Why you should consider local biomed association membership and tips on how to start or reactivate one.
Glen Wolfe, manager of biomedical engineering at La Grange Hospital (La Grange, Ill), joined his first association 5 years ago to, he says, “Check it out.” After discovering that membership was a great way to obtain training, learn about vendors, and discover new ideas, he became convinced of its value. Now, he not only belongs to three associations but also volunteers for two of them—he is webmaster and trustee for the Indiana Biomedical Society, based in Indianapolis; a member of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) of Arlington, Va; and vice chairman of the Electronics Technicians Association International (ETA) of Greencastle, Ind.
Wolfe saw the value in association membership right away, but many others have not. A number of local associations have become inactive, and some national regions lack an industry organization altogether.
Horace Hunter, executive director of the Georgia Biomedical Instrumentation Society (GBIS) of Thomasville, Ga, says there are two main reasons why more biomeds are not involved in associations. “First, they don’t see the need to join, and second, associations aren’t showing them the importance of joining,” Hunter says. “We as individuals tend to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”
Hunter is happy to answer his own question. “An association can help its members by providing the resources for continuing their education on medical equipment, as well as staying in compliance with Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) and other regulatory requirements. Associations offer outreach for developing partnerships, access to sales and services at a better cost, and an avenue for adventure into other areas,” he says.
Associations also offer networking opportunities and the ability to showcase one’s talents and leadership skills. Members find that association meetings can be productive and fun.
“Organizations have a wonderful way of distilling changes in regulatory requirements so that you can get the necessary information quickly without reading lots of boring materials. One way that I’m able to stay current is by attending AAMI’s annual meeting one week every year,” says Frank Magnarelli, director of clinical engineering at Miami Children’s Hospital and a member of AAMI and the Florida Biomedical Society (FBS).
Magnarelli, who helped to establish FBS in 1985, believes the primary role of an industry association is to offer affordable continuing education. “Local societies can provide learning opportunities for technicians and bring in manufacturers to teach theory and maintenance,” he says, adding that manufacturer-led training can also be less expensive than sending technicians out for training. “Through FBS, we brought in techs from other hospitals and conducted training sessions at no charge. The hospitals benefited from reduced cost, and the manufacturer gained exposure to a larger group,” he says.
Wolfe recounts a similar story. “An Indiana hospital recently purchased a large number of Zoll defibrillators. They brought in the vendor for training and opened up the session to outside biomeds. I would not have known about it had it not been for my membership in the Indiana Biomedical Society,” he says.
Economical education is particularly valuable because health care continues to suffer a budget crunch. Typically, training, including seminars, is the first thing to go. “Associations offer a lot of education for a little money,” says Sonny Richards, president of the North Carolina Biomedical Association (NCBA of Raleigh, NC).
This is valuable because to maintain certification, a certain amount of continuing education is necessary. “Association education can help certified biomeds accumulate the necessary points as well as provide exposure to new technology and products,” Wolfe says. He says this is especially beneficial to biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) in small hospitals who are accustomed to working with one vendor. “It may take 10 years to see new technology because it’s not purchased by smaller hospitals right away. This can limit one’s career path,” Wolfe says.
Association-provided education also is valuable to larger institutions. David Braeutigam, manager at Baylor Health Care Systems, Dallas, notes that BMETs who attend meetings take the latest information about new products and technology back to their local hospitals.
Networking, Networking, Networking
“Many BMETs say that education is the most important reason for their participation in an association, even if [those training sessions are] just an opportunity to collaborate with others,” Richards says.
Magnarelli says that this collaboration is key to his departmental goal setting. “By seeing and hearing about others’ experiences, I am better able to formulate my goals and keep the department focused. I discover new ways to do things and return from meetings with specific items to try. It keeps me from flying blind,” he says.
Association membership also has contributed positively to Braeutigam’s career, he says, citing expanded knowledge and a growing network of other biomed professionals.
Networking not only helps with expanding knowledge, it also increases opportunity—both directly, in the form of an inside track on jobs, and indirectly, in the form of industry recognition. Some associations, such as the Indiana Biomedical Society, hand out an annual award for outstanding achievement.
Braeutigam has presented at national meetings and says that sharing his experiences has helped his professional growth and exposure. “One national presentation I gave several years ago resulted in several biomed managers calling me for additional information. It also resulted in expanding my network of other biomed professionals and ultimately led to me being nominated to the AAMI/ICC BMET [International Certification Commission for Clinical Engineering and Biomedical Technology] certification board,” he says.
Fixing Squeaky Wheels Together
“Biomeds deal with the same issues around the country,” says Bruce Maden, director of operations at MedEquip Biomedical (Miami), and a member of FBS and the South Florida Association for Medical Instrumentation (SFAMI of Miami). “We generally experience similar problems, including the handling of new regulations, and it’s beneficial to share information. Why reinvent the wheel?” he asks.
