A little over five years ago I was in the U.S. Air Force and approaching the end of my six-year commitment. I started thinking about what I could do when my military service came to an end. After all, weapons systems maintenance and munitions loading isn’t exactly a career field in high demand.
The most obvious and important question was “How can I utilize my military skills and talents while engaging in an exciting and rewarding career?” The answer to this question was not an obvious one. I even thought that maybe my goal was unrealistic. Nonetheless, I researched many careers. And then it happened. I found a career that translated some of my skills and utilized many of the principles used to maintain aircraft and load munitions – Biomedical Equipment Technician. What do weapons systems and bomb loading have to do with that? Let me explain.
First off, weapons systems maintenance requires extensive and detailed documentation. Every task is documented on a hard copy and digital database. It’s checked and double checked daily, and if it’s done wrong or falsified it could result in various types of reprimand, ranging from verbal counseling to court martial. It’s all about the details and when millions of dollars of equipment are being maintained, it’s imperative that every action be documented and inspected for compliance at regularly scheduled intervals. Can you see any similarities there? I’ve explained this comparison many times to friends and coworkers and usually this is the part where you say “OK, I get the similarities in documentation, but how in the world does bomb loading compare to being a biomed?” Bomb loading has nothing to do with being a biomed. But the principles behind bomb loading do. I’ll explain how by defining four key words – safety, certification, reliability and stress.
Honestly this is the easiest observation. Safety is key when dealing with explosives. In the biomed field we can all agree safety is a great concern, if not the greatest concern. As hospital professionals, we strive to provide safe equipment for the benefit of our fellow employees, and more importantly, for the patients that the equipment will be in contact with. For example, the average biomed knows the damage a simple shorted wire can do. A clinician may not be as aware and could cause harm to themselves or patients. Similarly, the average bomb loader knows the difference between an armed munition hanging from an aircraft wing and a dud, while the fighter pilot is most likely unaware. The consequences could be dire for those counting on precision close air support. Does it make us more important because we know of hazards and faults that others don’t? No. But it does mean we bear a great responsibility to ensure the safety of others even if they themselves are not aware of any hazards.
The first real and tangible goal for any BMET is certification. The same applies to any weapons loader, you must be certified to load munitions. A certification in any field is awarded based on performance, and states that your training is complete and documented, and that you are capable and competent. Anyone can sit through classes and earn a degree, but a certification needs to be earned and without applying yourself it’s impossible to achieve. This similarity, in my eyes, is the most important. A certification is something you don’t “need,” but once acquired no one will ever question your dedication or the work you put in to achieve the certification. After months of class work and on-the-job training, you are only certified to load bombs and missiles after what you have learned is evaluated and proven. I like to think of it as a rite of passage. If one person on the load crew fails, you all fail and will do it until you master it. It’s the cost of calling yourself a certified loader. The same is true in regards to the CBET exam. You prove that you have become a well-rounded technician.
In regards to equipment, what good is an infusion pump that doesn’t pump? Or a vital signs monitor that doesn’t monitor? If it doesn’t work, there’s no need for it, and no one will question its removal from the area. Every hospital needs equipment they can rely on. As each and every biomed works on equipment, we ensure its reliability is at 100 percent. There’s never “kind of works” or “sometimes works.” An anesthesia unit should be 100 percent reliable. Would you be confident getting a procedure done with something putting anesthetic gases into your lungs working at 50 percent? I doubt it. Similarly, in a close air support situation, a bomb needs to work as it’s designed in order to suppress any opposition. Anything less would be considered unacceptable. When lives are at stake, 100 percent is the one and only magic number. But, in order to do reliable work, we ourselves must be of the upmost reliability.
Last, but certainly not least, is stress. We all experience it in some form or fashion and it affects each of us differently. It’s not new to any one and is indeed a part of everyone’s job. Stress is something every military professional is trained to deal with. While I’m sure I’ll never be under fire while performing electrical safety, I’m certain that in the future other forms of stress could possibly affect the quality and effectiveness of my work. My training and experiences in stressful situations allow me to walk into any stressful environment (such as a heart bypass procedure) and have a clear and focused mind. As a result, decisions can be made accurately and decisively. I’ve learned to use stress as a tool to increase my situational awareness and attention to detail.
That’s how I went from bombs to biomed, I dissected both career fields into key components and found similarities. From there, I compared how my experience in each area could be beneficial based on what I have already done and what could possibly be expected of me as a biomed. This has all been confirmed since day one at biomed school and even more every day as an actual biomed at my hospital. The key to being successful in any career field is the utilization of your strengths and putting yourself in a position to isolate your weakness and improve upon them.
The Air Force made me fearless, instilled a ruthless dedication in me and helped me find my own personal standard of excellence within myself. As a new biomed, the possibilities for future growth are endless. I’m no longer limited by time in grade or time in service. I can fly as high as I want and as fast as I want. The research I’ve done and the biomed community have helped me make one of the best career choices I possibly could, and I couldn’t be happier!
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