As growth in the biomedical engineering field continues to explode, education is playing a stronger role than it has in the past. Previously, biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) were hired with some community college education and/or work experience in electronics or other technical fields. Now, many BMETs employed by individual hospitals or by independent service organizations possess bachelor’s degrees. For those pursuing careers in management, a master’s degree in business or health technology management becomes an important consideration.
“A societal shift is taking place within the entire health care industry whereby employees are expected to have more education and training,” explains Barbara Christe, MS, associate professor and program director of the biomedical engineering technology program at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), a campus of Purdue University and Indiana University. Christe cites the nursing profession as one of the first in health care to experience this transformation. “Many years ago, nurses would get diplomas from hospitals, and then after hospitals recognized that their jobs involved more than just changing sheets and bed pans, they were expected to earn at least an associate’s degree. Now, hospitals today wouldn’t think of hiring a nurse without a bachelor’s degree. In many cases, they even need a master’s degree.”
Even though the biomedical engineering field has experienced similar growing pains, it is not quite where nursing or other health care fields are in terms of educational demands. Much of this is due to the fact that in the United States, there is a shortage of 2- and 4-year BMET programs. In fact, there are some states that do not even offer an associate’s degree in applied science (AAS) or a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in the biomedical equipment technology field. In all of New England, there is only one technical college in Connecticut that offers a 2-year degree.
“For many students, finding a BMET program is a real challenge, particularly if they don’t want to relocate,” Christe says. Due to the limited number of programs throughout the United States, some schools are using online classes to reach students in different geographic regions. IUPUI, which offers both a 2-year and 4-year BMET program, provides online classes for its students who are in the last few semesters of their education.
Christe stresses that just like traditional classroom courses that can be either strong or weak, depending on the instructor, an online class can either meet students’ needs or be a waste of time.
“If an online class is designed in such a way that all the student is doing is getting a packet of information and then sending it back, that’s unacceptable,” Christe says. “The value of an online class is that you can bring people together who normally would not have an opportunity to meet and develop a dialogue on topics that are meaningful to the students.”
For example, a recent online class at IUPUI included one student from a US military hospital in Japan, another student in a large metropolitan US trauma center, and another student working in a 10-bed hospital in a remote area of Alaska. “Whether the students are discussing specific types of equipment or what the role of a BMET is in disaster planning, the conversations are always extremely stimulating,” Christe says.
Larry Fennigkoh, PhD, PE, CCE, associate professor, Milwaukee School of Engineering and Computer Science, agrees that as the workforce continues to age and job seekers become more reluctant to move, online courses will become even more imperative. A recent online course that he offered last summer attracted students from across the country. “Students are hungry for education, and online classes are the best way to reach those students who don’t have local programs near their homes,” Fennigkoh says.
Choosing a School
In some situations, students are forced to relocate to attend a college with a BMET program. Brendon McDowall, who resides in Barbados, chose to enroll in the Texas State Technical College (TSTC) in Waco after researching different options. “After comparing the structure of several biomedical equipment technology programs around the country, it was clear to me that TSTC’s program was not only one of the best, but it also offered great internship opportunities,” McDowall says. He plans to work in an acute care hospital in Barbados after he graduates with a special focus on rehabilitation.
A consideration for some prospective students is whether a BMET program is accredited either by the American Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the official accreditation body for biomedical engineering programs in the United States, or from one of the six regional accrediting bodies that comprise the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Accreditation ensures that a program has met quality standards set by the profession and other institutions of higher education. Interestingly, in the United States there are only two programs that are ABET-accredited but there are numerous schools that have regional CHEA accreditation.
“For a short period of time, many programs were trying to become ABET-accredited, but this changed quickly when the schools realized that they would have to make significant changes in their curriculums, even though employers didn’t seem to think these changes were necessary,” explains Roger Bowles, EdD, CBET, associate professor, biomedical equipment technology department at TSTC, Waco.
For example, in those programs with ABET accreditation, calculus is a required course, yet many in the field question whether this type of coursework would make a difference in a biomed’s job performance. However, attending an ABET-accredited school would be advantageous for those students who eventually want to earn a 4-year, BS degree in biomedical engineering or another area of engineering.
For most students, the regional accreditation from the CHEA is the most important consideration, because this typically determines whether credits earned from the AAS degree can be transferred toward a 4-year degree program. “Many colleges do not accept credit from certain technical schools, such as ITT, because they aren’t accredited,” Christe says.
Bowles advises students who are graduates of 2-year accredited ABET programs to find a position that offers tuition reimbursement for continuing education that would lead to a 4-year degree. “While taking classes on a part-time basis, most BMETs are able to earn a 4-year degree in about 3 to 4 years and sometimes sooner depending on the program,” Bowles says. “There are many public universities and 4-year programs geared specifically for the working adult with online and/or evening classes.”
