Where do you see yourself in 5 years? It may be a tired interview question, and respondents might want to quip, “In mirrors,” but those with career goals should have an answer.
“If you are a professional, whether a biomedical equipment technician or clinical engineer, you need to take hold of your own career and plan,” advises Arif Subhan, MS, CCE, senior clinical engineer with Masterplan, based in Chatsworth, Calif.
If biomedical professionals want to grow in their careers, they should forge a path to that growth, realizing that few things will happen overnight. “Say I started my career today and in 5 years I want to be at x point in that career, whether pursuing education or a graduate degree or something else,” Subhan says. “I then have to work toward it, taking small bits and moving forward.”
Robyn W. Frick, CCE, CBET, clinical engineering manager at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Me, concurs. “If you don’t go forward, you’re going backward,” he says, adding that the rapid advances in technology represent one of the challenges that creates a need for continuing education. “You have to keep up to date—not just the repairs but also the language, the networking, and everything else,” he says.
According to Subhan, professional development opportunities include education, internships, on-the-job training, distance education programs and conferences, professional organizations, certification, teaching, and volunteering. The specific path will depend on the interests and goals of the individual.
Some biomeds may choose to specialize in specific areas of equipment, such as radiology or laboratory devices, or within segments of health care, such as technology evaluation, risk analysis, or finance. Others may eventually want to go into management. Some biomedical professionals will start with associate degrees or military training; others will begin their careers with advanced degrees in business or clinical engineering.
“Most directors in large teaching hospitals have a master’s degree. In a large community hospital, a bachelor’s degree is more than adequate,” says Frank R. Painter, MS, CCE, clinical director of the biomedical engineering program at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn, and a clinical engineering consultant with Technology Management Solutions LLC, Truble, Conn.
At Eastern Maine Medical Center, Frick notes most biomeds at the manager and director level have master’s degrees.
Subhan shares similar observations, saying, “In general, most people in the profession who have advanced their career did obtain higher degrees.”
Whether that degree focuses on business or clinical engineering is the individual’s choice. However, those who wish to pursue a career in management are sometimes better served by a business degree—and not just in terms of salary, although it helps. 24×7‘s 2008 Compensation Survey found that professionals with MBA degrees reported the highest average salary at nearly $89,000.
“For biomeds managing a large organization with multiple accounts or a health system with multiple accounts, an MBA degree would be helpful,” Subhan says. “They need knowledge in finance and accounting, which is important because they are running a department, managing budgets, and participating in purchasing.”
Painter describes formal education as a long-term objective. “It might take a few semesters to get the bachelor’s degree or MBA, but the education will be recognized by those who can promote you,” he says.
Shorter-term objectives, however, are no less important. Continuing education can help a biomed perform better daily, opening opportunities for both advancement and further education.
“A biomed who needs to know more about maintaining and repairing the devices he works on or wants to work on should look for opportunities to learn how to fix a particular model or network device,” Painter says. With many devices integrated with EMRs and other information systems, knowledge about information technology and telecommunications (even the barest minimum) is helpful for biomeds.
Certifications are useful programs that help to provide proof of an individual’s knowledge and skills as well as demonstrate a stronger level of career commitment.
“Certification is a fine way to show that you’ve gone through a peer-review process and met the professional standards,” Painter says. “It doesn’t mean people who haven’t become certified are any better or worse, but it does mean those who are certified plan to stay in this field for their careers and want to make a statement about themselves.”
Certification may not necessarily lead to more money immediately, but it can provide benefits that can lead to a more rewarding job experience. “Most surveys suggest that people who obtain certifications make more money, but I’ve heard anecdotal stories that suggest a raise did not immediately follow certification,” Subhan says.
However, in general, certification does help with career growth and development, which eventually leads to more money. Although Frick does not credit his certification as the sole reason for his promotion to a supervisory level, he notes that it did help. “It made my resume a little thicker,” he says.
Painter concurs that certification can result in faster advancement. “If you are in a department of 10 people and two or three are certified, the chances are greater that the certified people will be given the good assignments and extra responsibility,” he says. He suggests they will also be considered for senior-level positions first and given promotions more readily. Certified job candidates are more likely to receive callbacks than their uncertified counterparts, “even though they might have the same experience or credentials,” Painter says.
Some organizations require certifications for particular positions. BMET specialists at Eastern Maine Medical Center must have the corresponding certifications (CRES for radiology equipment specialists and CLES for laboratory equipment specialists), and the organization is considering doing the same for its BMET IIIs, according to Frick.
COP-OUTS AND COUNTERARGUMENTS
Despite the benefits of certification, continuing education, and advanced formal degrees, there are many biomedical equipment technicians and clinical engineers who do not pursue these paths. 24×7‘s 2008 Compensation Survey found only 27% of respondents are currently pursuing formal education. Most often, the excuse is a lack of time. Another obstacle is cost. Some blame their organizations for a lack of support. Others simply prefer the slower pace and reduced stress of a job with less responsibility and choose not to try to further their career. This is OK, too. “There are roles for both,” Painter says.
For those committed to a career in biomedical/clinical engineering (and for those with an ambitious or competitive spirit), these obstacles should not prove impassable. Degrees can be acquired over time, facilitating scheduling and payment. Local seminars, new equipment training, and journals can provide continuing education. Regional and national associations also provide additional learning opportunities. “Sometimes, there are regional meetings where you don’t have to fly to the other coast but can go locally within the state and have a good 1-day or 1-and-a-half-day educational program,” Subhan says.
