The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and especially its role in health care for veterans, is probably the best-known health care provider in the country. The VA has a long and storied history.
The first “domiciliary and medical facility for veterans” was authorized by the federal government in 1811.
After the Civil War, more state veterans homes were established to provide medical care to those who had seen combat. The state veterans homes provided care to indigent and disabled veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Indian Wars and the Civil War, as well as discharged regular members of the military.
Additional programs were created for veterans at the start of World War I. An ambitious hospital construction project was targeted at preparing the system for caring for the World War I veterans.
Fast forward 100 years, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues its mission of caring for the nation’s veterans.
One biomed professional who has been a part of this mission in recent years is Michelle Baquie, national biomedical engineer in the Veterans Affairs Central Office.
“Like most biomedical engineers, I knew I wanted to work in health care, and I thought I would want to be a pediatrician. But I much preferred my math classes to chemistry and decided to keep on my path as a biomedical engineer. I loved getting to focus on math and finding a way to use technology to help people,” Baquie remembers.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at Boston University and then joined the VA shortly afterwards.
“I was initially hired as a technical career field (TCF) biomedical engineer, which is a two-year training program for engineering graduates to learn how to be a clinical engineer in a health care setting. It is a fantastic program that pairs you with an experienced mentor to help guide your first two years and give you the practical knowledge needed to be a successful biomedical engineer in the VA,” Baquie says.
Bacquie’s initial two-year stint as a TCF was with the VA Northern California Healthcare System. She remained there in the capacity of a staff biomedical engineer.
“In 2009, I joined VA’s Central Office (headquarters) as a national biomedical engineer. I have stayed in this position since and have no plans to leave – I love this job,” Bacquie says.
In her role at VA headquarters, Bacquie specializes in the training and education of HTM staff and human resources.
The need for skilled biomeds is a pervasive problem with the retirement of so many of the older HTM professionals from the field in recent years. Bacquie faces this reality in her job every day.
“One of my biggest challenges is recruiting HTM staff into the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The need for biomeds is growing rapidly and really outpacing graduating engineers and technicians. This is not a problem that can be fixed immediately but we are working hard to impact it over time,” she says.
Bacquie says that her biomedical engineering recruitment and retention team has created presentations to inform high school and college-aged students about the biomedical engineering profession and the steps needed to join the profession.
“We work with our VHA staff to have them go to various outreach events and campaign for biomed and VHA in hopes this will help our career in the future. We also work to see what makes our current staff happy and work on projects that help improve their daily work lives,” she says.
“I have also partnered with our human resources national office to push for more promotion potential and professional recognition for our biomedical engineering technicians. This project took years of approvals and policy drafting with HR and field subject matter experts. But it was extremely rewarding and beneficial for our biomed community,” Bacquie says.
She says that one of her favorite projects is managing the TCF biomedical engineering program, the same program that launched her career.
“Each year, I recruit and train new talent in to the VHA and watch them grow into successful biomedical engineers and technicians. I request slots from our national VHA office, set training requirements and help the TCF find new positions after their training program. I have helped over 200 biomedical engineers and 50 technicians in my 10 years managing this project,” Bacquie says.
Away from the office and the important work of bringing new HTM professionals into the VA system, Bacquie enjoys travel and family.
“I love casual hikes with my family in the mountains and exploring new places. We try to travel as much as possible. I also enjoy just being with my family and having movie nights with pizza. I have been married to my better half, James, for 17 years. We have two kids (11 and 9) and a goofy dog,” she says.
Bacquie’s commitment to the VA and the HTM field motivates her, and she is grateful to those who helped her along her career path.
She says that she believes all biomedical engineering professionals are important and needed in the field.
“For the first few years, I thought I was in the wrong career field as I’m not the most technically strong engineer and really wanted to be a math teacher. But through the years, I realized that I could make a difference in our profession and utilize what skills I am stronger in. As an engineer, I am able to understand the technical piece, but my love and passion is helping others understand our field and advocate for our staff,” Bacquie says.
She says that she is extremely thankful for the mentors and supervisors who helped push her outside of her comfort zone, but also saw her strengths and allowed her to grow the projects she has worked on and contribute to the VA in non-traditional ways.
“Every day, I am thankful for them and hopeful that I can give others the same support. But you have to be willing to work and step up to the challenge,” Bacquie says.
The VHA and its HTM professionals are lucky to have someone so devoted to the organization’s future and the HTM field specifically.
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