Q: We recently had an imaging tech who received CT training and a few other high-dollar classes at the hospital’s expense resign and take a position with GE. Should techs be required to stay with the company for a certain length of time after completing OEM training/certification?
A: We have them sign an agreement to work for a certain amount of time after training or pay for it prorated if they leave.
A: Usually there is some signed agreement that the employee will stay with the organization one year or if the class was expensive (as imaging may be) two years. Otherwise they have to pay the tuition back and certainly their final paycheck would be withheld until settled.
A: This is a serious situation. Having worked for decades in the in-house component of clinical engineering I have heard of this a few times. The best way to prevent this type of behavior is to have the employee sign an agreement listing their obligations to the hospital in exchange for the training being offered. This is also the time to show support to the employee by offering a raise over time due to the new skill they will be offering the hospital in its quest to save money.
A: I think the only solution to this issue is to choose wisely the personnel you want to educate. Once educated, pay them fairly and treat them properly. Hospital administrators may not understand this process and it is up to us professionals to educate our administrators of the value the salary requirements and needs of our “higher-end” professionals.
Areas where we fail as HTM leaders is treating imaging educated professionals differently than the highly competent biomedical technology individuals. In my program, my career ladder only has a single path. There is not two career paths, one for imaging engineers and one for biomedical technicians, the old “us versus them” conflict that destroys teamwork. I recognize my high-end biomedical professionals (technicians that master skills on clinical laboratory gear, laser technology, operating room technologies, information systems/networking technologies, etc …) equally as those professionals with imaging skills. My imaging skilled personnel will work on biomedical devices, yes, even IV pumps. If I have a nuclear person doing a PM on a SPECT camera and there is an IV biomedical gating monitor in the room, that same professional will do the PM on the monitor. There will not be a separate service event by another HTM professional for the PM on that monitor. That is wasteful (expensive) due to the inefficiency in the use of labor.
Back to your original issue, choose wisely, and educate the hospital/health system administrators as to what it takes to drop several hundred thousands of dollars in service agreements, i.e. higher salaries and benefits for technical staff. Some OEMs and some third-party providers seem to be heading down a path of poorly educating their field service personnel while also “loading” them up with many more systems to cover in their region than the staff can handle in an effort to maximize margin. This is all translating to poor service experiences for the customer. Your team can deliver your imaging staff and your patients a much better experience for service, it just takes us as HTM leaders to educate health care administrators on the value in that proposition and then deliver it!
A: I have a few comments on this one. Why did he leave? Pay? Benefits? Work hours? Management? Personal issues? I don’t think they just left to leave, there’s an underlying issue.
A: We had an employee in our department a couple years back who retired shortly after receiving some expensive Varian training. The employee had 27 years at our hospital and had no plans to retire, but they announced planned changes to the hospital pension and retirement plan and the employee stood to lose out on significant monies by not retiring then. However, our director at the time was very upset over it and put in a tuition payback “contract” that many of us in the department felt was a “knee jerk” reaction to a situation that had never come up before, and was a situation created by the hospital.
The plan put in place said that if you had a class up to $10,000 you were obligated for one year of service, if you left prior to that you were responsible for paying back the entire amount. If you had a class over $10,000 you were obligated to work two years. If you left before one year, you paid back the entire amount. If you worked one year, but left before the second year, you paid back half.
All in all it wasn’t an awful plan, but we thought it would be more fair to say for X amount of dollars you worked a month. In this case if you had a class that was $11,000 you may only have to work 13 months instead of 24. Conversely, if the class cost $25,000 the employee could be obligated for up to 30 months. Also there were no exceptions for unavoidable circumstances that might keep the employee from fulfilling these obligations. In my case, I have had heart troubles that have caused me to undergo heart surgery twice. Up to this point I have been fortunate in that I recovered fully and am still able to work at 100 percent. But what if something happened that left me disabled, I would like to think they would take that into consideration, but it wasn’t in the language of the agreement, so there was nothing there to keep them from demanding repayment.
It also left a bad taste in the mouths of some of the longtime techs. This happened only one time in the 35 years I have worked here, and then only because of changes they made to the pension plan. We felt it showed a sudden distrust of us, many of us have been loyal employees for over 25 years. Less than two years later, the hospital discontinued any insurance for retired employees and the technician that left and started all this actually ended up coming back to work for our department.
