By Kurt Woock
Valdez Bravo had just left the Army. It was 2003, and he had moved back to his hometown of Salem, Oregon’s capital and third largest city. He had his biomed training from the Army, but he didn’t have a job. To find one, he picked up his telephone and started cold calling. “One of the guys I talked to said, ‘You should talk to JR Reis, the president of the Oregon Biomedical Association,’?” Bravo says. He did just that. Soon after, he heard about a job opening at Oregon Health & Sciences University through the OBA email list. He applied, was interviewed, and eventually hired, which then led to a position at the Portland VA Medical Center. “I felt indebted to the OBA for getting me my first job,” he says. A few years ago, he was able to pay back that feeling of indebtedness by serving as the OBA’s president and, along the way, helping usher in an entirely new wave of leadership.
Starting Up Again
When Bravo started working in Salem, the OBA didn’t hold regular events. Often, Oregon biomeds would head north to take part in events with the Washington State Biomedical Association. It wasn’t until a few years later that he decided to become more involved. “I had been promoted to a supervisor role at the VA and was thinking about education, networking, etc,” he says. He decided to organize an OBA event.
He approached Reis and the OBA board about setting it up. In March 2012, Bravo’s event took place at the VA hospital where he worked, and was focused on what operating rooms of the future might consist of. Two of Bravo’s co-workers presented on wireless surgery devices, and representatives from Stryker, Kalamazoo, Mich, were on hand to talk about its products. “After the event, we said, ‘Wow, this is really exciting. This is something we should do regularly,’?” Bravo says.
About a month later, having served as OBA president for more than a decade, Reis announced his retirement from the group. Bravo was elected the group’s next president. “I just wanted to do it for fun,” he says. “It’s such a small field. If you go to a cocktail party, nobody knows what a biomed is. I thought it would be fun to get together with people who know what you’re talking about.”
Russ Magoon, an imaging service technician at Legacy Health in Portland, says Bravo’s enthusiasm was a perfect match for the organization’s needs. “When we started to reconvene, we needed to start anew,” Magoon remembers. “It was a perfect way to start. He’s a terrific speaker, well organized—he got the regular meetings going again.”
Keith Waters was elected vice president when Bravo was elected president. The new leadership knew they needed to start small. “Initially, we just wanted to get the membership back in, get everybody motivated and attending meetings,” he says. Bravo recalls that after he started putting the word out, business leaders started showing interest in presenting at meetings, and hospitals offered space.
Learning the Ins and Outs of Oregon
Understanding the challenge of fostering a statewide organization means first understanding the nuances of the state itself. The ninth-largest state in the country, Oregon has nearly 100,000 square miles of land. The rugged Cascade Mountains, which lie about a third of the way into the state from the Pacific, divide the state into eastern and western halves. “The geographical isolation seems like the hardest challenge of all,” Magoon says. “In some states, you have many urban areas. In Oregon, you have Portland and Salem. Everything outside the I-5 corridor is more isolated, but they have needs, too.”
The group has tried hosting meetings outside the Portland area, but attendance has tended to drop off when it does. Nevertheless, building an OBA that is not Portland-centric is important. “I want it to be the Oregon Biomedical Association, not the Portland Biomedical Association,” Magoon says. “There’s a difference.” Finding a workable solution to this problem, whether it be physical or digital, is among the OBA’s top priorities.
Paying attention to what matters to its members extends beyond work needs. Oregon’s summers bring Oregonians, especially those on the western side of the mountains, a relatively rare period of sunshine. As a result, the group has learned not to schedule any events in the summer. Similarly, the OBA has recently begun to move meeting times around, too. “We used to always have meetings on Thursday, and people wanted to mix things up,” Waters says. “However, nobody wanted meetings on the weekend.” Now, meetings take place on different days of the week.
Magoon says that another way the OBA hopes to understand the needs of its members is to host a roundtable with managers from the bigger health care organizations in the state. Through this event, they hope to gain better insight into the particular needs of biomeds throughout the state.
Growing a Roster of Leaders
In June 2013, Bravo moved to San Antonio. He is pursuing a master’s degree in order to move into an administrative role. He will return to Portland when he completes the program, but for now, he can’t continue his work with the OBA. Magoon was elected the OBA’s new president. Magoon, who taught English in South Korea before joining the Army at age 28, was a biomed for about 5 years before transitioning to imaging work. (Fittingly, his experience has allowed him to become a go-to presenter for imaging topics.)
His main goal, like Bravo’s, is to continue building an active membership. Currently, there are about 175 people on the group’s email list. Meetings average about 30 attendees but have reached as high as 50. Magoon says he has sought out advice from neighbor associations in Washington and California. “A lot of it is just idea sharing,” Waters adds. “Since we’re fairly new at this, we’re listeners at this point.” The hard work is paying off. “I think there’s an increase in talk about the OBA,” Magoon says.
In addition to paying attention to details—managing the geographical challenges of working in a big state, asking department leaders what their needs are—the OBA is investing heavily in a flagship project, one they hope will anchor the group’s reputation and build momentum for future events. The project is a conference and exposition, to be held in November. The expo will have speakers and booths for at least 20 vendors.
Magoon expects at least 80 people to attend. “I think after one good event, people will say, ‘I want to be a part of that,’?” Magoon says. He hopes a successful turnout will bring even more people into the leadership fold. Currently, the executive board is handling all of the expo setup. In the future, Magoon hopes to find more volunteers within the organization. “To be truly successful, we need a pool of 10 to 12 steady volunteers,” he says.
To some, the feedback in anticipation of the event has exceeded expectations. “We had really good turnouts for our meetings, but I wasn’t sure if we would have much interest for a day-long expo,” Waters says. “But the vendors have been so supportive.”
With a core group of dedicated leaders charting the path forward, the OBA seems to have the necessary pieces to grow. The only question now is who will take advantage of the opportunities it presents. Bravo thinks there should be no question at all for biomeds: “Biomeds have a vital role to play in hospitals, and the more resources you take advantage of, the more you become a vital resource at your hospital. You become more valuable.”
OBA is working to instill that idea in the next generation of biomeds, partnering with colleges in Oregon that offer biomed programs. The partnerships are positive not only for students, who can find internships and job opportunities, but also for the OBA itself. “From the point of view of the OBA, it’s great because we are typically an older field; the students bring the latest and greatest in skills to the group,” Bravo says. Magoon hopes to institute an annual scholarship to help support the young biomeds.
Magoon says the group plans to push forward the momentum created by the expo by engaging with members on the OBA’s Facebook page and its recently launched website, in addition to continuing to hold regular meetings.
Bravo adds that by gathering biomeds together in a forum such as the OBA, they can find new ways to address what he considers to be the biggest challenge facing all of them: a lack of understanding of the biomedical field by hospital administrators. “People are stuck in the mind-set that we just fix equipment,” he says. “Let’s let others know what we’re capable of. I think what we need to do is show how we not only keep the hospital running but how we improve patient outcomes and contain costs.”
Of course, finding ways to support members as they become more integrated with IT departments is critical. “One of the things I wanted to push was that we need to embrace IT,” Bravo says. “We need to learn it. The more you can speak the lingo and articulate your needs, the better the results.”
Challenges certainly remain, but the OBA is set up to address them. And with the success comes new kinds of problems. “Sometimes, we run out of space,” Waters says. But for any organization, that’s a good problem to have.
Kurt Woock is the associate editor of 24×7.