Those looking to enter the biomed field now have fewer options when selecting an educational program, according to the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). The 11 Brown Mackie College campuses that offered degrees in biomedical technology are no longer enrolling new students in this program, and DeVry University is discontinuing its bachelor’s in biomedical engineering at seven of the 13 campuses where it was offered.
One of the reasons cited for these changes is low enrollment. Barbara Christe, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ health care engineering technology management program director and 24×7 board member , says she also has difficulty attracting students. “Truly one of the greatest challenges I face is recruiting students into my program,” she says. “However, the lack of academic programs is a catch-22?the discipline cannot attract large numbers of high school students if there are no academic programs for the student to attend.”
There are questions about whether most students are even aware of health care technology management (HTM) as a career option, and whether current leaders need to do more to promote the field. “Lack of awareness is a huge problem,” Christe says. “Money magazine didn’t call us one of the top five jobs you’ve never heard of for no reason.”
There may be another challenge in appealing to students due to what many experts see as a change of mindset in how people—especially millennials—view their careers. Gone are the days of getting a job and staying with the same company until retirement. People are changing jobs more frequently and are also working in a number of different industries throughout their careers.
William Phillips, associate national dean for program development at DeVry University, agrees and correlates low enrollment in biomedical technology and clinical engineering technology programs to students’ fears that they will be pigeonholed for the rest of their careers. “They look at it like: ‘I’m locking myself into this career for life.’”
For Phillips, the solution is not to prepare students to work in a specific industry, but to give them the tools that they will need to succeed in a wider career field. For example, he says, the steps involved in tasks such as troubleshooting or fixing a circuit are the same whether a person is working in transportation, manufacturing, or healthcare, so it is important to focus on teaching students these core competencies of engineering technology and then letting them learn about industry specifics as part of a specialization in their program of study, internships or co-ops, certificates, or “boot camps.”
Phillips says this is part of a mindset shift he has observed in higher education in which the focus is no longer on preparing “young people to be what they want to be when they grow up. Instead, we are heading in the direction of preparing them to always be saleable for various career opportunities.”
There is apparently no single answer on how to attract and educate more HTM professionals, partly because the issues facing the field are so complex. “It’s ironic that educators collectively can’t agree on the root of the problem,” Christe says. “It makes it difficult to solve.”
But the experts do agree on one thing: There is a need to think anew about the education of HTM professionals, especially in an industry that is expected to grow much faster than the national average and is already lacking qualified workers to fill open positions.
“The education of HTM professionals is a constantly evolving challenge because so much about technology itself is changing,” says Patrick Bernet, director of health care technology management at AAMI. “We’ve developed key resources for these professionals, and we will develop more as we learn about their changing needs and the demands of their jobs.”
For more information, visit AAMI.