general continue to take a myopic view of the need for engineering in healthcare.” The field urgently needs “the skills engineers can bring to healthcare,” he wrote. But that need is largely unmet, he continued: “A handful of organizations … hire engineers to address the needs. But those organizations are few and far between.”

Speaking for himself, he concluded, “I’d be perfectly happy to see clinical engineering understand, identify, and position itself as professionally distinct from medical technology maintenance. The fields intersect just as do facilities engineering and maintenance, but they diverge as well. If you accept that, and are willing to consider that it is where they diverge that they each bring added value, then you can begin to appreciate they may need distinct management and functional structures.”

 Share Your Views

I encourage you to add your opinion to this discussion. To do so, and to read these and more insightful comments in full, visit the comments section of the article.

John Bethune is editorial director of 24×7. Contact him at [email protected].