By John Noblitt
In the September 2017 Issue of TechNation the cover story by K. Richard Douglas is a must read for anyone in the HTM profession. This article once again highlights areas in the HTM field regarding the aging population of HTM professionals and where their replacements are coming from.
Douglas states in the article that 76 million baby boomers have begun to retire and will continue to retire in the next few years. This mass exodus of skilled labor from the workforce will create a void in many professions and the HTM profession will not be immune to the struggles this labor shortage will create. Douglas further states in the article that an estimated 20 to 25 percent of the entire HTM field will retire in the next 10 years. I can’t verify those numbers off the top of my head, but I must agree with him on this point as I am one of those who hopefully will be retired. Most everyone I know who got into the field when I did, (early 1980s) are talking about how much more time until retirement. The individuals that have carried the HTM torch for a long time now rightfully deserve their retirement, but the question is who is going to carry the torch forward from here?
This article has many different perspectives about this crisis, from Barb Christie, Ph.D., and Roger Bowles, Ed.D., both highly regarded educators in the HTM field and Rodney Nolen a biomedical engineering manager. Each of these individuals comments on their perspective of a crisis that is fast approaching the HTM industry. For schools, partnering with employers is a way to help facilitate quality trained technicians and is a great idea. However, in my experience, the employers are so busy doing the business at hand that there is little time for collaborating with educational institutions on a continuous basis. However, when there is little to no involvement from employers to educational institutions you may end up with a graduate that is categorized as Rodney Nolen mentioned in the article as “repair humans” and not biomeds.
Another suggestion was for manufacturers to be more involved with donations of newer technologies to educational facilities. This again has proven problematic for me as these “donations” effect the bottom line in financial reports so it’s difficult for a manager to make such donations of capital equipment. We educators do receive donations from many different sources and are very grateful for the opportunities for our students to get their hands on medical equipment. Rarely would donations to biomedical programs be considered “new” technologies. Personally, I find that these older technology units for students to work on are great ways to get past the fear of working on medical equipment and to sharpen mechanical skills while reinforcing the theory behind the technology.
The suggestions and recommendations that were given in the article, in my opinion, are only the very first step in a long journey to find the next generation of HTM professionals. One thing that resonated with me – which both educators mentioned – is “word of mouth” advertising. This is where classically I have gotten my very best students. This is when a HTM professional explains to interested individuals what they do, and spark interest in the student and to the point where they seek out a career in the HTM industry. This is where each and every HTM professional can help with the future of the HTM industry. I’ve mentioned it many times before, but every HTM professional should tell a member of their church or their child’s baseball team or to any person searching for a great career opportunity. You would not only be doing a favor for the HTM community, but also to the person getting into this fabulous career field.
The last point I would like to highlight, that was mentioned in the article by Giovanna Taylor of St. Petersburg College, is the ability for educational facilities to find qualified instructors. Many of the technicians in the HTM field have an associate’s degree from a community college or a military background in biomed. This educational level is very appropriate for entry level HTM opportunities, but this level will not work for an accredited college faculty member. Most accrediting agencies require a master’s degree and 18 hours in the field of study to teach in a discipline. This creates an entire new set of problems as schools are forced to fill positions with faculty members who may not have the experience of working in the HTM field. I know of a college who has to have outside guest speakers to instruct students about the industry for which they are training. This educational situation is manageable but in my opinion the lead instructor in a biomedical program needs to have some hands-on experience working in the field.
It is my hope for the future that all HTM professionals will get the next generation of technicians excited about the field and encourage them to get the training they need for a very rewarding career. For the next generation of HTM educators, I hope some young HTM professionals will realize the future opportunities and pursue a higher degree in engineering or education and bring their expertise and passion about the HTM industry to the next generation of HTM professionals.
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