Raleigh-Durham is like Dallas-Ft. Worth; two major cities in such proximity that they are often linked in regional descriptions. Each city is a major hub for commerce, entertainment and culture, giving residents two choices for many services within a short driving distance.
Raleigh, North Carolina is home to UNC Rex Healthcare, a health care system founded in 1894, which includes an acute care hospital, wellness centers, urgent care centers, cancer and heart centers, skilled nursing facilities and more.
Durham is home to Durham Tech, a growing institution in North Carolina, serving more than 18,000 students. The college offers programs that include “the arts, engineering, education, health technologies, information technology, public safety and business administration,” according to its website.
One thing the health system and the college have in common is a healthcare technology management (HTM) professional.
Allison Woolford, CBET, is a senior BMET with UNC Rex Healthcare. She is also an adjunct professor with the college.
Her entry into the HTM field came about mostly through happenstance.
“While I was working for the American Red Cross as a laboratory technician, we would call the equipment department whenever we had an issue with the equipment. If they couldn’t fix it, they would call the vendor. It was always fascinating to watch the field service engineers come in and repair the equipment. I was really able to see how the equipment worked and they had no problems answering all of my questions,” Woolford remembers.
She says that after several years with the American Red Cross, she was offered employment within UNC Rex Healthcare’s clinical engineering department.
“I was encouraged to attend Durham Technical Community College so that I could be formally trained. Durham Technical Community College offered an associate degree in applied science in biomedical equipment technology. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I would work 10 hours and then go to class in the evening. The majority of my classes were Tuesday and Thursday afternoon so I would work in the morning and leave for class at lunch time. Fridays would be a normal work day,” Woolford says.
She says that she started in January 2018 and graduated magna cum laude in June 2020. In August 2020, she passed the Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician (CBET) exam provided by the AAMI Credentials Institute.
Woolford’s biomed degree was not her first venture into higher education. She had already accomplished much academically before learning about the HTM field.
“I didn’t learn about the biomedical profession until after I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry from Xavier University of Louisiana and Master of Science degree in environmental management from University of Maryland, University College,” she says.
Woolford says that after doing some research, she discovered “this career that is so fascinating.”
“It is mind-blowing to be able to take an operating room table apart and repair it,” she says.
Training the Next Generation of Biomeds
Special projects always challenge biomeds with a focus on going above and beyond to help out with new construction or equipment installations. Woolford has seen her fair share of these projects in addition to her efforts to prepare future biomeds.
“I have been involved in numerous renovation projects within the hospital and at our various clinics. I assisted with setting up equipment and configuring the patient monitoring system for our newly renovated neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), medical surgical intensive care unit (MSICU), neuroscience intensive care unit (NSICU) and various patient floors,” she says.
Within the hospital’s labor and delivery unit, she oversaw the replacement of GE Corometrics 250cx series fetal monitors with Philips Avalon FM-50 units, as well as swapping out the Ohmeda Ohio 4400 infant warmers with the GE Panda iRes Warmer.
“I assisted with checking in new Stryker Medical Big Wheel stretchers for the emergency department. When COVID-19 first hit, we opened a special respiratory isolation unit (SRIU), that we had to work long hours to outfit with the necessary equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. This required the purchase of various ventilators, IV pumps, hospital beds, patient monitoring systems and MAXAIR helmets,” Woolford says.
She was also in charge of managing the biomedical equipment at over 60 various off-site clinics in and around Raleigh that UNC Rex Healthcare manages including a new hospital in Holly Springs.
“With those clinics, besides maintaining preventive maintenance activities, I would assist with location moves and expansions, as well as checking in new equipment. I have helped set up patient monitoring systems into various departments as they were being upgraded or relocated to different areas of the hospital. I have also managed the various offsite clinics that are affiliated with UNC Rex Healthcare,” Woolford adds.
A central focus of her work as an adjunct professor is to try to help increase the number of students entering the HTM pipeline.
When she was a student at Durham Technical Community College, she discovered that the one professor who was teaching the program did not have any experience in the HTM field.
“His experience was mostly in the electronics field. During my final year, that professor decided to take a job somewhere else which resulted in some re-organization to take place within the program. It was common knowledge that I was already in the field, so the incoming program director approached me to help revamp the program,” Woolford says.
She took part in various meetings with the new program director to discuss how to revamp the biomedical program so that it aligns with industry standards.
“To start, we had to discuss what the goals are for an entry-level biomedical technician and what they would typically repair on a daily basis. Once that discussion was completed, we were able to dispose of equipment that was just taking up space, and purchase equipment that aligned with those goals. From there, we were able to revamp the course topics. Students would learn about the equipment as well as be introduced to federal and state regulations, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and infection control to name a few.
Woolford is currently the professor for the “Introduction to Biomedical Technology” course and says that she can incorporate real-life situations into the online class.
“My goal is to help the students truly understand what life is like in a hospital setting. I am also trying to set up a semi-annual presentation where various biomedical technicians can come in and connect with the students. That way, they can see the various job opportunities for biomedical technicians,” she says.
When not teaching the next generation of biomeds or tackling projects at work, Woolford enjoys baking cookies, cupcakes and cheesecakes, as well as working in her flower beds. She is also the “proud mother” of a second-grader and a high school freshman.
In 2019, she won the North Carolina Biomedical Association Norman Reeves Scholarship Award.
It is no surprise; the HTM field has been enriched by having biomeds like Woolford, who are both devoted to their work as well as contributing to the training of future biomeds.
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