Fred McMurtrie, secretary of the Florida Biomedical Society (FBS), got involved with the organization the same way many of its current leaders did: His manager told him about it. McMurtrie’s involvement with FBS started over 30 years ago, just as the society was being founded in 1985. Over time, as his family responsibilities have grown and shifted, his involvement has evolved as well—just like the organization itself, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Back then, McMurtrie’s manager sold him on FBS with a simple pitch: Getting involved provides a great way to develop yourself professionally as a biomedical professional. It’s a line McMurtrie and others at FBS have used themselves in the three decades since to bring in new recruits.

Today, there are five regionally based chapters that fall under the society’s loosely federated model. They include the North East Florida Association for Medical Instrumentation, which covers Jacksonville to Tallahassee and as far south as Gainesville; the South Florida Association for Medical Instrumentation, which serves southern Florida from Vero Beach to the Keys and over to Naples; the Gulf Coast Biomedical Society, which spreads from Tallahassee and westward to Mobile, Ala; the Central Florida Biomedical Instrumentation Society, which includes Orlando and eastward; and the Bay Area Association of Medical Instrumentation, which reaches from Tampa eastward to Orlando and south to Fort Myers.

This branch-based structure works well for members, because the state stretches nearly 450 miles north to south and 360 miles east to west. The individual chapters hold regular monthly meetings where members might sit in on an hour-long presentation from vendors such as GE or Philips, says Rick Morris, current president of FBS. He notes that each of the branch organizations sets their own annual membership fee, which is shared by the local chapter and FBS.

Morris says vendors are typically invited to take part in monthly chapter meetings because members want to learn about their technology, so a vendor could be invited to teach about anything from anesthesia equipment to defibrillators.

Annual Symposium

Every year, the society—which today boasts 400 members throughout the state—organizes a symposium that provides its members with training presented by various vendors. In 2015, the gathering, which took place at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort from October 1 to 4, featured presentations on digital mammography, an introduction to the Siemens Syngo platform, and essentials of centrifuge management, among many others, along with a tradeshow. The conference is financed by the vendors who present and display booths at the event, says McMurtrie. The only real stipulation is that the content delivered actually be educational in nature, which means no sales pitches, he says.

Each year the event kicks off on a Thursday morning and runs straight through the weekend, meaning that members who want to attend the 4-day event only need to ask their healthcare organizations for 1 or 2 days off from work, a bonus for overburdened departments. And because the symposium is fully vendor supported, members who attend are only responsible for their accommodation and transportation costs—everything else, from entertainment to meals, is covered. What vendors receive in return for their investment is exposure to the society’s members, says McMurtrie.

Lou Katchis, treasurer of FBS, says the draw for members is the free meetings with education—and the free food, he jokes. “We do make sure vendors bring some theory into the meetings and that it’s not just about selling their products—these meetings aren’t just marketing tools for vendors.”

As important as the formal education opportunities are opportunities to network socially with peers, says McMurtrie. “This is a great opportunity for people to reach out and mentor their fellow biomedical professionals.” He notes that sessions on communicating with the C-suite and customer service skills have also been covered at the training event.

For McMurtrie, his involvement is very personal. “What drives me is a certain professional satisfaction. The ability to give back means a lot to me, because I’ve had a lot of mentors in my life who have shared their professional experiences. Now that I’m a mature professional, I feel somewhat obligated to return that favor.

“Taking part in the Florida Biomedical Society gives me an opportunity to shape the generation that is coming out of school now and relay some of my experiences and challenges…One thing’s for sure, this is not a stagnant field. It’s rapidly evolving, and open communication with the next generation matters,” he says.

The society’s 2016 annual symposium will take place from December 9 to 10 at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, a venue partially chosen to enable members to bring their spouse and kids along. “We want to keep the family involved,” says Morris. “We want them to see a little bit of what their family member does for work—and we want to make sure family members feel they matter as well.”

In addition to the annual symposium, FBS also publishes a quarterly newsletter. Articles in a recent issue highlighted breast cancer awareness, scholarships, the BMET of the year award, and news from the state’s five chapters.

Leadership Structure

McMurtrie is most proud of the society’s ability to build a strong leadership foundation. That solid base is due in part to the leaders who run the organization—on a voluntary basis—and their ability to encourage dialogue among biomedical professionals throughout the state.

“Our strength is our very dynamic team. There’s a lot of work that takes place—and not all of it is done by one individual,” he says. One of the leadership team’s priorities is to write out policies and procedures so that future leaders don’t need to figure out everything all over again. The current board members are also mindful of the legacy they’re leaving behind, and McMurtrie says it’s important that future leaders have a sense of the organization’s history.

Individual board members bring a diversity of talents to the table, Katchis adds. Some board members are supervisors, while others are biomedical equipment technicians. “Not everyone’s a manager of a big department at a hospital. These aren’t all big bosses; we have working people, hands-on biomedical technicians serving as officers, which is another strength,” he says.

Katchis credits Bill Hascup, president-elect of the society, in particular, for branching into marketing and working with Disney to organize the annual symposium. “He develops the program that we run every year. He’s the key person behind the whole event, and had never done marketing before he took on that role with the Florida Biomedical Society.”

Ongoing Involvement

Staying engaged with FBS keeps him up-to-date, says Morris. “[With the society,] you build a network of friends and you share best practices. It can be a year before you see these people again [at the symposium], and you just walk in the room and catch up again,” he says.

Having meaningful contacts throughout Florida’s biomedical field is really helpful, especially if you need to move elsewhere in the state and look for another job, says Morris. These contacts also come in handy when you run into a repair problem—say with a piece of anesthesiology equipment—and society members can share their experiences with you.

Morris himself has 26 years of experience working with anesthesia equipment and often shares tricks of the trade with other FBS members; he has also been on the receiving end of advice from other members. “This is about building your networks and friends. These are the people you know you can call up and ask about this or that problem. Chances are, they’ve run into this problem and they can tell you how to fix it,” he says.

There are two primary reasons Morris continues to stay involved in FBS, he says. One is the comradery he has developed over the years with fellow members. The second is the organization’s focus on improving patient care, which in turn helps him deliver the highest quality support possible. “We all want to provide the best services for the care of our patients. Being able to provide the best services to patients and maintain equipment in the best fashion, that’s ultimately our goal,” he says.

Aine Cryts is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact chief editor Jenny Lower at [email protected].

Photo credit: The FBS board and some attendees of the 2012 FBS symposium at Walt Disney World.