By Nina Silberstein

Want to interact with a broader community of like-minded individuals? Depending on where you are based, there may be one or more local and regional biomedical organizations that provide a venue where “great minds think alike.” In such regional associations, you can typically find other healthcare technology management (HTM) professionals, third-party providers of services or supplies, students, and medical device manufacturers. These well-rounded groups of people offer ample opportunity for you to attend educational sessions, learn about what is happening in the industry, discover the latest in technology or equipment, and keep abreast of potential career opportunities. In this article, 24×7 offers some key details about some of the organizations in the field and what they can do for you.

Getting and Giving

Patrick Lynch maintains a membership in virtually every HTM organization in the United States. Lynch is a biomedical support specialist and blogger at Global Medical Imaging (GMI) in Charlotte, NC, and president of the Healthcare Technology Management Association of South Carolina (HTMA-SC). On a personal level, Lynch uses his membership in a variety of organizations to learn who the future leaders are in the profession. He also maintains a list of contacts to answer his HTM-related questions. In addition, Lynch gleans the best practices from diverse geographic regions and is able to serve as an advisor when a new organization is starting up or when an existing one needs to reinvent itself. “The main benefit of attending an organization meeting or symposium is threefold,” Lynch explains. “One, the educational opportunities, two, the networking opportunities, and three, the exhibit hall, or talking with vendors.”

For Suraj S. Soudagar, president of the Clinical Engineering Association of Illinois (CEAI), his membership is a way he gives back to the profession that has given so much to him.  “You get a sense of fulfillment when you work for an organization like CEAI, and [my] goal is to pay it forward,” he says.

“Regional biomedical societies are important and relevant because they create local and personal services for the grassroots professional,” adds Frederick McMurtrie, past-present and webmaster for the Florida Biomedical Society (FBS). Services that the FBS offers its members include educational and training opportunities to help develop members’ growth. The FBS also works with its members to improve patient safety through sound engineering principles and communicating ideas and solutions. “The larger organizations can be costly or distant, and can hinder these factors,” McMurtrie says.

Educational Opportunities

The Washington State Biomedical Association (WSBA) holds a monthly meeting where both vendors and special guest speakers are invited to present educational content relevant to the HTM field. “We have worked very hard in the past couple of years to make these presentations as light on sales as possible and more focused on teaching our members about new trends and technologies,” says Chris Walton, treasurer for the WSBA.

The WSBA’s number one organizational objective is education. Along with monthly meetings, the WSBA holds annual seminars, is involved with two local colleges, and provides educational scholarships. The WSBA has been in existence since the late 1980s, and most of the members are on the west side of the Cascade Mountains near Seattle. The association does, however, have a contingent of members in Eastern Washington in the Spokane area.

Education is significant for other groups as well. “FBS and its chapters play a key role in promoting professional growth and education through monthly programs at the chapter level and the annual symposium at the state level,” McMurtrie says. (Those chapters include the Bay Area Association of Medical Instrumentation, the Central Florida Biomedical Instrumentation Society, the Gulf Cost Biomedical Society, the North East Florida Association for Medical Instrumentation, and the South Florida Association for Medical Instrumentation.)

“The Heartland Biomedical Association (HBA) promotes and provides continuing education opportunities for the members in the HTM profession,” says Craig Luze, regional director, clinical engineering, for Alegent Creighton Health in Omaha, Neb. “Often, the members do not have opportunities to get continuing education, and the HBA brings in quality programs to fill this need,” he says. The HBA organizes with vendors educational, non-sales pitch presentations on a variety of topics from customer service and ultrasound theory, to the latest on radiation safety. “We have short presentations every other month with a 2-day symposium in November, focusing on multiple topics that would interest every level of technical professional,” Luze says.

Networking and Jobs

“In addition to educational sessions, we’re here to connect professionals for networking and jobs,” says Russell Magoon, LPH clinical engineer and president of the Oregon Biomedical Association (OBA). The OBA is the regional membership society of biomedical engineering professionals within the Oregon and Southwest Washington area, and it offers ways to network and meet people. Students and others contact Magoon about once a month saying they’re a biomed or a manager, are moving to Oregon, and want to know how they can connect to people. “It’s rare to meet technicians from other hospitals unless you have an organization like this,” Magoon says. It’s also a great place to talk about the struggles or obstacles each facility faces—such as a problem with a machine—and the question of whether or not someone else has the same issue, or better yet, a solution.

“Our second objective is to provide both social and professional networking opportunities,” Walton says. Each year, BPI Medical, Fife, Wash—one of the organization’s longtime supporters—hosts an annual barbeque for WSBA members. In November, Philips Healthcare hosts the group’s annual meeting, which is both a social gathering and an official WSBA meeting. The WSBA also offers several more tactical things to help their members, including a website that lists career opportunities, a calendar of events for the entire year, and links to HTM resources.

“We provide networking opportunities where our members have been able to transition into new jobs within the CEAI community,” Soudagar adds. One of the beneficiaries of those opportunities is the organization’s current treasurer, Lijo George, who was hired in one of the networking sessions. “We also post potential jobs on our website for any corporate sponsor so that our members are first to take advantage of such openings,” Soudagar says.

