Inside one institution’s cooperative internship program

 By Paul T. Svatik, CBET-R

In the fall of 1974, Toledo, Ohio-based Owens State Community College (OCC)—where I currently serve as an adjunct professor—began a two-year associate degree program in biomedical equipment technology (BMET). This program launch was a direct response to the need for trained technicians in the field of biomedical and related technical (electro-medical) equipment.

The principle objective of OCC’s BMET program? To ensure that its graduates are properly educated and trained in the BMET field and immediately employable upon graduation.

One way OCC executes this goal is via its BMET internship program. The unique program offers several key advantages, including:

  • Providing students with opportunities to integrate classroom theory with clinical experience in the health care environment
  • Exposing students to the various manufacturers and service organizations involved with calibration, repair, maintenance, and new equipment selection
  • Providing cooperating employers with the opportunity to educate and evaluate prospectives employees
  • Enabling students to evaluate prospective employers without any obligation

Because of these and other factors, Owens Community College requires that all BMET students participate in a cooperative internship program during their second year.

A Balanced Curriculum

Before students partake in the cooperative internship experience, they must undergo classroom- and laboratory-based training. The in-class and laboratory curriculum have included DC and AC circuit analysis, Electronics I; supported by college algebra, “Mathematics for Technology,” inorganic and organic chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, and the general education components of Composition I and psychology.

Still, during their cooperative internship year, students must complete courses in Electronics II, digital circuits, Biomedical Instrumentation I and II, network fundamentals, network routing, “C” programming, computer diagnosis, and public speaking.

Nevertheless, the cooperative internship experience serves as the capstone of the students’ education. That’s why the internship experience needs to be clearly defined—as well as very well-rounded and achievable.

At OCC, we determined that the contents of the internship experience should include, but not be limited, to:

  1. Instruction and observation in the safe and proper use of biomedical equipment
  2. “Hands-on” experience with biomedical and related technical equipment, troubleshooting, and repair; also, exposure to and training in equipment control, preventive maintenance scheduling, safety testing, and documentation
  3. Exposing the intern to the administrative duties, responsibilities, liabilities, and ethics that are a part of the BMET’s function

Internship Requirements

During the regular academic semester—which spans 16 weeks—students are required to put in a minimum of 10 hours per week for the cooperative internship, as well as attend a weekly three-hour lecture at the college.

Further, the intern must “work” a minimum of four hours per day at the host institution—although many interns opt for more hours at the cooperative internship site. The intern must also complete the two-semester sequence at the same host institution, with a minimum of 320 hours.

Moreover, the amount of time that the intern will devote to the three areas of content will vary based on host institution and intern. Even so, interns must allocate 75% to 80% of their time to the “hands-on” category, with the remainder of the time spent in the other categories as deemed appropriate by the host institution. Therefore, implementation of the cooperative internship program is dependent upon the host institution’s facilities, equipment, personnel, and programs.

So, what’s the ideal host institution? In a phrase, a teaching and research facility with all the necessary features to provide a full range of experiences for the BMET intern. Some of these features will be included in a well-developed biomedical equipment program or clinical engineering department, as well as a full component of diagnostic, clinical, and surgical laboratories.

Additionally, the director or the head of the biomedical equipment department will assign a supervisor to the intern. During the orientation period, the department head—who is knowledgeable in interdisciplinary hospital organization, policy, and procedures—may supervise the intern. After that, however, the intern may be assigned to one biomedical technician or rotated among a group of technicians—fulfilling the “working” part of the internship.

Specifically, during the “hands-on” portion of the internship, the intern will work with hospital BMETs to complete the clinical experience schedule for Biomedical Instrumentation I and II, as well as receive instruction in equipment control, safety testing, and documentation. (The department head may help with the latter material.)

Interns also need to observe clinical procedures under the supervision of the clinician responsible for operating the particular device, in addition to reviewing pertinent literature prior to the procedure.

Furthermore, student responsibilities will include performance of duties and obligations of the cooperative internship program, along with the submission of a written report describing the cooperative internship experience to the faculty in charge. Included in the report is a monthly time sheet, documenting the hours “worked.” After all, students must conduct themselves in a manner that is becoming of a regular employee of the host institution.

Building Well-Rounded Professionals

It’s important to note that the cooperative internship is a learning experience, rather than a “working” experience. As such, the host institution assumes no responsibility for housing or paying the interns. And since the internship is a learning experience, interns will receive academic credit—meaning they need to be evaluated academically, something the supervisor and faculty member will do jointly.

Also, since interns are working with patient-related equipment and in patient areas, they may become liable. Therefore, a blanket liability insurance policy is needed and should be purchased through a company that specializes in medical liability using the intern’s laboratory fees. Note: The faculty member should be included under this policy while at the host institution.

To sum it up, the field of healthcare technology management is ever-changing and updates to the current curriculum need to be implemented. After all, technology is moving fast, and networking is becoming a large part of the BMET’s job. That’s why future BMETs must be trained on biomedical equipment, as well as networking.

In fact, Owens Biomedical Advisory members are suggesting that new BMETs should obtain a Cisco-certified network associate, or CCNA, certification, in addition to the BMET degree. I encourage other institutions to look into this, as well.

Paul T. Svatik, CBET-R, has been with Owens State Community College since 1979. Although he retired from full-time teaching in 2009, he returned as an adjunct professor in 2011. Questions can comments can be directed to chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].