Before the North Carolina Biomedical Association (NCBA) started in 1978, it was difficult for biomedical engineers to get trained and certified on manufacturers’ new technologies, according to its founders. Learning how to use a vendor’s product often required traveling to the company’s location—and that typically meant travel and related expenses, on top of training costs.
Glenn Scales, CBET-E, elected in October to his fourth nonconsecutive term as NCBA’s president, says the organization’s mission has always been to develop accessible and affordable training resources for its members.
“For a lot of our members, there’s no other way for them to get this type of education,” he says. “The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) annual meeting is more expensive than NCBA. Registration and travel fees often deter hospitals from sending the number of people who need training. It’s often easier for members to get their requests to attend local meetings approved.”
Accessible and affordable are two words Scales uses to describe NCBA, which held its 37th annual symposium in September at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Concord. The organization is targeted to the needs of working biomeds, says Scales, who’s retired from his former role as patient safety specialist in the department of clinical engineering at the Duke University Health System in Durham. The group’s understanding of what healthcare technology management (HTM) professionals need—and its ongoing efforts to meet those challenges in a cost-effective way—help explain why NCBA continues to be one of the largest regional biomedical associations in the country.
Past and Present
Scales has been engaged with NCBA from the very beginning. Because of his involvement in a variety of leadership positions—from board member to his current role as president—his imprint can be found across the organization, which continues to welcome new members today.
“There were a number of us who had met informally, with the idea of forming a statewide educational resource for biomedical engineers,” he says, thinking back to NCBA’s founding. At the time, AAMI wasn’t as geared toward technicians—rather, the organization catered to physicians and research scientists. Scales notes that this has changed over the years, with AAMI becoming much more focused on healthcare technology.
“In the early days, you could go to an AAMI meeting, and it was like going to an MIT convention or an [American Medical Association] meeting,” he says. It was very high-level, much more research paper-focused. It wasn’t all that inclusive of technicians and engineers.”
Before NCBA was established, it just didn’t make sense for hospitals to join a professional society for the training of its biomedical engineers and technicians, says Scales. “Technicians were considered a different type of employee from nurses or physicians. They were just the people who fixed the broken stuff.”
Today, NCBA has about 650 members; students make up about 5 to 6% of its ranks. Scales attributes the large roster to the fact that once you attend the organization’s annual conference—which typically takes place each autumn—you’re automatically a member for life. Membership is comprised of biomedical equipment technicians, clinical engineers, biomedical engineers, and field service technicians and sales representative for manufacturing firms.
The Impact of Modern Technology
About 5 years ago, NCBA changed its bylaws to stop charging a $50 registration and membership fee as part of its annual symposium. Prior to that change, the dues supported the creation of newsletters, the costs of printing and mailing materials to members, and advertising. For many years, NCBA’s leaders were typing newsletters on typewriters and running them off on mimeograph machines.
But with the advent of the Internet and widespread e-mail access, Scales created a website that provides any information members might need, such as the curriculum for that year’s symposium or a calendar of training sessions available throughout the state.
Because NCBA no longer has to pay those printing and related costs, membership is now free. “Anyone can join,” says Scales. “Each year, we get more members.” The gratis membership brings along a number of benefits, including discounts on professional development classes delivered throughout the year at facilities around the state; nonmembers are charged a higher price for those classes.
From sessions on the Dräger Perseus anesthesia system and picture archiving and communication systems to techniques for working with difficult people and managing the transition from biomed to imaging technician, NCBA’s recent annual symposium delivered both technical education and “soft skill” know-how to attendees.
According to John Noblitt, MAEd, CBET, a past president of NCBA and program director of the biomedical equipment technician program at Hudson’s Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, interpersonal and communication skills have been in tremendous need for many years. “The biomed industry is full of technicians. They really would rather be doing the technical work and playing with software, tearing something apart. They’re very much of that mindset,” he says.
Still, over the years, Noblitt and others in leadership roles within NCBA started to notice that biomedical engineers weren’t just fixing the equipment in hospitals—they were managing the technology, and were in a position to educate hospital leaders about its ability to transform healthcare. “That means you have to bring that technical information and expertise into the C-suite,” he says.
In order for NCBA’s members to navigate the types of executive-level conversations they need to have in healthcare today, they require stronger communication skills, says Noblitt. “You have to be able to speak the [executive’s] language and the technical language within your medical facility.”
At the same time, the organization hasn’t forgotten its members’ need for technical knowledge. It regularly promotes regional classes aimed at building expertise in specific devices, like one recent training class on the Medfusion 3000/4000 series syringe pump. Held in Raleigh in July, the course provided the opportunity to become certified in the maintenance, service, and calibration of a device used to deliver small doses of medication from a variety of syringe sizes in acute care settings.
“Without us, the clinicians aren’t able to do their jobs. If I were in an elevator telling someone what biomedical engineers do, that’s what I’d say,” says Clint McCoy, CBET, immediate past-president of NCBA and a biomedical engineer at University of North Carolina Healthcare/Aramark in Chapel Hill. “We work behind the scenes. While you never see the biomeds on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and ER, we play an important role in delivering patient care.”
McCoy has been involved with NCBA since his time as one of Noblitt’s students at North Caldwell Community College. Back in 2006, Noblitt encouraged him to get involved, and McCoy did. Asked to serve as a board member in 2010, his responsibilities continued to grow, especially in regards to developing content for the annual symposium.
These days, McCoy is looking forward to planning next year’s symposium, which will take place August 23–26, 2016, in Pinehurst, NC, home of the PGA Championships. He guarantees that next year’s symposium will continue to focus on providing the best educational opportunities available at any state biomedical society.
Scholarships funding attendance at the NCBA annual symposium provide a way for manufacturers to continue to contribute to the organization, according to Scales. Two such scholarships are the Eddie Whisnant Scholarship and the Norman Reeves Scholarship, each of which provides a $2,000 academic scholarship to students enrolled in the North Carolina Community College System’s Biomedical Equipment Technology program.
In addition, the W. Glenn Scales Scholarship, established in 2008 to acknowledge Scales’ service to the organization, provides a single $5,000 academic grant each year to an NCBA member who is trying to further his or her career in HTM by working towards a relevant undergraduate or graduate degree. This year, Drager has agreed to sponsor the award.
“The funding for these scholarships is provided by organizations that are associated with NCBA,” says Scales. In addition to education, grants back “specific activities at the annual symposium, including meals, breaks, and social activities. Sponsorships are also available to help support our Shop of the Year award, which includes a commemorative plaque for the shop and a barbecue luncheon.”
One of Scales’ goals as the current NCBA president is to continue to provide the same level of opportunities and professional growth to members at as affordable a price as possible. “Price increases are something we try to hold the line on. That isn’t going to change,” he says.
Going forward, Scales says he sees the organization engaging more with its members by using social media. A longtime member of Toastmasters International, the nonprofit that helps members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills, he also wants to ensure that NCBA continues to provide opportunities for its members to improve their communications, hiring, and management chops. “We’re trying to give our members access to programs that will help them become better people and better technicians,” he says.
Aine Cryts is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact chief editor Jenny Lower at [email protected].
Photo caption: Left to right: Greg Johnson, NCBA past president and honorary member; Manny Roman, NCBA honorary member; and Clint McCoy, NCBA 2015 president.