“The regional societies (of FBS) provide opportunities to network with fellow professionals as well as afford biomedical students a chance to interface with manufacturers and/or other employers,” McMurtrie says.

Vendors and Industry Experts

“We have members come together for quarterly meetings where we invite an industry expert to provide insight in the latest and greatest trends in HTM,” Soudagar says. “We also have a yearly conference in August, which is attended by over 200 members and over 60 vendors. This will be our fourth year of holding the conference.” Along with the many job opportunities that are created by means of these quarterly meetings or conferences, Soudagar says that vendors also provide information on trends in the healthcare industry so that CEAI members are armed and ready to use this information in their jobs. What it comes down to is that the CEAI’s role is to promote the values and principles of HTM by keeping its members up-to-date with current industry trends and then sharing that knowledge with all of its members. “The more tools and knowledge we provide our members, the more we empower them to spot threats and opportunities, which can not only help our members themselves, but help them shape their organization’s future,” he says.

The HBA also tries to bring in presenters to their meetings to show what the most up-to-date technology is available in the industry. Recently, the HBA moved to a digital format newsletter, which is posted along with other announcements on the group’s website. “There is a member’s area where people can review videos of presentations that they missed or just to review [them],” Luze says.

The Challenges

Lynch is candid about his view of the challenges organizations face. The greatest one, he says, “is apathy on the part of HTM professionals in their service area.” Often, he explains, there are “only two to five people active in the running of an organization, with the others sitting back and wanting to drink from the well without doing any of the work. Everyone must realize that these organizations (with the exception of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation) are totally volunteer. The more people step up to help, the less work for everyone. The lack of human resources often requires members to take on more than they ever desired, and this is where a larger base of active volunteers would make it easier for everyone.”

CEAI is also a grassroots organization and managed by volunteers for its membership. “Volunteers are our biggest challenge,” Soudagar says. “The founders realized early on that for this organization to succeed, we have to breed young blood, new ideas, and different leadership. It is imperative that we have volunteers from all experience levels to help our organization grow.”

Volunteers, he says, “are the essential fuel required to keep educational organizations like ours growing and moving ahead. Currently, we seek volunteers to assist us with the huge CEAI conference in August.”

Leadership participation is problematic for the WSBA as well. “It is a challenge to bring new officers into the organization and prevent burnout by the few who are always the ones to get the job done,” Walton says. “It is always a handful of individuals who will work consistently for the organization. Others will sign up to help, but are not very reliable,” he says.

Luze notes that the HBA “continues to look at how we can include other techs from outside of our immediate metro area. There are a number of facilities within a 100- to 150-mile radius that have no professional organization for HTM professionals.” The challenge for the HBA, he says, “is to provide a means for them to participate and take advantage of the opportunities we can provide.”

McMurtrie similary notes that for the FBS, it’s hard to find and keep dedicated leaders, and to stay up-to-date with both the tremendous amount of information in the industry as well as the wide diversity of the profession. “All in all, these groups provide an important role in keeping our professionals current and focused on the hot topics that shape the environment we work in today,” he says.

Lynch feels that most of the organizations don’t have money issues. “There are enough local businesses that will value a local organization, and there is more than enough money to keep even a small organization well-funded.” In South Carolina, he points out, “We do not charge for membership or for our annual conference. It is totally funded by our corporate supporters.”

On the flip side, getting high-quality educational sessions that are useful for a reasonable price is challenging for most associations because they’re usually not-for-profits and don’t have big budgets. For Walton, the WSBA tries to keep the cost of membership low to encourage participation. “This means that we have to rely on our vendors to help fund things like dinners at monthly meetings and our annual symposiums,” he says. The group has to manage a delicate balance, he continues: “We want to ask for help from our vendors, but also limit their sales presentations at the meetings. We typically overcome this by having an annual event that allows for both—a vendor fair and educational classes.”

A similar challenge for the WSBA, Walton says, “is coming up with new, stimulating content for our meetings that will keep people interested and coming.” Creating an inspiring and creative environment takes considerable planning and energy, both of which can be in short supply, he says. “Again, we are using volunteers who have busy lives. They are only willing to put so much energy into the process. It is sometimes discouraging that some people stop coming to meetings because they aren’t seeing enough that is new. It all takes work.”

“Maintaining a statewide organization can be a challenge,” Walton says. “We hold meetings in a small geographic area, and this means some people have to travel to get to our meetings and probably will not do that for an evening once per month.” This results typically in a limited participation of local people. “We need ways to reach our Washington HTM professionals other than making long trips,” Walton adds.

While there seems to be plenty of demand for networking and community sharing among the HTM profession, in practice, generating interest in joining a professional association can be a tough task. Potential members spend 40 hours or more a week in a shop and then are asked to meet in yet another shop, six or seven times a year. For some, that’s a deal breaker.

For many more, however, the benefits outweigh the small sacrifices and extra work required. Local and regional HTM associations offer substantial opportunities to the profession, but can only do so with the essential participation of HTM professionals.

Nina Silberstein is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact jbethune@allied360.com.