In an age of graying biomeds, the resources to replace the exodus of talent are few. A wealth of experience is exiting a profession that most people have never heard of, so replenishment is a challenge.
AAMI estimates that half of all biomeds are over age 50.
For employers, the question is; how do you onboard new biomeds who have technical training and hands-on experience? For a student, who has an interest in the profession, or someone who is trained who seeks hand-on experience, how do you garner experience or prove your worth to an employer?
There are vehicles to accomplish all of these objectives and they come in different stripes, ranging from “shadowing” to a formal internship to a paid apprenticeship. Within each, there is a commitment by both the student, career-changer or trainee and the employer or supervisor. There are expectations of each party, and the roles and responsibilities need to be well-defined.
Historically, within the trades and many other professions, there have been programs to familiarize a new trainee with a job. In some cases, such as with an academic or technical program, an internship is a component of the program. These programs most often allow a student to become actively involved in a profession they are training for or an opportunity to test the waters in a profession they are considering. The intern is usually not paid.
The apprenticeship program is somewhat different than an internship. With an apprenticeship, the employer is not simply a host or participant in a short-term learning experience; the employer may be using the apprenticeship to onboard a new employee with the skills that they need. Apprenticeships are paid and there is usually a minimum rate attached to the apprenticeship. Both types of programs can combine classroom training with hands-on training.
Each of these types of programs are also fundamental to the HTM profession. The apprenticeship program recently had a more standardized structure added to it in order that it might be even more inviting. The hope is that it can stimulate more growth and replacement within the ranks of biomeds.
The term “journeyman” has been used throughout the trades to indicate a person who has officially completed an apprenticeship qualification and has the competency to work in a chosen trade. The title indicates that they can work without supervision and can take on higher level responsibilities.
Historically, in medieval trade guilds where the term was derived, the three ranks of workers were apprentices, journeymen and masters. An apprentice is a trainee; a journeyman is not.
Apprenticeship by Design
On the apprenticeship side, any discussion would have to include AAMI’s new apprenticeship program, launched in 2021. The program starts with the apprenticeship concept and gives it more structure, guidelines and career-enhancing credentials.
The program was the brainchild of Maggie Berkey, CBET, senior BMET with CommonSpirit Health and was developed through the work of Berkey and AAMI Vice President of HTM Danielle McGeary.
Berkey is also a member of AAMI’s Technology Management Council and a former AAMI and GE Healthcare BMET of the year.
The pair had to earn approval from the Department of Labor (DOL) to fulfill the five requirements for creating a registered apprenticeship.
The two-year hybrid program pairs education with up to 6,000 hours of paid, on-the-job experience and learning. The program brings some standardization to the process, providing consistency to a defined process that ends with a nationally recognized certification from AAMI and the U.S. Department of Labor. Best of all, as Berkey points out, the apprentice does not acquire any student debt.
AAMI apprentice program college courses can be taken online. The program is national. Applicants should go through AAMI. As of March 2022, there were 15 employer partners who have partnered with AAMI and the DOL and 15 apprentices. Entry-level BMETs can earn $25/hour as an average entry-level income. That income can increase substantially with specialization. The program is not only open to students, but available to career changers or persons from any technical backgrounds.
Not only does a national BMET apprentice program provide standardization, but it provides a starting point, a user’s manual and a checklist for employer-sought skills.
“Our main consideration was feasibility. We wanted the apprenticeship to be available to anyone, anywhere, at any time so there was a simple framework to training strong entry level BMETs while benefiting local communities,” Berkey says.
“The bonus is that we made great efforts to avoid barriers. In fact, much of the education that is required can be accessed by learners at no cost to anyone thanks to our collaborative work and the numerous free resources our industry already offers (such as WebinarWednesday.live). We have also acquired lots of industry support including offers of 20 percent discount for the two required college-level courses (at CBET.edu) or covering the cost of required certifications (by Nuvolo),” Berkey adds while offering thanks to those participants.
