In recent years, clinical engineering and imaging leaders have been working to mitigate an increasingly alarming issue: the growing shortage of qualified imaging engineers – due in large part to a lack of opportunity for training. Most colleges and technical institutes simply don’t offer degree programs for imaging engineering diagnostics. Existing engineers were likely trained in the military or worked previously for an OEM. The issue is compounded by the long-established practice of hospitals and other facilities to not develop new engineers from within their own ranks. Whether because of liability concerns, tradition or a lack of awareness, a slight bias against promoting from within often exists.
Under ordinary circumstances, this situation would be addressed over time. The industry could evolve to prevent a staffing challenge from becoming a health care crisis, but the pandemic created a drastic drop in imaging procedures that caused many decision makers to lose sight of the problem.
Now, thanks to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, people are beginning to feel safer about resuming normal health care. The growing need for imaging procedures comes as a welcome relief to budget-conscious health care facilities. Unfortunately, the ensuing rise in imaging equipment usage also means more frequent maintenance and repair. When coupled with the shortage of engineers, this creates a frightening scenario: inoperable equipment sitting dormant, waiting for vital maintenance or repair. The result? Delays in potentially life-saving procedures for consumers and millions of dollars in lost revenue for hospitals and imaging facilities.
There are many in the medical community who are only now realizing the magnitude of the impending talent shortage and searching to find a solution. What they’ve found is a previously overlooked opportunity: training and promoting from within.
By identifying team members who want to advance their career, particularly BMETs, managers can assist those individuals in advancing into the engineer role by encouraging them to grow their skills. The potential for heightened job relevance, continuous improvement and increased salary makes it an exciting opportunity.
Promoting from within also brings considerable benefits for leadership and the health care organization that go beyond the typical cost savings associated with staffing versus outsourcing. By showing interest in staff development, leaders can expect increased loyalty and decreased turnover. As an added benefit, mentorship, in-house workshops and formal training help encourage team members to climb the organizational ladder.
For facilities that don’t currently have in-house service capabilities, there’s an added bonus: increased speed. When an MRI or CT device goes down, time is of the essence for getting it up and running again. Every hour that’s lost leads to delays in patient care and can cost thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Having an onsite imaging engineer, an in-house inventory of parts and supplies and an ISO with experts who are only a phone call away, all leads to faster repairs and helps ensure the organization’s long-term success, patient satisfaction and profitability. Finding a qualified biomed staff member, as well as an ISO that provides training, parts and expert technical support, is the holy grail of a fledgling in-house service program.
When searching for training courses, managers should look for AAMI-certified training centers that provide eight or more ACI CEUs per day of training and offer lab-based courses taught in both a clinical environment and the classroom. Coursework should include discussions, lectures and labs centered on equipment operation, configuration, troubleshooting and repair of system components.
Premier facilities now offer interactive virtual training solutions. These programs allow students to participate in the same training program as in-person attendees — including equal access to instructors, the ability to talk with other attendees and even the functionality to interact live with the classroom whiteboard. Attendees typically receive the same training and the same number of ACI CEUs, all without needing to travel.
Accredited training programs not only improve the medical imaging field as a whole, they can also aid in tracking employee improvement and can put engineers at the cutting-edge of innovation. Moreover, proper certification of imaging technicians and engineers is crucial to the success of the individuals and the organization — not to mention to the health and safety of the patients and technicians they’ve been entrusted to protect.
For healthcare technology management professionals, achieving ACI certification is a powerful way of highlighting their accomplishments, skills and experience while also demonstrating their ability to provide quality and trustworthy service. For health care organizations, staff certification strengthens the public’s confidence in the safety and capabilities of that facility. It also validates the quality and reliability of imaging team members and the equipment they maintain. This level of professional commitment is easily recognized by patients and coworkers alike, and ultimately leads to a higher level of medical care.
The imaging engineer talent shortage poses a significant challenge for the industry, particularly in light of the surge in procedures resulting from the COVID-19 vaccines. Qualified people need to be in place to prevent equipment downtime so patient care continues without interruption. While unintentional biases and academic short-sightedness have made it difficult to secure qualified individuals in the past, the good news is that a more substantial source of potential candidates already exists within the industry – biomedical professionals looking to advance their careers.
Sam Darweesh is the vice president of operations/chairman of engineering at Technical Prospects.
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