Equipment does not always work as it ought to. Machines wear out or become outdated. Parts break unexpectedly. On those occasions, biomedical equipment technicians use their training, familiarity with the equipment, and manuals to help find the path back to up-and-running.
Clinical/biomedical engineering associations do not always work as they ought to. Members come and go. What worked 10 years ago might no longer be relevant or helpful. However, associations do not come with user manuals. Instead, the individuals who constitute the group must simply forge ahead—sometimes with experience and sometimes with little more than their best judgment, hard work, and a commitment to others in the field. While that might sound ominous, the good news is that those things are enough to bring even a dormant association back to life. Such was the case of the Intermountain Clinical Instrumentation Society (ICIS). In 2009, there was no functioning ICIS. It had lain still for 2 years, yet a small group decided to bring it back. The association’s new leaders found their way by trial-and-error as well as by learning what worked for other associations. Now ICIS is thriving, and other associations might benefit from ICIS’ success.
Spreading the Word
ICIS’ primary region covers Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. In total, that is 413,323 square miles—nearly the size of California and Texas combined. Trying to bring a familiar feel to such a vast swath of land comes with inherent challenges.
“How do we actually say we cover that region without actually doing something for the entire region, something more than sending out a newsletter and having a Web site?” says Dustin K. Telford, CBET, CRES, CLES, and current ex-officio president of ICIS. Telford, whose involvement with ICIS stretches back to 1993, when he was elected treasurer, has been wrestling with that question for a while. “We asked those people in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, ‘Do you feel like you’re a part of ICIS? Do you want to be affiliated? If not, no hard feelings. We can even help you set up your own local or state association.’ Their response was largely, ‘Absolutely. We want to be affiliated.’ “
Although people in the region wanted to be members, not enough people stepped up to leadership roles. “There are many people who have supported the organization, but they were burned out. And, we weren’t getting any new blood to help lead,” Telford says.
The group actually shut its doors twice in the last decade. In 2004, after lying idle for 5 years for similar reasons, Telford tried reviving it, but the same lack of enough leadership forced ICIS to shut down in 2008. Telford says the lesson he and others learned was to never rely too heavily on one person.
By 2009, interest in having an association had again begun to sprout. This time, Telford waited until the group had enough leadership aboard, a critical mass of people who were not just committed to participating in ICIS, but who would participate in committing to the continued success of ICIS. Now, the group has about 300 active members and meetings garner up to 30 attendees.
“It’s not magic,” Telford says of ICIS’ recipe for success. “You’ve got to stick to the fundamentals of your business. At the end of the day, that’s what [ICIS] is. Do what your business was set up or designed to do.”
If ICIS is a business, its clients are its members. To keep members in Helena, Mont, as invested as members in Salt Lake City, where ICIS is based, the group has tried out multiple ideas. “If someone is more than 50 miles away, we say, if you can get a group of at least six or eight people, we’ll figure out a way to get you the food, hold a meeting,” Telford says. “That has worked fairly well.”
The group also has live Webcasts of its meetings and an online archive of past meetings. A Web moderator allows remote members to voice their opinion or ask questions as if they were in the meeting room. ICIS has taken that connectivity one step further: “Because we can do it for the intermountain region,” Telford says, “we can do it anywhere people have the Internet. Our core mission is still centered on those four states, but we’ve had people from places like Alaska, Florida, and West Virginia join us for meetings.”
Mike Busdicker, MA, was one of those remote members. A few years ago, he was working at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, Ill—nearly 1,400 miles away—but still participated in ICIS. Busdicker is now the director of imaging equipment services at Intermountain Healthcare, Salt Lake City, and the president of ICIS. “Our ability to reach outside of our own geographic area to provide opportunities for people in remote areas and other areas throughout the country allows people to tap into the things we’re doing,” he says.
Although ICIS is not a national group—its focus remains on members in the intermountain region—its readiness to offer access to those who otherwise would not have a group has proved to be valuable for both long-distance and intermountain-area members. “We poll our members frequently to see what they want,” Busdicker says. “A lot of our members want professional networking. They want to be able to know who’s down the street and what they do. Maybe down the road they can call someone about a particular system if they have a question or are considering buying one.”
Details, such as making sure people wear name tags at every meeting, ensure people have the best chance to meet others in the field. And, while Telford says ICIS needs to be more than a Web site and newsletter, that does not mean that those things are not important. Just ask Scott James, CBET, director of clinical engineering, McKay-Dee Hospital Center, Ogden, Utah, who has been the newsletter’s editor since 2010. More than just minutes from the last meeting, the newsletter consists of 15 pages of stories sourced from experts in the area as well as writers on the Web. The ICIS Web site is a central information hub for ICIS, containing links to videos, information, and even a “biomed humor page,” set up by Adam Drew, CBET, tech III at McKay-Dee and current treasurer of ICIS. Both the newsletter and Web site have become revenue streams for ICIS, and ICIS uses the money raised from selling ad space to keep membership free.
