Annual Conference Highlights Industry Challenges, Opportunities

By Keri Forsythe-Stephens 

From August 17-18, nearly 250 members of the biomedical community convened at the Drury Lane Theatre and Conference Center in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, for the annual meeting of the Clinical Engineering Association of Illinois (CEAI). And according to CEAI President Suraj Soudagar, MS, MBA, LEED AP, the conference was one for the books.

“The biggest highlight was our theme,” Soudagar says: ‘2016 Watershed: HTM in Transition,’ Such a subject spoke to the current changes affecting the health care technology management (HTM) field, he explains—particularly the FDA’s call for greater regulations.

In the spirit of change, the CEAI also did away with a traditional keynote address—instead, opting to host a keynote panel comprised of top industry experts. Participating on the panel were the Joint Commission’s Director of Engineering George Mills, MBA, FASHE, CEM, CHFM, CHSP; Steve Vanderzee, CBET, director of clinical engineering for Chicago-based Advocate Health; Mike Busdicker, director of clinical engineering for Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health; David Francoeur, senior director of brand and quality at Sodexo Clinical Technology Management; and Aaron J.C. Goryl, GE Healthcare’s general manager of national in-house and on-demand development for the US and Canada. CEAI’s vice president Gary Barkov, MS, moderated the panel.

Soudagar says the mix of in-house clinical engineers and ISO representatives—with the Joint Commission’s Mills staunchly in the middle—resulted in a “healthy debate” about FDA regulations.

Education First

Also lively, he says, were this year’s conference speakers. In addition to featuring talks by Mills and Greenwood Marketing, LLC, Director of Quality and Regulatory Affairs (and 24×7 board member!) Binseng Wang, ScD, CCE, FAIMBE, FACCE, the CEAI annual meeting offered speeches by DNV Healthcare’s chief physical environment officer Randy Snelling and Larry Fennigkoh, PhD, PE, CCE, a professor of biomedical engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Soudagar calls the latter individual’s speech particularly memorable.

“Larry has been inspirational professor [whose] students are current leaders in HTM,” Soudagar says. In fact, “George Mills even acknowledged Larry’s contribution to our profession during our keynote panel discussion.”

CEAI’s educational sessions also received rave reviews from conference attendees. Jeff Ferguson, a senior tech at Rush University Medical Center’s clinical engineering department, for instance, was so impressed by this year’s curriculum that he reached out to Soudagar personally. In an email, Ferguson wrote: “…The options for certificates and demonstrations at this year’s event are, hands down, the best yet. I feel this reaches all levels of our industry, from entry level to management. With education certificates that can have immediate impact on departments, your efforts should be applauded.”

To Soudagar, Ferguson’s remarks highlighted an important point: The CEAI is only as successful as its membership is. “[Letters like Ferguson’s] give us the confidence that we are listening to our membership, promoting our profession, and providing good educational sessions to empower our membership,” Soudagar says.

The CEAI is also committed to empowering the next generation of clinical engineers—a fact evidenced by the association’s endowment of three $2,500 student scholarships. The lucky recipients—Kevin Chilsom, Theo James Romac, and Shrey Maheshwari—are “bound to be future leaders in the profession,” Soudagar says, and the CEAI’s funds will help them along their way. After all, he says, nearly all of the past scholarship winners are gainfully employed.

The association’s efforts aren’t completely altruistic, however—investing in young biomeds helps to ensure that the CEAI continues to have a strong pipeline of talent flowing through it. “We believe we have a great approach and great team—a mix of youth and experience to take us forward,” Soudagar says. “We attract the best of the best.”

The “best of the best” also attended this year’s CEAI conference, he maintains. “It really is amazing to see the support we receive from our vendor partners and membership,” Soudagar adds. Fifty-seven vendors exhibited at the August tradeshow, in addition to a pro bono display supporting Project C.U.R.E—a relief organization delivering medical equipment to developing countries.

Outside the Conference Hall

The CEAI’s annual conference wasn’t all work and no play, however. Along with pre-conference golf and networking events, the association hosted a rousing game of Texas Hold’em post-conference. “Our vendor fair was also uninterrupted, where all of our membership could network with vendor partners to get their questions answered and solve their everyday problems,” Soudagar says.

He also has high hopes for next year’s CEAI conference, which will take place from August 16-17, 2017, and has already received commitments from 10 vendor partners. And if this year’s tradeshow is any indication, 2017’s conference will be another one for the books, Soudagar maintains.