Walk into Bob Stiefel’s office these days, and you are likely to see him immersed in the details of what Stiefel calls “a monster chart.” The chart represents a compilation and comparison of an enormous amount of information that Stiefel, president of RHS Biomedical Engineering Consulting LLC, Baltimore, has collected about biomedical equipment technician (BMET) education at schools nationwide. Last March, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) chose Stiefel to help develop a recommended core curriculum for BMET education programs across the country. Stiefel expects to complete the Core Curriculum Project in late 2012 or early 2013.

Core Curriculum Project

The Core Curriculum Project will benefit students as well as employers.

“The idea is that if a BMET education program uses the recommended core curriculum, employers will know what to expect from BMET graduates of such a program, no matter whose program it is,” Stiefel says.

Creating a core curriculum will have an impact on the profession, but overall, how much of an impact? Stiefel, who has been obtaining relevant information from every corner, says it will give the industry “better entry-level BMETs. Different employers have different needs. It is our intention that most, if not all of those needs, would be met by this BMET core curriculum. Graduates would at least have this BMET education appropriate for entry-level BMETs.”

The benefits of a core curriculum seem clear as the interrelationship between health care technology, information management, and clinical care continues to expand. Perhaps that is why this project has met with enthusiasm across the board.

“These recommendations are being developed in conjunction with educators and employers,” Stiefel says. “I’ve reviewed the curricula and syllabi of a couple of dozen programs. I have job descriptions from hospitals and manufacturers and third-party independent service organizations. The curriculum is also being developed with those representing certification. I have the material that is recommended for the CBET exam. We are trying to get everyone’s input. One result will be that graduates are prepared to take the CBET exam, which will be a big advantage to employers as well.”

“The core curriculum is urgently needed, and many people support the concept,” says Barbara Christe, MS, program director of the biomedical engineering technology department, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. “That’s what came out of the Future Forum: There needs to be some type of voluntary cohesive guideline that judges educational programs. Some schools don’t have electronics, some don’t have internships, and that’s all fine, but it leaves employers scratching their heads.”

“If we’re looking at hospital-based employers, everyone I know is a member of AAMI, so they’re certainly aware of the project and they’re all very much for it,” says David Chappell, chair of the biomedical equipment technology department at Brown Mackie College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, one of a number of Brown Mackie campuses nationwide that offer an associate BMET degree. “It gives employers assurance that, ‘I don’t have to know every school’s curriculum, but I know that if your school holds itself to this standard, then I know what to expect.’ ”

Stiefel emphasizes that the project is aimed at recommending topics. It covers the material every BMET graduate should understand, which necessitates a long list of topics—and a monster chart. How then will the project utilize tallies on the chart?

“We have another committee—an offshoot of the educators’ committee—that is reviewing all of this [chart] material. We’re tallying which of the topics are essentially in common, and requested, or required by all of these sources.”

The purpose, however, is not to dictate whether that material is presented in, say, an electronics course or a physics course. Each school will have the freedom to maintain its individual style and serve local needs, while adhering to the core curriculum. Stiefel wants an employer to be able to know that a particular item has been included in a potential employee’s education.

Professional Cohesiveness

Christe points out that other disciplines, such as nursing, benefit from less variation among schools. “An employer in our field needs to be able to ask a graduate, ‘Did you cover this?’ ”

“The way that we’re probably going to present the recommendation is with a series of competency statements that are comparatively general,” Stiefel says. “We would have a competency statement about electronics, for instance, stating that the BMET graduate would understand the electrical safety requirements of health care, and how to test and apply the basic requirements. Under that competency statement is probably where we would list topics related to that. So it’s not prescribing a course, but it is prescribing a competence.”

Christe does not necessarily anticipate a major adjustment in subject matter presented to students in a program as well-established and respected as Purdue’s. With such a huge number of topics under consideration, however, she realizes there could be change and she supports adjustments that will fall in line with committee recommendations.