Teleconferences offer another efficient alternative. “Since 1995, the American College of Clinical Engineering (www.accenet.org) has offered audio teleconferences on current and emerging topics in clinical engineering,” Subhan says. “The teleconference series consists of 10 sessions (one every month) in a year.” Participants never have to leave their office, and they receive a CEU certificate for each session they participate in.
In addition, some biomedical associations offer teleconferences. The Colorado Association of Biomedical Equipment Technicians (www.cabmet.org), for instance, organizes a teleconference study group for certified biomedical equipment technician (CBET), CRES, and CLES preparation that is open to all interested in certification. According to the organization, it has helped more than 65 people get their CBET, CRES, and CLES since 2004.
Occasionally, it takes just one person to inspire a team to greater achievements. Frick was one of two biomeds to become certified at Eastern Maine Medical Center in 1983 at the organization’s expense. “Even though we made offers to pay others’ way, no one was interested,” Frick says. Then in 2007, one biomed obtained his CBET, scoring one of the highest grades in the country. Since then, five of the facility’s 12 biomeds have also become certified (three of whom have 20-plus years of experience), and two will take their test soon.
The biggest challenge some of these professionals encountered was readjusting to schooling. “It’s most grueling for those who haven’t been in a classroom for 20 years,” Frick says, noting applicants can take the test as many times as they want (or need).
THE BIG PICTURE
Novices may be better test takers, but once employed, they must be hands-on. On-the-job training usually replaces classroom learning. “New guys generally work on simpler stuff and grow at their own pace,” Frick says. Some may pursue complex equipment repair and responsibility more aggressively, eager to move up the biomedical ladder; others will progress more slowly. Everyone may find some limitations depending on the needs of the organization.
“As far as a technician wanting to work on x-ray equipment versus anesthesia devices, it depends on their skills, aptitude, and experience and what our openings and needs are,” Frick says. Senior biomeds may have the lock on a particular segment of the inventory, but as health care organizations continue to grow (Frick notes their equipment inventory grows by 10% annually), so do the opportunities for both employees and new hires.
Painter, who runs the clinical engineering graduate program at the University of Connecticut, notes that every year his graduates receive multiple job offers. The 2-year program graduates about eight students per year. “Because technology is playing a much greater role in the hospital, there is a strong need for qualified biomed technicians, clinical engineers, department managers, equipment planners, and technology consultants,” Painter says.
Technology management professionals reduce the total cost of ownership for the technology. “Spending the right investment in people saves money,” Painter says, explaining the basis for the large job market. “For those who are interested in growing professionally, there is a real strong return on the investment, whether you remain in the organization you are in or move to another organization later down the road.”
Those particular details need not necessarily be a part of a career plan. Although the goals should not change, the path must sometimes be flexible. Life happens, and no one can predict the future. But a plan will help to foster greater career growth and fulfillment. Education can lead to more responsibility, experience, and money. And, at the very least, according to Frick, it makes the job more interesting. So plan where you want to be in 5 years, and make it work.
Renee Diiulio is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact .
Biomed technicians and clinical engineers each have their own certification programs. Here is a quick look at the certifications available and some requirements. Refer to the American College of Clinical Engineering (ACCE) and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) Web sites for full information.
Biomedical Equipment Technicians
Biomedical equipment technician certification is maintained by The Board of Examiners for Biomedical Equipment Technicians, operating under the direction of the United States Certification Commission (USCC) and the International Certification Commission (ICC) for Clinical Engineering and Biomedical Technology. The programs include certification for biomedical equipment technicians (CBET), radiology equipment specialists (CRES), and laboratory equipment specialists (CLES).
Each certification requires its own separate application and examination. To be eligible, applicants must have an associate’s degree in a biomedical academic program and 2 years of full-time BMET experience; an associate’s degree in electronics technology and 3 years of full-time BMET experience; or 4 years of full-time BMET work experience. Additional routes exist for CLES applicants and candidate applicants, who are given 5 years to meet the eligibility requirements. Specialists must have at least 40% of their work experience over the last 2 years (or 25% over the last 5 years) in their area of specialty.
AAMI (www.aami.org) offers a text and coursework to help prepare applicants for the examination, which features 150 multiple-choice questions answered within a 4-hour time limit. At least 105 must be correct to obtain certification.
Maintenance of the certification is achieved through the accumulation of a minimum of 15 points of continuing practice activities every 3 years (and payment of renewal fees).
The Clinical Engineering Certification Program, or CCE, is managed under the Healthcare Technology Certification Commission and United States Board of Examiners for Clinical Engineering Certification and sponsored by The ACCE Healthcare Foundation (www.acce-htf.org).
Certification is a three-step process involving a review of the candidate’s application by the US Board of Examiners for Clinical Engineering Certification, a written test, and an oral examination. The written test is comprised of 150 multiple-choice questions that must be completed within 3 hours, and the oral consists of three questions answered within one-and-three-quarters of an hour. There are a number of eligibility pathways for clinical engineers, including options for professional engineers, degreed personnel, and eminent candidates.
Clinical engineers must also renew their certification every 3 years, demonstrating continuing practice and/or development in their professional role.