In the past year, several colleges around the country have shuttered their biomedical equipment technology programs. This comes at a time when demand for biomedical equipment technicians, specifically entry-level technicians, has steadily increased. The Texas State Technical College System offers biomedical equipment technology at its Waco, Harlingen and Marshall campuses. At least it did until this month. Recently, it was announced that the Marshall campus will no longer offer this program. Reasons given were struggling enrollment and placement. Marshall is in a smaller town and many students do not wish to move. Also, fewer hospitals in the area mean fewer opportunities for internships. Plus, operating a biomedical equipment technology program is expensive and most programs have very limited budgets and rely on equipment donations.
With limited state budgets, that seem to get smaller every year, the TSTC system is like most colleges in evaluating the vitality of its programs. In Waco, probably due to our central location in the state, we are fortunate to have multiple internship partners and we tell prospective students that they have to be flexible about relocating. We still struggle with equipment but we have had some funds infused into the program lately and our instructors spend those funds very judiciously. With a large network of enthusiastic supporters and successful graduates, we are doing OK … but enrollment is still down.
Word-of-mouth promotion from our successful graduates brings in many of our new students. Despite a large recruiting push by visits to high schools, career days and similar activities, the recruitment of high school students remains a challenge. Part of the problem is the starting salary of entry-level graduates. It has increased quite a bit over the course of 20 years, but it isn’t matching other industries. Our entry-level technicians have had starting salaries ranging from approximately $40,000 to $44,000 per year, depending on location. We have had several graduates start at over $60,000 per year with manufacturers. But other programs, such as Electrical Power Control, Instrumentation, Robotics, and even Welding, have average starting salaries that exceed $65,000 per year. Recently, these programs have even started offering their instructors market-based differentials to keep them from going back into the industry. The college is even offering a money-back guarantee to students in those programs if they cannot find a job (with many stipulations that inlcude attending job preparation classes, being open to multiple locations within the state, etc.). These tactics diminish the appeal of other programs.
Two of the selling points of a biomedical equipment technology career that we have always stressed are job satisfaction and its steadiness. Other industries, especially in Texas, typically have big swings where jobs can dry up seemingly overnight. That hasn’t been the case for us. If someone is motivated and willing to relocate to where the jobs are … then he or she can always find work. We also stress the potential in this career field and the ability to pick many different career paths and locations. Plus, you get to work indoors and that is a big positive in Texas.
So those younger students, who are still trying to figure out who they are and where they are going, sometimes chase the money without regard to long-term stability and overall job satisfaction. All of these factors makes recruiting pretty tough. Sometimes I wish someone would insert a BMET in one of those popular TV hospital shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” to increase the national visibility.
In the meantime, we will continue to focus on contacting high school counselors and teachers and, of course, students to let them know what we do.
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