Propelling innovation, professional advancement in the Pacific Northwest

By Phyllis Hanlon

Like many states in the Western part of the United States, Oregon spans a vast expanse of land—98,000 square miles to be exact. The terrain is replete with mountains, forests, and rivers—presenting a logistical challenge for professionals in the clinical engineering field who seek networking, educational, and career-related opportunities. But in the 1970s and 1980s, a group of biomedical engineers began laying the groundwork for what would become the Oregon Biomedical Association (OBA).

Laying the Groundwork

During those early years, two organizations operated simultaneously: the Northwest Association of Biomedical Technology (NAB), which focused on professionals in the Portland-metro area, and the Cascade Biomedical Association (CBA), which catered to a larger geographic area that encompassed rural cities and towns.

But by the late ’80s, the NAB saw numbers lag, with many of its members choosing to attend CBA meetings instead. And as membership in the CBA swelled, leaders decided to change the name. Finally, the Oregon Biomedical Association was born.

During the last three decades, the OBA has continued to flourish, growing in numbers; holding meetings, events, and fairs; and continuously striving to offer new programs to all biomedical professionals across the state. The OBA also founded an educational advocacy committee to expand its current scope of work and aims to establish a network of healthcare technology managers to discuss current challenges in the field.

Stories of Success

In March 2015, Meet Patel, a clinical engineer at the Portland-based Oregon Health and Science University, wanted to become more involved with the OBA. Having just taken the CBET certification exam, he believed he could contribute to the association—and the biomedical community, in general—by offering to teach a nine-week prep course for the test. Suffice it to say that it became a hit.

One student noted that the course “…helped to develop a pattern of BMET thinking relevant to the job and indispensable to taking the test.” Others have called the course “…a valuable opportunity to learn critical studying techniques and information pertaining to the CBET exam.”

Patel has benefited from teaching the course, as well. “The CBET class has also been a great learning experience for me,” he says. “In-depth technical understanding of my working students has improved my problem-solving and managerial skills,” he says. As a clinical engineer, he says such insight is priceless.

 Event Highlights 

Meeting together regularly is something OBA leaders value highly—with the association’s annual conference ranking as a major highlight. Most recently, the OBA held its annual conference in December 2016—and it was one for the books, according to OBA Secretary Michael O’Brien, CBET. He says that the OBA conference and expo—which was free of charge to attendees—served as an opportunity to bring together healthcare technology management professionals for two days of education, networking, and exposure to vendors.

What’s more, O’Brien says, the two-day format allowed local hospitals to send staff members more easily. Both days of the event also featured a large vendor expo, as well as a happy hour for socializing.

“We try to focus our efforts on providing a learning experience. That makes it more attractive for managers to allow technicians to attend,” O’Brien says. “It is also great to meet some of the manufacturer representatives that we have only spoken with on the phone.” He says taking time at the expo to discuss problems and solutions with vendors is especially valuable..

Further, events, such as this conference, provide a learning experience for industry veterans, as well as for those who are about to enter the field. O’Brien reveals that OBA officials invite local Portland Community College (PCC) students to attend and volunteer at the event. “[It’s] great for us to get to know some of the students and for them to meet people who are working in their chosen field,” O’Brien notes.

“We continuously reach out to our PCC students and encourage them to get involved with the OBA so that they can make new contacts and learn more fully about the field of healthcare technology management,” he adds. “The students also enjoy an opportunity to meet potential employers or future colleagues in a relaxed setting.”

O’Brien points out that the chance to network with colleagues is an essential element not only of the OBA conference—but of all association meetings. “It is so valuable to be able to discuss problems and solutions with each other, since we have so much in common,” he says.

“Whether we work in a hospital setting, as a third-party service technician, or as a field-service engineer, we all can learn from one another,” says O’Brien. He reveals that the OBA has seen a surge in interest from third-party service engineers in recent years—which he calls a boon to operations.

Delivering Top-Notch Education

The OBA’s December conference featured three education tracks for the seminars, with some sessions geared toward technicians and others toward managers. And it wasn’t only members of the clinical engineering field that lent their professional expertise.

An anesthesiologist, for instance, presented a session titled “A Breath of Compressed Air-Mechanical Ventilation for the Biotechnologist” and a dermatologist provided professional insight in a session titled “Lasers in Dermatology.” According to O’Brien, “The clinical perspective presented was refreshing and illuminating for the technician because it offered a different point of view from our normal service perspective.”

Furthermore, two OBA members—imaging technicians Jimmy Orta and Tiffany Revels—shared their knowledge in a session concerning clinical technology in imaging. “The focus for this presentation was to describe how life is different between imaging and instrumentation technicians, how to move into that field, and what a day in the life is like,” O’Brien reveals.

OBA member Peter McNamara’s “3-D Printing in Biomed” session was also popular with attendees, educating them on when, where, and how to use this technology. After all, advances in printing techniques are sweeping the industry, but knowledge of the industry is still in its infancy.

Other conference sessions included cost-saving measures, National Fire Protection Association 99 updates, and discussions about electrical safety in the OR. An AAMI representative presented one of the sessions—something O’Brien says OBA officials were very happy about.

Joining Forces

The conference also presented an opportunity to bring leaders of the OBA and the Washington Biomedical Association together to discuss future plans for joint meetings and other large events. “Both organizations are interested in combining our efforts, where possible, in order to improve the level of educational experiences that we can provide,” O’Brien says. “We were also able to share some information about how each group is organized and what is working well for each group.”

Feedback from this conference will shape the format of the next big event, he points out. In fact, surveys from members and vendors allow OBA leadership to determine what was successful and what might need to be altered moving forward. “It is very important to us that we meet the needs of not just our members, but the vendors who present their products and service as well,” says O’Brien.

And one thing’s for certain: Whatever the future holds, the OBA will continue to serve, educate, and promote all professionals in the field of healthcare technology management.

Phyllis Hanlon is a contributing writer for 24×7. Questions and comments can be sent to Chief Editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].