Starting or maintaining a local or regional biomedical association is no easy task. Questions such as, “How often should we meet?” And, “What are our members interested in?” frequently arise. To lead a successful association, questions like these need answers with sustainable solutions. 24×7 recently spoke with members of some of the nation’s most successful associations in an effort to uncover how they solve these problems. The following offered their thoughts on these and other questions: Demetrius Dillard, BS, BMET III, Wishard Health Services, Indianapolis, president of the Indiana Biomedical Society; Karen Waninger, MBA, CBET, director, clinical engineering, Community Health Network, Indianapolis, annual conference coordinator for the Indiana Biomedical Society; Dustin Telford, CBET, CRES, CLES, clinical engineering equipment technician, McKay-Dee Hospital, Ogden, Utah, president of the Intermountain Clinical Instrumentation Society; Gus Sakis, regional sales manager and owner of OMED of Nevada LLC, Reno, Nev, chairman of the California Medical Instrumentation Association (CMIA); Eddie Acosta, CBET, clinical systems engineer, Kaiser Permanente Clinical Technology, Berkeley, Calif, immediate past chair of the CMIA; and Alan Moretti, director of clinical engineering at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, president of the Clinical Engineering Association of Illinois.
What steps have you taken to expand your membership?
Dillard: We try and get news out to the members. We have a partnership with the local colleges—Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Vincennes University. We just created a Facebook page because the younger generation tends to go to Facebook. We also try to coordinate with vendors to get our name out there.
Telford: We have worked toward breaking down our geographic boundary. Utah is a fairly large state and the population is usually in more rural areas, so what we’ve done is work toward some best practices to close those gaps. For example, we are going to be Webcasting our next meeting, and people across the country can pick up that Webcast. So it’s not just networking in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, but the real intent was to be able to give our folks the opportunity to attend the meeting even if they live a state away from the meeting location. That has allowed people to become true members.
Moretti: One step is public awareness through the regional hospitals, ISOs, OEMs, and other associate professionals of the medical equipment service industry. Obviously, a major component to our success is the launching of our Web site and the provision of information to members and potential members. We feel that the site has really elevated our presence in the region as well as nationally in attracting professionals not only to our association, but to the industry itself.
We have strong alliances with the educational entities within our region that provide education sources. Reaching out to those folks to look to the future of the industry has helped membership.
Acosta: One of the biggest steps we took was working hand-in-hand with the vendors. The vendors have the budget to advertise for the CMIA and sponsor the association at different events. Before, it was kind of a closed loop between biomeds and clinical engineers where they had meetings at their facility and there wasn’t really a lot of money that was available for these meetings. As soon as we started including the vendors, they stepped up and started sponsoring meetings at hotels that were catered. It became more of a professional organization, and more people started taking notice and attending these meetings.
Waninger: We work with the educators in the state to help make the students aware of our organization. There is a significant discount offered for membership and attendance at the annual conference for anyone enrolled as a student in a program that is applicable to a future role as a biomedical equipment technician or any of the related fields of study.
Have you tried to bring in a younger audience?
Dillard: It seems like the currently enrolled classes in the biomed program at both universities are increasing. With the emergence of more young individuals, we want to get people involved sooner. We added the ability to sign up for membership on our Web site. Looking at that the other day, that method has helped. In the past, you had to print out a form, fill it out, and send it through snail mail.
Telford: Time will tell, but we hope that Webcasting will pan out well. I’ve seen a much younger group for our meetings signing up for the Webcast because they’re interested in using that technology. I had several people ask if we were recording the meeting so that they can listen to it later in a podcast format.
Sakis: There are maybe three schools that have a biomedical electronic technician certification curriculum, and they tend to bring in a younger crowd. The way we’ve targeted them is through an association membership, which gives them a low-cost membership. In many cases, we offer memberships to those students so that once they become certified and go out and start looking for a job in a hospital, we can give them as much support as we can on a local, regional, and state level.
Moretti: We see that this industry has a high median age now. We also understand that the medical equipment service industry is going to grow 30% over the next 10 to 15 years. The next generation of service professionals is going to be those generations coming out of high school and college universities. The unsuccessful piece is awareness of the profession at the high school level. There’s not a lot of knowledge about this profession at the secondary school level.
Waninger: We tried to get younger members into our officer roles. That’s primarily what our focus has been in the past couple of years. It involved a lot of one-on-one conversations from the people who had been in leadership roles in the past, doing a lot of coaxing and offering to mentor or assist anyone who was interested in taking a leadership role. Demetrius is very young in terms of our president. Our trustee this year, Matt Dimino, who was president last year, was also very young in terms of years in the profession and in terms of age. It’s a focused decision on the part of people who had been board members in the past to commit to support new board members.
Are you utilizing social media to expand your audience and connect with your members?
Telford: We offer a pretty good Facebook presence and just rolled out a LinkedIn presence. There are more people finding us on Facebook than are finding us through our actual Web site. So we promote our meetings through Facebook as well as some other platforms. But we are more accessible to a younger audience through Facebook than our traditional Web site.
Sakis: Not yet. Right now, it’s being researched, and the Web committee will make their recommendation to the state board.
Moretti: Yes. We have links on our Web site to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We recognize that in today’s technological environment that traffic is very high through those different vehicles. People are also very comfortable with those sources.