One of the guarantees of an accredited program, whether it’s accredited by ABET and/or the regional bodies, is a qualified teaching staff that has worked in the biomedical field. “It’s important to have faculty that have been in the trenches,” Fennigkoh says. “Adult learners particularly want information and knowledge that they can apply right now.” According to Bowles, TSTC recruits teachers who have a minimum of 5 years of biomedical equipment work experience. To assist with continuing education and professional development, TSTC is currently planning to implement a faculty externship program in which instructors would train on more recent equipment in local hospitals. “One of the problems that most schools face is that the equipment teachers are using in the classroom is 10 years old or older,” Bowles says.
Christe adds that even textbooks in the biomedical field have a difficult time staying current. “Since there aren’t many BMET programs, textbook publishing companies do not produce as many biomedical technology textbooks compared to those for other health care specialties,” Christe says. “In fact, if you look at most textbooks currently being used in strong BMET programs, you’ll find that pulse oximetry isn’t even mentioned, despite the fact that it’s pervasive in all hospitals.”
Because of these challenges within the classroom setting, experts agree that internships are essential in providing real-world experience to biomeds in training. The best 2-year and 4-year programs have mandatory internship programs that assist students by matching them up with a local hospital’s biomedical department. IUPUI is especially fortunate because it is located on a campus with four hospitals, which makes internships fairly prevalent. But Christe is quick to point out that in today’s market with shortages in the BMET field, it is not difficult finding an internship even if a student’s school does not offer a formal internship program. “In most hospitals, one can find a friendly BMET who would be happy to help a student participate in an internship,” she says. “Many biomedical departments in hospitals are more than willing to hire interns because they hope they can hire them once they graduate.”
Another important consideration for many biomeds after they have been working for a few years is whether to obtain the certified biomedial equipment technician (CBET) credential or another specialized certification. Other certifications include the certified radiology equipment specialist (CRES); certified laboratory equipment specialist (CLES); a certification in computer maintenance (A+ certification); and certification in networking skills—a Microsoft certified systems engineer (MCSE), or Cisco certified network associate (CCNA).
According to Cindy Stephens, president, Stephens International Recruiting Inc, professional growth should be a goal of all employees, whether they want to be a hands-on technician or manager. “Once a technician has completed the professional BMET training from an accredited program, they should strive to obtain certification,” Stephens says. “These certifications put the individual above the BMETs who have not reached those goals and show the employer they have what it takes to be the best in their career field.”
Even though only a small percentage of BMETs possess certification, Fennigkoh agrees that a credential can open more doors for those who have earned it. “It speaks to a person’s individual dedication and commitment to the field because it takes time and money to go through the certification process,” he says. “Because much of what these employees work on is life-support equipment, I feel more comfortable knowing that a credentialed professional is operating and maintaining it.”
Bowles, who wrote his dissertation on the hiring preferences of hiring managers in Texas, found that they preferred entry-level applicants who had a combination of qualifications, including an AAS degree or military training, 2 to 4 years of work experience, as well as CBET certification. “Certification by itself doesn’t mean much, but if it’s backed up with a good education and some work experience, it seems to provide more opportunities to BMETs,” Bowles says.
Christe, however, argues that because of the shortage within the profession, it is not necessary for many BMETs to possess certification. “The real reason to earn it is for the personal level of satisfaction, but if you look at salary surveys, you find that there isn’t much difference in salaries between those who have it and those who don’t,” she says. Christe adds that she has talked to employers who would love to see more BMETs with the credential, but they state that it is hard enough finding any BMETs who are applying for jobs, let alone those who have the certification.
Due to the current BMET shortage, many are drawn to the field knowing they will experience job security. Others, like Vanessa Martin, a TSTC student from Whitney, Tex, are attracted to a field that requires hands-on technical skills as well as caring professionals who enjoy the health care setting. “Prior to deciding what area I wanted to study in college, I’d been hospitalized for 39 days from a car accident, so it made sense to me to learn how to work with equipment that had helped save my life,” Martin says. “I’m now finishing up my third semester, and though it is challenging at times, I’m loving every minute of it.”
Carol Daus is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact .
