The other day I was speaking with a co-worker who is working on a bachelor’s degree in networking. As we spoke, the individual talked about potentially leaving the Healthcare Technology Management (HTM) field and transitioning to Information Technology (IT). As a member of the U.S. Army Reserves I have had conversations with other members of the Reserves who expressed the same sentiment. Recently, a few high school students visited my reserve unit with a recruiter and wanted to know more about the Army and potential jobs. When I informed them of Biomed, its many job openings and positive job outlook they looked at me puzzled. Many of them had never heard of the profession until then.
Why is it that so many of today’s young adults look past the HTM profession and the vast number of job openings and choose IT careers instead? It comes down to money and prestige. Network Engineers make more money than today’s HTM professionals. They receive more recognition and hold a more prestigious position; this does not appear to be changing any time soon. When today’s young adults compare the HTM profession to a Network Engineer, or other IT positions, they see similar job requirements but drastically different pay ranges.
Today’s Healthcare Technology Management profession is facing many challenges. The profession as a whole is currently struggling to find new candidates to fill vacancies nationwide while at the same time about 50 percent of the workforce is expected to retire in the next 15 years. While a majority of our profession is happy with their current position, a common complaint is the lack of respect from the C-suite and lower salaries when compared to our IT counterparts. With an aging work force, the perception of an underpaid profession and the lack of interest from today’s young adults how will the HTM profession continue to support their organizations in the future?
Steven Yelton discussed this in the October 2016 edition of TechNation. Yelton spoke about a lack of qualified schools and a trend among the remaining schools to downsize or discontinue their current HTM programs due to a lack of enrollment. He concluded that there is a need for new entrants into the field, yet the schools can’t find people to enroll. He says, “I thought students would be attracted to exciting and ‘techy’ programs where there are lots of jobs?” He is right, students want to work with the newest technology and work in a field with lots of growth potential. The requirement he missed, however, is a career that has a high salary potential. Unfortunately HTM only meets the first two; on the other hand IT, specifically Network Engineers, meets all three.
Many of the younger HTM professionals see the drastic pay difference between Network Engineers and HTM and openly talk about transitioning to IT. After working on patient monitoring networks, many times side-by-side with a network engineer, HTM professionals realize that Network Engineers don’t do anything that we can’t do. One network engineer I worked closely with on many projects commented about the number of devices we have to know intimately and said that he could never do my job. Yet the organization’s HTM department designed, implemented, maintained and troubleshot the patient monitoring network that was in place. While HTM didn’t have to do the layer 3 switching and IP routing that the Network Engineers did, these are skills that today’s HTM professional can learn in a short time frame. To compound the problem, Network Engineers are regarded as if they do magic and regularly receive positive recognition. IT is a more prestigious profession that is glorified by the media, recognized by the C-suite and sought after by today’s young adults. HTM, on the other hand, is still stuck in the basement, nobody in the C-suite knows what we do and recognition is a rarity at best.
The pay difference between HTM and Network Engineers is astounding. Network Engineers make about 30 to 40 percent more than BMETs.
The difference in pay between Network Engineers and HTM professionals provides little incentive for today’s young professionals to enter the field. When a senior in high school is trying to decide on a career to pursue in college they begin comparing potential paths. Unfortunately nobody knows what a biomed is, understands what Healthcare Technology Management does or truly understands the amount of technology HTM professionals use and work with. The one thing they see is a 29 percent difference in pay between the two and a gap that only widens as you move up in the ranks. The only downside to becoming a network engineer is the requirement of a four-year bachelor’s degree.
While many HTM professionals try and compare themselves to Network Engineers they unfortunately are not comparing apples to apples. Network Engineers require a four-year degree to even enter the profession. Additionally, Network Engineers conduct themselves in a professional manner with their attire, communication and attitude. When a network engineer walks into a room they look and act like a professional. Some HTM professionals or biomeds, as many still call themselves, still wear scrubs, fail to communicate properly with the C-suite and their overall demeanor results in a lack of respect from those holding leadership positions. While the HTM profession requires highly skilled professionals many “Biomeds” do not conduct themselves as such, nor do they have a résumé that demands respect and higher pay.
As an HTM professional that wears button-up shirts, slacks and dress shoes to work I am consistently mistaken for my IT counterparts. I have learned to communicate effectively with my customers and as a result have garnered respect from many levels of leadership within my organization. Despite only having five years of experience it was common at my previous job for department directors to speak with me, seek my advice and lean heavily on my guidance over more senior and experienced HTM professionals. While they held the knowledge, my appearance, attitude and body language allowed me to gain higher levels of respect and prestige with leadership.
If the HTM field wants to meet the increasing demands they must get the attention of today’s youth through higher salary potential. The only way to compete with the highly regarded IT positions is to have similar requirements; this means a four-year degree for the upper levels of HTM. Requiring BMET IIIs to have a bachelor’s degree will help align them with Network Engineers in prestige, recognition, education and – as a result – salary.
Continuing the same two-year degree for some BMET I and BMET II positions will allow for a quicker entry into the field for today’s young professionals. With increasing college tuition costs and many college graduates having student loan debt that they cannot afford, a two-year degree will be a welcome alternative. Requiring BMET IIIs to have a bachelor’s degree allows for eight years from entering the field to complete the remaining two years of school, which can be completed online or at local colleges. In many cases the cost can be offset through tuition assistance from their employer. This career plan will help to align the HTM profession with our IT counterparts and provide substantiating documents to justify a higher prestige, increased salaries and recognition.
In addition HTM professionals must begin to dress and act the part. This will help to change the perception of the profession, and as a result increase the respect that we get from organizational leadership.
An additional benefit from requiring BMET IIIs to have a bachelor’s degree is the transition to management. Currently, the BMET III position requires an associate degree while the HTM Manager position requires a bachelor’s degree, this will become a problem as many of the profession’s leaders retire in the near future. Many of today’s BMET IIIs haven’t pursued a bachelor’s degree and therefore will not be qualified when management positions become open. Without qualified HTM professionals to fill the manager positions, the HTM profession will be lead by those who do not understand the profession or the difficulties that we face. This will only make our jobs harder.
The HTM profession needs to increase its formal education and require BMET IIIs to have a bachelor’s degree. This combined with a transition to a professional appearance will change the perception of the field, increase salaries, attract new entrants to the profession and help provide respect and prestige within the C-suite. Higher education equals higher pay; this is the only way for the HTM profession to continue to meet the growing demands of today’s health care organizations.
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