Education, Balance, and Flexibility
Change, such as broadcasting local meetings on the Internet, is inevitable in any organization, but the bedrock of any biomedical association, the core of the “business,” is and will continue to be educating its members. To that end, ICIS continually asks its members what they need. “Some biomed associations struggle getting field service engineers to meetings, they are often very specialized,” Telford says. “We’ve reached out to them and have had pretty good success.”
ICIS also has instituted successful certification training programs by partnering with the Colorado Association of Biomedical Equipment Technicians (CABMET) to provide local study sessions at lower rates to members. “Credit needs to be given to CABMET,” Telford says of the group that offers certification classes for biomedical equipment technicians, radiology equipment specialists, and laboratory equipment specialists. “They’ve run such a successful program for so long. If we decided to offer our own study group, we’d be reinventing the wheel. It wouldn’t have made sense. They’ve made it really easy: Any association can partner with CABMET.”
Credit also goes to ICIS’s leadership. While CABMET’s program is successful, ICIS keeps an eye on its members’ specific needs: Leaders schedule a few sessions without an agenda toward the end of each course. Participants elect which topics they would like to learn more about, and ICIS fills the empty slots with specialists from those topic areas. Drew says that ICIS is considering other creative ways to help its members, such as holding events in Idaho or hosting a symposium.
While many members might want to sign up for classes or study sessions, the truth is it takes more than a desire to do so. You also need the time. “Everyone’s schedule keeps getting busier,” Busdicker says. “So for us, it’s important to find that balance: Provide development and information members need, but do it in such a way that they can achieve those things and still have a balance with their personal life.”
ICIS leadership has found some creative solutions. “When you continually hold meetings on weekends, it just doesn’t work; people’s time is too valuable,” Busdicker says. “If you offer educational opportunities during working hours, a manager might see it and say, ‘It would be beneficial to allow my technicians to leave for a half a day or a day.’ ”
They also recognize that not everyone wants the same thing out of a membership. Some people just want to show up and see their friends every week. Other people might want an opportunity to develop leadership skills. Remaining flexible, so as not to squeeze out a segment of a group’s membership, is necessary to make an organization valuable to a wide range of people.
The Long View
With the memories of tougher days still in the rearview mirror, members of ICIS know that if they want a sure future, they need to make it so. With its past in mind, attracting new members and bringing young leaders into the fold are priorities. A lack of “new blood,” after all, brought the group to a halt in the past. Telford says he learned the importance of this, in part, from Doug Cummings, an instructor at a local biomedical technician program. “He knew it was essential for his students to network and learn about the field,” Telford says. For his students’ sake, not his own, Cummings was an advocate of having a group like ICIS in the intermountain region.
Busdicker says that to think about preparing the future goes beyond offering 1- or 2-day sessions: It is about facilitating mentoring relationships that last decades. Those relationships, unlike technical training, do not become obsolete. James, who has been in the field for 29 years, says he tells his younger colleagues, “Look close to home, look at your career long-term, think well beyond tomorrow. There’s a lot going on. There are a lot of people who are going to be retiring; your future is bright. We need people to carry this on.”
Similarly, developing relationships with other stakeholders in the industry is something both Telford and Busdicker see as essential to ICIS’ future. “I think it’s important for ICIS that we partner with educational institutions within our area,” Busdicker says. “We’re working with Ogden Weber Applied Technology College in Utah, which provides a biomed program.” Similarly, building relationships with suppliers can yield sponsorships and speakers for events, while relationships with other associations can bring new ideas.
While its educational mission will continue, both Telford and Busdicker expect ICIS and all biomedical associations to change. They expect the amount of responsibility the industry as a whole vests in them to rise. “Health care organizations need to continue to provide quality care at a lower cost,” Busdicker says. “Organizations like ICIS are going to become much more instrumental for a lot of the educational tracks and trainings, at least the basics and fundamentals, within the industry.”
Telford agrees: “I think regional or state associations are going to be asked to do more difficult things. There will be some lively debates about if associations can get involved with the decision [concerning regulation and certification] or if they want to get involved. Do associations have the right to support their members in these questions, should they simply facilitate the discussions, or should they not touch the question with a 10-foot pole?”
Whatever the future holds, ICIS is betting that the role biomedical associations play in the lives of professionals will grow. “We don’t want to see it fail,” James says. “So let’s make it something that people want to be a part of.”
Kurt Woock is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at .