Magnarelli agrees that issues do not typically have a local flavor. Indeed, he says that, “There are no burning issues, just recurring ones.”
“Both national and local associations have always been dealing with issues regarding career recognition. There still is a need to identify who BMETs are, how you become a BMET, what BMETs do, and how much a BMET should get paid,” Hunter says.
Other issues include interpretation of regulatory-compliance requirements, industry representation, association participation, and risk rating of medical equipment. Magnarelli says industry associations should establish professional standards and ethics codes to move the profession forward. “People don’t want to set rules and limit themselves, but they do not realize that others, such as JCAHO, are doing it for them,” he says.
In some cases, regulations can even conflict. The Indiana Biomedical Society has been working with the Indiana State Department of Public He
alth (Indianapolis) to update the state’s standards for maintenance and repair. “Their standards are different than JCAHO’s and at times contrasting, making it difficult for facilities to be in compliance with both,” Wolfe says.
Associations are more readily heard by the legislature when they represent a larger membership base. Unfortunately, many are struggling to maintain membership roles and meeting attendance. Time and money are credited as being the biggest inhibitors.
Most local organizations meet after work, so BMETs must attend on their own time. Limited departmental budgets mean that BMETs also must foot the bill. “Many BMETs are in a one-person shop and cannot afford the time or money to participate in their local association,” Richards says.
But the problem may not be limited to biomeds. Magnarelli cites a book devoted to this subject, Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, which studies the nation’s social disconnection.
“All organizations, whether work or personal, are suffering from an inability to recruit members,” Magnarelli says.
Getting Your Association Going
“There are no ‘quick and easy’ ways of reactivating an inactive association,” Hunter says. But it can be done.
The first step is to research. Speak with members of other successful organizations about what they have done. “Work with the nearest society, and ask them for guidance. They will generally help, because everyone wants to improve the profession’s image,” Wolfe says.
Next, a core group must form and commit to each other. “A select few will have to do a lot of the work to get it going. Almost every organization I have been in relies on just a handful of individuals to keep it going. Once the organization has been running for a while, they can find other enthusiastic members to help,” Braeutigam says.
Maden agrees. “FBS is very active, with more than 100 members each year, but the same 25 to 35 people attend the meetings,” he says.
Magnarelli suggests that association organizers consider hiring a professional director. “Economically, it can work out, because officers and members often can’t keep their commitments. We originally hired a professional director, who handles a number of organizations. She did the membership roles, negotiated for meetings, and handled the newsletter,” he says.
When the leaders are determined, they need to define the association’s mission and goals. “Once established, they must be adhered to,” Richards says.
The group also will need to take care of any legalities. Wolfe feels this is the most work-intensive portion of starting up. “You need to file the proper paperwork, and the legalities take time. You can have informal meetings, but if you want to collect dues, you need to complete the legal process,” he says.
After legalities come logistics. “Having a standard meeting time and meeting place takes a lot of pressure off the association to keep the membership updated on when the next meeting will be held and where,” Braeutigam says.
Keep the meetings professional. “If you want to meet over drinks, have a social hour for the membership; but don’t hold your regular meeting there,” Braeutigam says.
Incentives help. Braeutigam suggests simple things like food and drink. “BMETs are attending meetings on their own time, and you might as well reward them for their attendance. We’ve never had a problem with a company providing the food and soft drinks. It gives the vendor the opportunity to present to a large audience at once and is typically very cost-effective for them,” Braeutigam says.
Wolfe suggests starting with training from a well-recognized vendor to get BMETs in the door. “We had 180 people attend a GE [Healthcare] class. If you give people a reason to be there, they will come,” he says.
Of course, none of this matters if the meeting information is not properly marketed. A Web site can be helpful. “We bought the ntba.org domain for our association. It’s a simple name to remember and makes it easy to point people to the site for information. Keep it simple, and have contact information, meeting times, locations, etc, available on the site. You also must keep it current, or people will quit looking for information there,” Braeutigam says.
Mailings, both printed flyers and email messages, are excellent ways to get the word out. Wolfe has found that obtaining email lists from organizations such as AAMI can be time-consuming but worthwhile.
For long-term success, associations should note what works and improve on that. “Success formulas vary from place to place. Timing and other factors will play a role as well,” says Richards, noting that a focused strategy has worked for the NCBA. “We experimented in the beginning to see what met our members’ needs. We determined that we are a primary source of education, so we have focused on improving the quality of that product,” he says.
The quality of the NCBA meeting held annually in North Carolina is so high that it now draws attendees from throughout the region. The NCBA has more than 450 members, but more than 500 attended its last symposium. This marks significant growth from the first conference, which was held in 1979 and drew 43 delegates. It’s very likely, then, that these BMETs are no longer asking, “What’s in it for me?” but rather, “What isn’t?” 24×7
Renee Diiulio is a contributing writer for 24×7.