The Next Step
Ready to pursue your degree or various certifications? This list of schools, provided by Barbara L. Christe, associate professor, biomedical engineering technology, IUPUI, Indianapolis, with additions provided by 24×7 readers, will guide you to programs in your area. If you are interested in pursuing higher education, make sure the program you choose is accredited. Happy learning!
|Name of School||Degree(s) Offered||Location||Contact, E-mail, and Phone Information|
|The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology||AS||Boston||(617) 423-4630|
|Broward Community College, North Campus||AAS||Coconut Creek, Fla|| John M. Rogers
|Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute||AAS||Hudson, NC|| John Noblitt
|Chattahoochee Technical College||AAS||Mariette, Ga|| Mike O’Rear
|Cincinnati State Technical and Community College||AAS||Cincinnati|| Steve Yelton
|Community College of the Air Force (Aims Community College does offer credit for this training)||AAS (available to military/government personnel only)||Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, Tex|| Terry Bracewell
|Cuyahoga Community College||AAS||Cleveland||(800) 954-8742|
|Dakota County Technical College||AAS and Certificate||Rosemount, Minn|| Steven Bezanson
|Delaware Tech||AS||Dover, Del||(302) 857-1020 www.dtcc.edu/terry|
|DeVry University|| BS*
please note: this program may not be well-matched to the student looking for hospital-based employment
|15 locations|| Joaquin Mayoral
|DITEC||Certificate||Solon, Ohio|| (440) 519-1555
|ECPI College of Technology||AAS||Virginia Beach, Va|| Loren Tracey
(757) 671 7171
|East Tenn State University||BS||Johnson City, Tenn|| Hugh Blanton
|Erie Institute of Technology||AST||Erie, Pa||Paul Fitzgerald (814) 868-9900 www.erieit.edu|
|Florida Community College||AAS||Jacksonville, Fla|| Fred Wainwright
|Gateway Community & Technical College||AS||North Haven, Conn|| Tom McGrath
|Hinds Community College||AAS in Electrical and Electronics Technology with a biomedical technology option||Raymond, Miss|| Chris Howard
|Howard Community College||Certificate||Columbia, Md|| Daniel Friedman
|Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis||AS, BS||Indianapolis Distance learning available|| Barbara Christe
|Johnson College (note: not regionally accredited)||AAS||Scranton, Pa|| Doug Hampton
|Madisonville Community College||AAS||Madisonville, Ky|| Joey Jones
|Milwaukee Area Technical College||AAS||Milwaukee|| Ed Stanclick
|Milwaukee School of Engineering||BS||Milwaukee|| Paul Borens
|New Jersey Institute of Technology||EET BS* with specialization||Newark, NJ|| William Barnes
|New Mexico State University-Alamogordo||AAS||Alamogordo, NM|| Steve Holmes
|North Arkansas College||AAS||Harrison, Ark|| Ed Proctor
|North Dakota State University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering||BS||Fargo, ND||
|North Seattle Community College||AAS||Seattle, Wash|| Lynda Wilkinson
|Owens Community College||AAS||Toledo, Ohio|| Paul Svatik
|Pennsylvania State University-New Kensington||AS, ABET accredited||New Kensington, Pa|| Myron Hartman
|Radiological Service Training Institute||Certificate||Solon, Ohio||
|Saint Louis University-Parks College||Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering (BSBME)||St Louis, Mo|| David Barnett, DSc
|Saint Philip’s College||AAS||San Antonio|| Richard Lundquist
|Santa Fe Community College||AS, AAS||Gainesville, Fla|| Ron Tinckham
|Schoolcraft College||AAS||Livonia, Mich|| Chris Peters
(734) 462-4400 ext 5162
|Southeast Community College||AAS in Electronics Technology with a biomedical option||West Burlington, Iowa|| John Lenahan
(319) 752-2731 ext 8248
|Southeast Technical Institute||AAS||Sioux Falls, SD|| Paul Syverson
|Southern Illinois University Carbondale||BS in Electronics Systems Technology with a BMET concentration||Carbondale, Ill|| Brian Kearney
|Spokane Community College||AAS||Spokane, Wash|| Chris Coelho
|Stanly Community College||AAS||Albemarle, NC|| Dave Wilson
|Texas A&M Department of Biomedical Engineering||BS, ABET accredited||College Station, Tex|| William Hyman
|Texas State Technical College-Harlingen||AAS||Harlingen, Tex|| Perry Ruebsamen
|Texas State Technical College-Marshall||AAS||Marshall, Tex|| John Britton
|Texas State Technical College-Waco||AAS||Waco, Tex|| Roger Bowles
|Thomas Edison State College||AAS, BAS||Distance education|| This school is a degree packager, it does not offer the coursework
|Tulsa Community College||AAS||Tulsa, Okla|| Thomas Henderson
|Vincennes University||AAS||Vincennes, Ind|| Don Williams
|Western Iowa Tech Community College||AAS||Sioux City, Iowa|| David McDonald
(800) 352-4649 ext 1281
|Western Wisconsin Technical College||AAS||La Crosse, Wis|| Fred Dorau
|*EET BS with specialization indicates that the school does not offer the degree in biomedical engineering technology, but offers an electrical engineering technology (EET) degree with some specialized coursework related to BMET. Both schools with this degree offering are ABET-accredited in EET.|