What will training programs for biomeds look like 5 or 10 years from now? Experts opine.
The current state of BMET education around the United States worries many, but what will training programs for biomeds look like 5 or 10 years from now? Better? Worse?
24×7 decided to find out by putting those and other questions about the future of BMET education to a panel of academics and employers. What we discovered were reasons for optimism despite evidence of trouble ahead.
|The following are our roundtable participants:
Barbara Christe, MS, program director for biomedical engineering technology and associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology Department, Indiana UniversityPurdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Glen L. Wolfe, CET, CBET, manager, biomedical engineering, LaGrange Hospital, LaGrange, Ill. His duties include oversight of the training of biomeds for a hospital system that spans the Midwest.
Dave E. Francoeur, MM, CBET, executive director of service operations for TriMedx, a health care equipment management company based in Indianapolis.
Steven J. Yelton, PE, program chairman, Information and Engineering Technologies Division, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cincinnati.
Myron D. Hartman, MS, CCE, CBET, program coordinator, biomedical engineering technology, Pennsylvania State University, New Kensington, Upper Burrell, Pa.
24×7: Ideally, what shape would you hope to see BMET education take 5 or 10 years from now?
Wolfe: At a minimum, Id like to see at least one dedicated biomedical electronics technician program in each state, all teaching the same standardized curriculum and all having in place the same set of requirements for graduation. The reason Id like to see this is that, as an employer, at present, I really dont know what Im getting when I hire someone. I would, on the other hand, have a very good idea of what Im getting if there were standard curricula and graduation requirements from school to school, state to state.
If I could have an expectation of consistency in what Im getting when I hire, I would be able to eliminate a lot of issues surrounding training. As things stand now, it usually takes me about a year to get the new hire up to speed because I have to teach a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of anatomy, a little bit of networkingthings that should be taught in school, not here on the job.
Yelton: Id want BMET education to continue being based in the colleges and universitieshave those institutions continue to be the primary source of education. I feel schools are an environment better geared to delivering education than are the alternatives of leaving the job of providing primary education to hospital- or manufacturer-based training programs. Hospitals and OEMs shouldnt have to take on the burden of being the primary general biomedical educator. Besides, the students in those environments face too many work-related distractions while trying to learn. I would like to see the more specialized or advanced training on instrumentation take place in the hospital or manufacturers facility.
Francoeur: Biomed should become an elective in high school, the same as electronics, print shop, and wood shop. That way, students can learn the basics of biomed in high school and come out prepared to step right into an entry-level position. Then, after theyve been employed a couple of years and decide they want to advance to the next level, they ought then to be able to roll into a continuing education program that leads to a 2-year AA in biomed and, further down the road, to a bachelors degree and beyond.
Hartman: Id like to see high-quality programs that remain as current as possible with the medical equipment technology. Id also like to see programs offering excellent human skills, such as communications, customer service, dealing with people. And Id also like to see a 4-year BMET program that competes against other college programs and attracts high school students.
Christe: For me, it would be moving BMET training from vocational schools to 4-year college and university settings. Im not suggesting that it necessarily needs to become a 4-year program, just that it needs to be in a different environment. Right now, in the vocational setting, its commonly at an instructional level similar to auto mechanics. By shifting it to a 4-year college or university, it would become more related to the technology side of engineering education where higher level skills can be taught.
24×7: Should BMET become a program that universally runs 4 years and concludes with the conferring of a bachelors degree?
Christe: Whether it becomes that or remains a 2-year program is less important than the quality of the education that produces the degree at the end. Again, BMET education needs to move toward a higher level where problem solving, rather than the traditional focus on performing vocational-oriented tasks, is emphasized.
Francoeur: I think the 4-year degree has value. Were arriving at a point where education is giving us a diminishing return on the investment, however. It used to be that to distinguish yourself, you had to obtain a 2-year degree. Then, later, to distinguish yourself meant you had to have a 4-year degree. Now its a masters. This is driving the cost of hiring through the roof. Were pricing the profession right out of the market.
24×7: We started by discussing an ideal future. Now, lets consider reality. What do you think BMET education will actually be like in 5 or 10 years?
Hartman: I think BMET programs will continue to lag behind technology, due to the limited resources and expensive costs to be current. Medical equipment, test equipment, software, computer networks, supplies and so on, are all very expensive and will not be purchased by schools each year so they remain current. Very few textbooks will be available, as is the case now. And where textbooks are available, theyll be out of date.
Christe: Even though today we see some BMET programs on the verge of closing, there could indeed be a net gain of programs. DeVry University, for example, recently announced its adding a BMET program at, I believe, 15 of its campuses nationwide. Although its a program that appears to have no clinical component, the fact that it has a BMET program at all might well pressure similar competing schools to begin offering BMET programs of their own.
Wolfe: ITT Tech is another private vocational school system actively developing a biomed program. Im not convinced the programs ultimately offered by ITT and DeVry will be as well-rounded as employers might wish, but at least when I hire an ITT or DeVry graduate, Ill know what Im getting. And it is encouraging to me that schools like ITT and DeVryboth of which are noted for the quality of their electronics traininghave finally realized that biomed is a specific modality.
Christe: Id like to add that unless industry organizations like the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation take dramatic action on the education front, were going to arrive at a point where there are only a few schools doing well with their BMET offerings, while outside of those theres hardly anything.
24×7: Why this expectation?
Christe: Many traditional engineering-technology faculty havent a clue about medicine, nor do they have any desire to learn more about BMET. The decline in programs is, in large part, due to the fact that faculty with the credentialed qualifications to teach the clinical component arent being produced in sufficient numbers to replace those who retire or move on to nonteaching jobs. Few are the clinical engineering programs offering masters degrees, and there are none offering a doctoratethe degree required at many 4-year colleges in order to be hired.
24×7: Whats the solution?
Christe: Were going to have to get more creative and go way out of the box with our thinking. A good example of this is what were doing here at IUPUI by offering distance-learning classes to students at New Mexico State University. That school offers them EET instruction; we supply the BMET course work online. The result is a degree without any BMET faculty physically present on the New Mexico State campus.
24×7: Should manufacturers see it as an obligation to endow chairs or programs at various colleges and universities so as to help BMET education move forward?
Wolfe: At the very least, they should feel obliged to provide equipment to the schools to allow the students to gain hands-on experience with whats in use at the enterprises where theyll one day be employed. They ought to make it a universal practice to send guest speakers out to the schools to acquaint the students with the manufacturers newest or most widely used equipment. The guest speakers do not necessarily have to do a teardown of the equipment. Showing the students how the equipment works, explaining the various kinds of repair needs likely to be encountered in the field, and demonstrating how to test out these systems would be good.
24×7: Will there be any lack of students wanting a BMET education?
Christe: No. Because there are so few BMET programs producing so few graduates, economic laws of supply and demand are making biomed careers financially rewarding. The word is spreading that its a field that pays very well, so as a result theres no shortage of students wanting to enroll.
24×7: In what ways is the BMET student of tomorrow likely to be different from that of yesteryear?
Christe: Were seeing a lot more second-career people, people who are returning to school after a couple of decades working in one field and looking to switch to something different for the remainder of their productive years. Some are able to pay for their schooling with federal funding from programs that help retrain displaced workers.
An advantage for these returning students is their age, which many employers appreciate. For example, the average 40 year old has a cooler, calmer response to a medical crisis situation than does the average 20 year old. The older returning student can be a challenge in the classroom, however. When theyre older than the teacher, they may feel they know more than the teacher. Especially if theyve been in careers where they were very successful or in positions of authority.
Wolfe: I see a lot more women choosing to study to become biomeds. Currently, somewhere between 3% to 9% of employed biomeds are women, according to various studies Ive seen. I wouldnt be surprised if in 30 years women are 30% of the total US biomed workforce. Favorable publicity about the field and good recruitment practices at the schools are already starting to bring change. But also, youre going to have many female electronics students drawn to careers in biomed because hospitals are such safe, woman-friendly environments.
Yelton: The students of the future will be a lot like the students of today: tending to have backgrounds in electronics. Theyll also have had early exposure to computers, software, and networking. By virtue of having friends or relatives employed in the health care field, they will probably have had exposure to medical instrumentation and biomedical technology. Biomed also is attracting quite a few computer-sciences types who like the idea of working in an environment where theyll have access to some of the best and fastest systems in the business world.
24×7: Whats it going to cost to deliver and receive the BMET education in the future; and what are some ways its going to be paid for?
Hartman: I would estimate that education costs for a university to be approximately $100,000 to $130,000 a year for one full-time and one part-time instructor. There will be additional outlays for marketing, brochures, school visits, phone calls, and other overhead costs, which may be another $10,000 a year. With costs like those, a school would need at least 12 students enrolled and paying about $9,600 each in tuition for the program to break even.
As to how these costs are going to be paid, the burden will be primarily on the students. Fortunately, though, there are many grants, scholarships, and student loans available to help offset or delay payment. Some employers have some type of tuition reimbursement program, so this may help offset tuition for those employed. For some students who have been workforce-displaced and unemployed, there may be state grants available for job retraining.
Some of the capital costs for educational facilities can be offset by donations from hospitals and manufacturers. Many times hospitals remove medical equipment that is still functioning and would be excellent to use in a BMET lab environment. In most cases, donated equipment is treated as a charitable donation and the donor can receive credit for their generosity.
24×7: What should employers and BMET educators be doing today to position themselves most advantageously for the future?
Francoeur: Given that we have only so many people coming into the profession and x number exiting it, OEMs, ISOs, and in-house departments ought to be forming strategic alliances so that they no longer have to do what theyre doing now, and that is compete with one another in the quest for those limited manpower resources, which only serves to drive up costs. Im not sure what shape such alliances would take, but those entities are going to have to somehow come together so that they can share resources and make the most cost-effective use of them.
Hartman: What I can do today is become more active with my professional and regulatory organizations, peers at other educational facilities, and with the industry in general. I need to promote the field to young adults and to the community. I need to listen and understand from hospitals, manufacturers, and service organizations what the education and skills are for entry-level BMETs and then make changes to the BMET program to meet those needs.
|Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute
Biomedical Equipment Technology Dept
2855 Hickory Blvd
Hudson, NC 28638
John Noblitt, BS, CBET, BMET Program Director
Degree(s) offered: AAS
Chattahoochee Technical College
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
Indiana UniversityPurdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI)
|New Jersey Institute of Technology
154 Summit St
Newark, NJ 07102
Degree(s) offered: EET BS with focus on BMET
Pennsylvania State University, New Kensington
Spokane Community College
Texas State Technical College, Waco
Western Wisconsin Technical College
24×7 thanks Barbara Christe, IUPUI, for her help in compiling this list.
Rich Smith is a contributing writer for 24×7.