Working within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has provided a number of HTM professionals with challenges and experience to advance their careers and contribute to innovations at the same time.
One member of leadership in the VA’s HTM ranks knew that biomed was for him just out of high school.
“The mix of biology and engineering intrigued me and that is why I selected biomedical engineering after high school. When I graduated high school, I passed the AP biology and AP physics classes and wanted to keep on that track of learning,” says Michael McDonald, MS, CCE, chief biomedical engineer in the VISN 20 Healthcare Technology Management (HTM) department for the VA in Seattle, Washington.
McDonald’s training and education started at Marquette University in Biomedical Engineering with a focus on mechanical engineering and biology.
“I then participated in a co-op program with the Department of Veterans Affairs,” McDonald says. “The co-op program is where HTM students go to school for a semester and then work in the clinical engineering department at the VA for a semester.”
He says that after graduating, he was accepted to graduate school at Marquette University and received a master’s degree in biomedical engineering.
“At that time, I returned to the VA and was selected into their Technical Career Field (TCF) program. This is the evolutionary step to the co-op program. The TCF program is for degreed engineers and technicians and is a two-year training program focusing on HTM in the VA,” McDonald adds.
He found that the constant change, and staying updated on healthcare technology, provided a good challenge.
During his time at the VA, he has been a co-op student, TCF biomedical engineer, staff engineer, chief biomedical engineer and regional chief biomedical engineer.
“I was the chief biomedical engineer for the Indianapolis VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, Indiana and the Puget Sound VA Medical Center in Seattle, Washington,” McDonald says.
“Being a chief is a great position; it allows you to assist all of the care units in the medical center to ensure that they have the technology required to provide the best care to our nation’s veterans.”
McDonald says that the position allowed him to manage and implement technologies from thermometers to MRIs, PET/CT, and linear accelerators; always trying to continuously improve the service of the technicians to ensure that the facility had safe and reliable medical equipment at all times.
“The regional chief biomedical engineer or VISN chief biomedical engineer, in the VA, allows the same breath of technology support and implementation just across multiple facilities,” he explains.
Bringing Resources Together
The challenges McDonald sees as a leader revolve around encouraging cooperation and overseeing installations.
“The excitement of the job is getting diverse groups to work together for a common goal. You have executive leadership, physicians, nurses, technicians, environmental management, IT and facilities management that all play critical roles in getting safe and effective equipment installed and in the hands of the clinical providers,” McDonald says.
He points out that some of the installations can take over a year to fully implement and the turnover of the groups involved make it a challenge to ensure that all the right players are included.
“However, it is an opportunity to review the goal of the technology implantation and spread the goals of the facility and region. This was particularly evident when I was charged with replacing the physiologic monitoring system for all of the medical centers in Michigan and Indiana,” McDonald says.
“The facilities provided different care and each facility had different workflows. Creating a framework, to allow everyone to focus on their goal while still standardizing the technology, was a great achievement,” he adds.
McDonald has been recognized for his efforts along the way, winning the 2013 RHCC/Intelligent Hospital Grand Award, the 2013 RHCC/Intelligent Hospital Award: Improving Regulatory Compliance, The Best of 2013: Biomedical Departments Nomination, The Best of 2012: Biomedical Departments Nomination and the 2010 VHA Biomedical Engineer of Year awards.
Fitness and Family
When not on the job, staying fit and helping out with his kid’s school are pastimes.
“I really like to exercise I train for half-marathons and try to at least do three a year,” McDonald says. “The time to run really helps clear the mind and allows me to be ready for the challenges that come up when trying to implement new technologies in the medical center. I also volunteer my time at my children’s schools to spend additional time with them and ensure that they have good programs that will enrich their lives.”
On the home front, he has a supportive family.
“I have two smart and lovely daughters that are eight and five. My wife is a constant support, being flexible to allow me to support the 24-hour business of health care,” McDonald says.
McDonald breaks down two of the fundamental areas that are important to him this way: “I have a passion for Healthcare Technology Management with always looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and safety of the technology. I also pour the same passion into my family,” he says.
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