In designing the program, several considerations had to be contemplated for participants – apprentices and mentors/employers.
Berkey says that for the apprentices, they built the program as a hybrid program to benefit the majority of learners.
“It was designed to be attained by most apprentices within two years, however, someone from a military BMET background could potentially meet all program requirements within the roles and responsibilities need to be well-defined.
An apprenticeship program is somewhat different than an internship. With an apprenticeship, the employer is not simply a host or participant in a short-term learning experience; the employer may be using the apprenticeship to onboard a new employee with the skills that they need. Apprenticeships are paid and there is usually a minimum rate attached to the apprenticeship. Both types of programs can combine classroom training with hands-on training.
Each of these types of programs are also fundamental to the HTM profession. The apprenticeship program recently had a more standardized structure added to it in order that it might be more inviting. The hope is that it can stimulate more growth and replacement within the ranks of biomeds.
“Our main consideration was feasibility. We wanted the apprenticeship to be available to anyone, anywhere, at any time so there was a simple framework to training strong entry-level BMETs while benefiting local communities,” Berkey says.
“It was designed to be attained by most apprentices within two years, however, someone from a military BMET background could potentially meet all program requirements within one year and those who need an extra year of studying to achieve CBET certification have it built in using this model,” she says.
She says that the goal was to lay a strong foundation by writing competencies that the majority of the field could agree upon.
“Before finalizing Appendix A, we had over 100 industry professionals from various career levels and organizations agree that all competencies included were needed to build exceptional entry-level BMETs from scratch. I truly believe the apprenticeship sets a high bar for the entire HTM community,” Berkey says.
For those sharing their expertise with the apprentices, the focus was on the mentor’s real-life experience.
“We know that there are no two shops alike so the primary consideration for mentors was to not put a bunch of language in requiring X, Y and Z to be a mentor. Ideally, mentors will have a few years of solid BMET field experience and be passionate about shaping the future of HTM,” Berkey explains.
She says that there are many benefits for apprentices and mentors. She points out that there is paid for training from day one for the apprentice and they have credentials and skills which are portable, stackable and transferable.
For mentors, Berkey points to the personal reward that employers get from mentoring and how it is worth the investment. She says that you get to pass along your pride in work and teach apprentices the “right way” to get the job done.
Several early adopters entered the AAMI BMET apprenticeship program as participating partners. The participants on both sides of the equation benefit.
“Our system has five apprentices currently within a two-year structured process,” says Rich Reamer, CHTM, regional manager of clinical engineering with McLaren Health Care in Michigan.
He says that each of the apprentice candidates have varying levels of experience in the clinical engineering field.
“We are able to guide our employees through the process and invest into the future of them and our department teams. Having the opportunity to see firsthand the education and training of our apprentices allows us to find the special skills that may build our overall talent in areas of the greatest need for our organization,” Reamer says.
He points out that they also see growth within their other employees during the process.
“Our more senior technicians and mentors get to hone their skills and share their knowledge. This entire process drives value in our team, and shows our willingness to invest into their careers, building an environment of engagement and culture of personal, and team value,” Reamer says.
He says that having these options/tools available is critical toward HTM’s success in the future.
A survey provided to BMET students and supervising professionals was conducted through Penn State New Kensington (PSNK) in 2020. Part of the focus of the survey was to identify challenges for internships.
The survey was conducted by Joie N. Marhefka, Ph.D., biomedical engineering technology program coordinator at Penn State New Kensington in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, and CTL Scholar Assistant Researcher Dalynn Park. The results provided valuable insights into the BMET internship.
“I think a big challenge for the supervisors is finding the resources to train the students, especially when things get busy. For the students, one challenge is learning a lot in a short time period (likely devices they haven’t seen, a new workplace, etcetera). Another challenge for students is communication during the internship. Also, money is a challenge for many students as they are typically at their internship for approximately 40 hours a week and most are unpaid,” Marhefka says.