Purdue’s public BMET program is mandated to serve the needs of a constituency comprised of community hospitals, corporations, and independent service organizations. The department, like other established institutions, fulfills its responsibility in part through regular meetings with area professionals. Administering a major university’s BMET program entails many functions, including overseeing how the program description is communicated to recruits. For that reason, it’s easy to understand why Christe views a core curriculum and name change for the field as inextricably linked.

“The Future Forum was held last year to decide how to name the discipline,” Christe says. “Out of that we came up with things we need to do to communicate the discipline itself. One of those was to try to establish a core curriculum. It’s all related. The core curriculum will be under this umbrella of health care technology management, so I see it all together.”

Chappell also regularly meets with area representatives who have a special interest in the skills of program graduates. “Twice a year we host PAC [program advisory committee] meetings,” he says. “This group consists of local and regional industry representatives of academics, hospitals, third-party service agencies, manufacturers, etc. We update the group on the progress and status of our program and get their feedback on our curriculum, texts, hands-on lab exercises, and externship experiences.”

Chappell points out that the PAC had already emphasized the importance of basic course requirements students need. Those requirements change as the profession evolves.

“Now there will be an AAMI-sanctioned list of recommended competencies, and that adds clarity to the entire industry,” Chappell says.

What’s in a Name?

Other changes that may come out of the project center on names. “Health care technology management,” the new name for the profession that came out of the Future Forum meetings, will add to the cohesiveness of the industry and may also drive changes in the degree’s name.

“I think the name of the degree may change,” Christe says. “That’s probably the first and primary piece of evidence that people look at: What does it say on the degree? We’re both an IU campus and a Purdue campus. We have to go through both boards of trustees, and that means changing the name of a degree is a major process here. So we need to be sure that whatever we pick we’re really sure of.

“We’re kind of waiting to see if we come up with a job title, to see if BMETs will be called something else. I’d like to change the degree name to better reflect the discipline name, but I’m not sure if what we’ve identified as a discipline name is a good degree name—it might be too broad,” she says.

Christe has begun the easier process of rewriting Web sites and publications. “I’m changing the description to say, ‘This will prepare you for the discipline of Healthcare Technology Management.’ I’m using the words, so if people are digging they can connect our degree with the discipline.”

How is her constituency reacting to the possibility of a change in the name of the degree? “When I speak to my industrial advisory board, they’re saying, ‘Don’t pull the trigger yet,’ ” she says. “And we’re saying, ‘It’s such a major process that we don’t want to change more than once.’ So I think it’s going to be a little while longer before we change the degree name.”

In Accord

Names aside, will the core curriculum affect where students choose to enroll? In Stiefel’s view, probably not, since many high school graduates do not necessarily have the tools to determine the merits of a program based on specific topics covered.

Christe welcomes the positive effect of a core curriculum on nationwide standards, but does not feel it will alter the makeup of the enrolling student population. “None of us is recruiting students who are moving to attend a school,” she says. “Students are enrolling in the school that’s nearby.” She does see the core curriculum as beneficial to students, because it is good for the entire profession.

Like Christe, Chappell sees the core curriculum as a benefit for students as well as employers. “It’s when students leave that they will find the core curriculum the most impactful,” he says. “People won’t be brought in to this institution because they know we adhere to the core curriculum recommendations. Students come here to get a degree in the field.”

Students, however, will receive benefits they are not necessarily aware of. Placement of graduates does affect the market—the market being students that are applying to a school. Students of a school will get an appreciation for whether or not graduates of a program get good jobs.

“It still doesn’t tell employers what kind of employee a new graduate will be,” Chappell says. “It tells them what kind of structure and foundation there was to the graduate’s education. That helps determine how a graduate will perform on that first job.”

How will the success of the program be determined? At the end of the day, employers will eventually determine the success of the Core Curriculum Project. “Employers are the ones who will be able to say, ‘I want this candidate from this school versus that candidate from that school,’ ” Christe says.

“It’s like anything else; the market drives it,” Chappell says, reflecting Stiefel’s comment that students will eventually get a feeling for whether graduates of a particular program get good jobs.

The consensus is that the AAMI Core Curriculum Project recommendations will represent a positive change. With BMET educators and professionals on the same page, the health care technology management profession can move to the next chapter.

David Tandet is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact .