After Hours
How joining associations and attending conferences can enhance your career
TechNation Magazine Cover Story

Brainstorming requires a group. The combined brain power of several people allows a group to come up with more ideas, has more points of view and can better harness the power of accumulated experience and wisdom than any single person can. That combined effort can then benefit the individuals in the group in numerous ways.

Adding a common thread of education and training into the mix enhances the experience even further. Anything that can bring a group of people together, with a common purpose and goal, can provide these benefits. Such is the idea behind biomed associations, societies and professional conferences: to bring the combined brain power of many together for the benefit of each.

Finding the time

What prevents a member of a clinical engineering department or biomedical department from participation in their local association? It may be that they ask themselves the question, “What’s in it for me?” If they cannot answer that question, they are unlikely to join. They may also believe that after putting in eight hours at work, there is little incentive to spend additional time at an association meeting. But that way of thinking may be self-limiting.
“An association absolutely must provide value to the biomeds so they will want to be members,” says Ohio Clinical Engineering Association President Dick Felton, CBET. “There are just too many other activities that biomeds could be doing, and unless they truly believe that the biomed association is going to provide them with value that they cannot receive from any other source, they will go away and do something else.”

That value that Felton speaks of can come in many forms. One is the opportunity to spend time with other people who understand the unique work that BMETs do. Chad Granade, President of the North Carolina Biomedical Association, summarizes it this way: “People join clubs, societies and associations for a variety of reasons, but mainly to connect with others that have the same common interest. We (biomeds) are a rare breed, in that there just aren’t many of us out there. Joining a biomed association satisfies that need to be united with others that understand the day-to-day highs and lows of working in this field.”

Biomed associations and societies are generally structured along the same lines. They are established around a set of bylaws that give direction and boundaries to the group. They are most often organized as a not-for-profit, whether that classification takes place at the group’s inception or years later. Officers and board members provide leadership to the group with officers serving defined terms that come from the bylaws. Most biomed associations and societies have corporate memberships, which allow vendors to actively participate in the group and help sponsor events.

For members who become officers in the association, there is the very real benefit of honing their leadership skills. Besides looking good on a resume, the officer’s decisions give the association direction and allow the group to set common goals. Biomeds in an association are able to act as the face of the profession in the larger community in a variety of ways.

Fulfilling a need

Spending time with others who understand what you do can have tremendous psychological value. According to Abraham Maslow’s 1943 hierarchy of needs theory, people are motivated to fill certain needs before they move on to other needs. The order in which needs are fulfilled goes from basic to complex, beginning with the most rudimentary: food, water and sleep.
Then, according to Maslow’s theory, people strive to fulfill social needs, including the need to belong to a social group. A sense of belonging is a very human need.

Further up the need ladder are esteem needs. These include the need to feel valued by others, or to feel that we are making a contribution. These needs also are met when we feel accomplishment or prestige. Membership in a group, Maslow said, is a common way of meeting many of these human needs.

The study of groups is called group dynamics. One study pointed out that most people very likely underestimate the importance of group membership in their lives. Much of our life experience is engaged with a variety of groups, from family to fellow sports fans at a sports venue. Attending a conference or association meeting is no different. There is a dynamic that exists at that event that provides a social benefit to the participant.

Group learning

There are two other distinct benefits of attending a biomed conference or belonging to a biomed association.

One is very practical and immediate. You may need help repairing a particular piece of equipment or finding a particular part. Within the membership of a biomed association are people with varying expertise, and there is a good chance that someone with the knowledge to repair that device or to find that part is attending the same meeting or conference. Belonging to an association or even attending a conference provides access to that expertise that may otherwise have been difficult to discover.

Listservs can provide this benefit, but when two people are involved in a dialogue in person, the exchange can provide answers to many specific questions and allow the expert to volunteer more information.

The other benefit is tied to this individual expertise. It is the ability to pick up real education and all the benefits that come with learning. Associations often hold certification preparation courses or organize groups that can tap into distance learning opportunities and teleconferences.