How often do you have meetings?
Dillard: The board meets on a monthly basis. But we have meetings that involve vendors’ equipment, in-service opportunities, and tours of different facilities four times a year. So we try to get the members together about six times a year.
Telford: We have quarterly membership meetings. Our board meets biweekly on a 45-minute teleconference to make sure things are going well and that we are doing whatever we can to serve our membership.
Sakis: The local chapters typically meet anywhere from a minimum of two times a year, to the larger chapters, which meet about five times a year. The state board meets quarterly. We also have regional meetings where all chapters and members are invited to attend. We have a three-chapter event, a four-chapter event, and our annual symposium where all chapters attend.
Moretti: We have three chapter meetings in our program year. In addition, we generally have one social event as well as our conference. Those forums allow us to reach out to the community and strengthen the association.
How do you get the word out about meetings, etc?
Dillard: We keep an active event listing on our Web site and on Facebook. The newsletters go out once every 3 months, and they also have the dates of each meeting that we’re having. If anything new comes about, we also have an e-mail list that we can utilize.
Telford: We have our newsletter, our Web site, Facebook, a Twitter account, and LinkedIn. But the Facebook page is probably the one where we get the most bang for our buck. We also advertise meetings on 24×7’s calendar and on other national databases.
Sakis: The vendors who are involved in the leadership of CMIA—as they move around trying to drum up business for their company—will go into a hospital and say that there’s also a great meeting coming up and pass out calendars and fliers.
How do you keep your membership active and involved?
Telford: We try to make sure that there’s at least a monthly reminder about upcoming meetings. We also try to encourage people to write something for our newsletter or even take snapshots of their shop and send them in. We try to get people as involved as possible.
Sakis: Very simply, food and educational offerings. Instead of having our chapter meetings inside the basement of the hospital, chapters have their meetings outside of the hospitals in local venues. The food quality is better, and the environment is more social. We’ve also tried to increase the level of educational presentations to a higher level and avoid sales pitches. We’ve tried to go from the basement to the mezzanine.
Moretti: Our meetings are almost always comprised of an educational topic with a presentation by someone on the regional or national level. Our mission is to promote education and strengthen the profession. With those two pillars in mind, we plan our program around that. We also believe in developing opportunities for the membership by rotating the leadership. We want there to be succession of leaders. So we develop opportunities that will draw in members to be fully involved and engaged.
How do you find good speakers for meetings?
Telford: We have several people knocking at our door who want to present. We ask them to tell us what they’d like to present and ask for a copy of their materials so the board can review it. We also survey our members about how good the last meeting was and what they want to see in the future.
Sakis: Some are trial and error. There are a group of vendors that participate as corporate sponsors on a state level. If a vendor gives a particularly good presentation at a meeting, the leadership of that chapter will put the word out to leaders at other local chapters that this is a good presentation.
Acosta: We contact resources like AAMI, MD Expo, and 24×7. We ask, “Who do you know is a good speaker?” We’re willing to offer travel and lodging if someone comes to speak at our event. Everyone has a limited budget, and we’re trying to help out with that budget. We’re all just trying to help one another.
What are one or two of the best things your association has done to improve itself?
Dillard: First and foremost, we have adapted to technology with the usage of the Internet and e-mail. Everybody does everything on the Internet now, so being able to sign up for the association online is helpful.
Telford: Placing our focus on the members. I think the members realize that there’s more of an emphasis on them. We found that in the past we were focused too much on the people that weren’t showing up or on why they weren’t showing up. We’ve decided to focus on the people that are a part of the association.
Sakis: When we started the Web site about 8 years ago, that was a big improvement, and we’ve been trying to improve our Web site and the services that it offers. That’s one of the big things we’ve done. The other thing that we’ve done is to get out of the hospital environment for meetings and events.
Moretti: Our focus on promoting education and our focus on promoting networking of professionals within our industry. We align ourselves very closely with educational institutions within the region. In addition, the networking opportunities that you build upon through chapter meetings strengthen the industry for the individual.
Acosta: Education. That’s been a priority for the CMIA; bringing in good speakers and offering information on what’s happening in the field.
What one or two things would you suggest an association avoid?
Dillard: I wouldn’t say avoid anything, just be open to all avenues because we live in such a diverse society and everyone does things differently.
Telford: One thing I would avoid is over-committing. I would avoid having a monthly meeting if you don’t know how you’re going to have a monthly meeting with quality presentations. The other thing is don’t get hung up with where you are and where most people are in your geographic area. Have meetings, but figure out a way that you can have meetings, broadcasts, recordings, or a newsletter to offer to those people that are outside of that geographic meeting.
Sakis: Avoid trying to charge too much for everything. The corporate members bear the majority of the financial burden at the local and state level. I would tell an association to be careful about how much they’re charging for membership and how much they’re charging the corporate sponsors for putting on meetings and paying for food. We’re not in this to make a profit. This is a community service.
Moretti: An association needs to have clear-cut and precise goals and a defined mission, and stay within the parameters of those purposes.
Acosta: The only thing that we’ve been trying to avoid is regression, to go back to having meetings at a medical center or hospital or clinic.
Chris Gaerig is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at .