With all that said, I can understand a hospital wanting to protect their investment, but maybe do it in a way that shows more trust of long-term employees. Maybe make techs with less than 10 years sign an agreement, maybe trust that anyone with more years than that is in it for the long haul and possibly have no agreement, or possibly a less stringent one for them. Consider not sending anyone (to training) who is within a couple years of being eligible to retire. Try to come up with a fair system of prorating payback based on time already served and be sure to put in reasonable exceptions that take into account potential unforeseeable hardships that could affect an employee.
A little more than 2 cents worth, but hopefully some good food for thought.
A: Our policy states you must be with the organization for two years post a “high-dollar” training. If you leave on your own free will, you must pay it back prorated.
We also have a “no compete” clause with the major vendors in which we cannot work for their company and they cannot work for our company for 12 months after leaving on their own free will. Termination is a different story.
A: Likewise, about, oh, 15 years ago … we sent a new tech to DICOM for a week of training. Two weeks later, poof, GE snatched him up and doubled his salary. It surprised all of us here and it created some sour feelings for a while, but we didn’t have any redress. The idea of an agreement was definitely kicked around for a while afterwards. But I think our HR department eventually decided that it would not be enforceable, because we would have to guarantee the tech a job for the length of the agreement. Double-edged sword. So they solved it by not sending anyone to a week-long school any longer. By the way, that tech is still with GE. I just saw him last week.
A: As part of the training request we agree to stay for 12 months from the end of training (unless terminated by the company), or we have to reimburse the company for the cost of the training. I don’t know how enforceable that really is beyond maybe withholding our final paycheck, but it is company policy. It’s a sticky situation. How long is long enough? I would never fault someone for wanting to improve their position, but it does feel pretty unethical to take the training you were given and immediately sell it to the highest bidder. I wouldn’t do it.
A: It cuts both ways. I worked for a company that put their field service engineers through three months of training. It was a combination of classroom, production, QC, bench, and field training. While I was there we had one tech that six months later got hired away by a large hospital group. We had 3-5 day refresher training once a year so a week of training would not have been considered “expensive.”
Employees do not automatically deserve a raise because they received training paid for by their employer while they were being paid to attend. When I wanted a promotion I went out and paid for college and took classes on my own time.
A: A no compete agreement works well in your case. But what I would suggest is get GE to reimburse you for the class or request that they give you an additional class at no charge. Depending on how long from when the tech completed class and then went to the OEM for employment. The no compete is very specific to enforce. For example, your tech would have had to go for training on a specific model and then took employment with the OEM working on that exact same model. You would have to prove damages. The tech could say that he went to training for lightspeed but he was employed for a different series CT. Very hard to enforce.
A: I’ve worked for places where you had to pay back the full amount if you left within a year and also have had prorated agreements. Currently, we don’t have any type of agreement that is required for training and we send techs away to schools for various equipment all the way up to MRI with little turnover.
I think if the $5-10K of training is all that someone needs to leave then there are other issues. It comes down to picking the right technicians to train, working with HR to ensure proper compensation and benefits, and its also on the managers to provide a good work environment. If someone wants to leave they are going to with or without that agreement and most likely all the hospital will get is the final check. Legal actions don’t come cheap and generally the end result is not worth the expense.
One of my favorite sayings on the training topic: “What if we train our employees and they leave? What if we don’t and they stay?”
A: The reality is that none of these agreements are legally enforceable, so I don’t see the point in making someone sign one in the first place. Having someone leave after being trained is a risk every organization faces. Also, if you’re going to hold someone responsible for the cost of the training, then you need to be looking at the manager, not the technician who quit. People leave managers, not companies.
I prefer to make a “gentleman’s agreement” with a technician, and tell them that we value them, and we’re going to invest in their future by having them trained, and my expectation is that they won’t be quitting in the near future, and that if they aren’t happy to please discuss it with me before making any final decisions.
A: A non-compete clause may not be legally enforceable, but good luck getting any company to expend the legal fees to fight a lawsuit in order to hire you.
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