What did the researchers learn about what can cause an internship to be unsuccessful or to fail from the student’s perspective?
“From the student’s perspective, the complaint I hear most often is that they either spent too much of their time doing things to help the department and weren’t able to see and experience enough different devices/departments, etcetera. We have designed the requirements for our internship to try and prevent this, but in a few rare instances, students have not been satisfied,” Marhefka says.
She says that from the employer’s perspective, the biggest complaint she gets is that students aren’t engaged/eager to learn.
“The employers really want the students to ask questions and try to see and do as much as they can. Many students do, but I sometimes get complaints that a student spends all of their downtime on their phone or something along those lines,” Marhefka adds
Internships can pair the right future biomed with the right employer.
“We have had the opportunity to work with a local college to have an intern. My experience with internships is very positive,” Reamer says.
“Our intern could work alongside our experienced technicians to gain knowledge not available in the classroom settings. At the same time, we were able to assess the basic skills and overall fit with our team and environment,” he adds.
Reamer believes that this is a benefit for the student and employer.
“At the end of the internship, we extended an offer, and now employ this person,” Reamer says.
Internships are often an important component of many degree programs and the up-close, hands-on benefits they offer to biomeds in training make them invaluable.
At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, better known as IUPUI, biomed students can complete the healthcare engineering technology management (HETM) program with degrees issued by Purdue University. The program has two degrees, a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree which is ABET accredited, and an Associate of Science (AS) degree.
“A significant component of the AS degree is a semester long 200-hour internship at a hospital of the student’s choice,” says Phillip E. Pash, M.S., lecturer of healthcare engineering technology management in the department of engineering technology, within the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology.
He says that the HETM program has partnered with numerous central Indiana hospitals to support the internship program.
“The students work side-by-side with an HETM professional mentor to learn aspects of the profession that will better prepare the student for entry into an HETM career. The internship program has been very successful in producing work-ready HETM graduates and provides a potential employer for the student once they have graduated,” Pash says.
Pash says that when he has visited hospitals where one of the HETM students is conducting an internship, he typically finds the student at a bench working on a piece of equipment, next to their mentor who is providing guidance.
“Or, the student will be somewhere in the hospital working on, helping to repair or maintaining a piece of medical equipment. IUPUI is very proud of our internship program and our partners and will continue to help support the HETM industry by preparing high-quality graduates for this rewarding career path,” he says.
Other Roles for Internships
The focus of most HTM internships and apprenticeships are to train or educate those new to the profession. The concept can also be used for someone with experience as a biomed who is interested in transitioning into management or completing an advanced degree.
“In the fall of 2020, I had onboarded an intern who was working on his capstone internship report for his Master’s in Health Care Administration. This individual was a working BMET for Kaiser Permanente at the time, and I admired his ambitions to seek higher educational goals. So, I was more than willing to help him in achieving his aspirations,” says Darwin Fontanares, MBA, CHTM, CBET, BSBMET, senior manager of IT/biomedical engineering at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare in Pleasanton, California.
Fontanares says that the internship required 100 working hours of shadowing him and how he managed the biomedical engineering department.
“We would meet for one-hour a day for about five months, and basically followed a lesson plan for each session. I broke down each month into five key pillars in managing a biomed department: operations, finance, risk, human resources and education/training,” Fontanares says.
“He was able to complete the 100 hours and composed a 12-page internship report; he completed all the requirements of the program and eventually earned his master’s degree,” Fontanares adds.
Regardless of the approach, well-structured and thought-out internships and apprenticeships are key components to replenishing the ranks of biomeds with those who already understand the profession. They offer a great tool for employers and interns/apprentices. With the addition of the AAMI BMET Apprenticeship program, a new era of well-trained rookie biomeds will keep departments staffed.
Employers can become AAMI BMET apprenticeship partners by following the steps outlined at this link: https://www.aami.org/HTM/bmet-apprenticeship
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