Conferences offer other opportunities to receive specialized training. Biomed associations often bring manufacturers into meetings, or they hold meetings at manufacturer’s facilities in order to provide a detailed look at a piece of equipment. Well-known speakers within the biomed profession are occasionally on the schedule as speakers at conferences.

As a stand-alone event, a conference offers a number of benefits to attendees. As is the case with association membership, the conference offers educational opportunities through break out sessions and formal classes. Often, certification training is on the agenda at an annual conference or symposium. Guest speakers can present on any number of topics, with most offering a useful takeaway. Besides certification training, physiology and industry information courses are common.

If the education rewards aren’t enough, many biomed conferences offer door prizes and vendor fairs, as well as golf outings or special food events. Many are located at resorts or hotels with a number of amenities. A recent biomed conference offered disaster planning, smart pump technology and a Joint Commission roundtable as topics.

Networking opportunities

Tim Cordes, treasurer of the Kansas City Biomedical Society points out another benefit of association participation not often considered. It highlights the benefits of networking, which is a natural component of biomed association and conference participation.

“I have some recent experience with finding gainful employment,” says Cordes, CBET. “In two different instances, some of the connections I’ve made 10, 15 or almost 20 years ago in this association, have come back and been of value. Sometimes you cannot see that at the moment, but a lot of times that comes back around in twice the amount of effort that you put in. Both my situations lately were indirectly because of relationships with fellow BMETs. That’s part of the networking,” he says. “Some of us have learned this. There’s more credit (to networking) than sometimes people give it.”

Not only is the networking theme a strong incentive for veteran biomeds to make important contacts, but it is a effective career tool for the biomed fresh out of a college biomed program or who is still enrolled. Few better ways exist to rub elbows with hiring managers and fellow biomed professionals. Both venues, conferences and association meetings, provide an informal environment to introduce students to potential employers. Biomed students usually are offered reduced membership and conference rates to boot.

Hospital biomed or clinical engineering departments may remain separate and non-communicative, even when in the same city, without the local biomed association. Through the contacts made at association meetings or conferences, biomed professionals in the same city or state, who did not know their local colleagues before, now have an opportunity to know their neighbors. This contact provides numerous benefits, including greater equipment and repair knowledge pool and a potentially wider parts inventory.

Find a local group

There are several resources that provide a listing of biomedical and clinical engineering associations and societies. Most of the lists include links to the association’s website. Some groups do not have websites, but have some “wiki” information available. Listservs also provide announcements of upcoming conferences and meetings. Some groups even opt to use LinkedIn for event announcements. Some biomed groups have also opted to make use of Facebook, such as the Indiana Biomedical Society.

Biomed association meetings and conferences are listed on the calendar pages on the AAMI website, at aami.org/calendar. An additional resource is the FMESA Upcoming Events page: fmesa.wildapricot.org/Default.aspx?pageId=401630.

Another good source is the Association List found on MD Publishing’s website:
www.mdpublishing.com/associations.aspx.

The California Medical Instrumentation Association links page also provides useful information: http://www.cmia.org/links.htm.

Networking opportunities from TechNation and MD Publishing

The prominence of social networking in today’s world has made becoming a part of your biomed community easier than ever. TechNation has just launched a brand-new social networking site exclusively for biomeds, the TechNation Community (community.1technation.com). Join today to connect with your peers without ever leaving your desk.

The TechNation Community allows members to create a profile, where they can list personal and employment information, photos and more, allowing biomeds to easily find and connect with their colleagues. The community also allows members join specialty groups, where questions specific to that specialty can be posted. When a question is posted, the group generates automatic e-mails to other group members, so questions are answered fast. The community also allows individual messaging between members. Join today for exclusive benefits like member-only social gatherings at biomedical tradeshows, free giveaways and free admission to MD Publishing’s one-of-a-kind MD Expo.

The MD Expo is another great place to network with your peers. This unique tradeshow, conference and social gathering allows biomeds to continue their education by attending classes taught by leaders in the field, search for job opportunities and meet with vendors on the tradeshow floor and network with fellow biomeds at a variety of social gatherings. Log on to www.mdexposhow.com today for the pre-show planner for the 2011 MD Expo, Oct. 20-22 in Orlando, Fla.

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