By Steven J. Yelton, P.E.
I’m sure that everyone reading this has spent many hours dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and its effects on business. This is true if you are an educator, an industry person or working in a health care institution. We have had to come up with new and innovative ways to “do business.”
I’m currently working at a college and a hospital. This arrangement allows me to see what is happening from different angles. It also helps me to understand the ramifications of what is happening.
When the strategy to combat COVID-19 started to ramp up, I was working to adapt with respect to both of my responsibilities. At the college, we immediately went to a totally virtual environment. I haven’t set foot on campus since March. I have a biomedical laboratory that has a delivery of equipment lying everywhere that there is a flat surface. I feel lucky since my courses were always hybrid – a combination of live and virtual. I have many colleagues at the college who have very limited experience with virtual education and the learning management system that is in place at Cincinnati State. Many of them struggled to get their courses up and running virtually. I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with how well they have done with the transition and for the most part this was transparent to the students.
At the time of writing this article, we are planning to run the HTM courses totally virtually in the fall semester. Our college will allow very limited laboratory access in the fall. We also teach several laboratory experiences at a local hospital. It is yet to be determined if that will be possible in the fall. Regardless, I know that we will provide a great educational experience for our students. HTM students tend to be hard-working students who want to learn and that will be instrumental to their success.
Another challenge that we have is placing cooperative education (co-op) students in HTM-related positions. Some employers were able to retain all of their co-op students, but others were required to eliminate those positions for (hopefully) the short term. As a cooperative education (co-op) school, Cincinnati State requires students to have work experience directly related to their field of study in order to graduate. Our program requires a minimum of one semester (15 weeks of 40 hour/week work) of cooperative education to graduate in addition to the academic requirements. Most employers would prefer at least two semesters of co-op experience prior to hiring them full time. We realize that we may have to be somewhat flexible on this requirement in the near future.
The challenges of placing and retaining co-op students may come back to hurt the college, the student and the employers. We all count on co-ops for different reasons. The college is hurt since this is an integral part of the education process, the student gains experience and income to pay for college and the employer uses the co-op as a productive employee while they are in school and as a source of potential full-time employees upon graduation.
I am extremely impressed by how the HTM community has banded together to help everyone get through this troubling time. The AAMI online communities have been extremely active with help and suggestions for dealing with every kind of situation you could imagine. AAMI, as well as other organizations, has made resources available free of charge. For example, if a student was registered for a college course that was affected by COVID-19, they received access to the AAMI CBET review course online free of charge. My students took advantage of this and we used it as part of our course. My hope is that this will encourage students to sit for the CBET certification exam. In Cincinnati, many HTM departments are sharing information and ideas with each other to help get through this period effectively.
Many of the HTM departments within hospitals have gone to a partially remote operation. This was interesting to me from the standpoint of having to touch the equipment to fix it for the most part. This is obviously still true.
The following are a few strategies that I heard have been implemented. One is that technicians in certain areas are dispatched to departments within the hospital from home rather than gathering in the HTM department prior to going to the effected department. This makes sense since many companies who provide field service do it. This is possible in certain situations but not all. Some departments are staggering the work schedules of technicians so that a limited number are in the department at one time and appropriate social distancing is achieved. Many managers are working remotely part of the time while assuring that at least one manager is on-site at all times during standard business hours. Finally, I have to wonder how many of the innovative approaches that are put in place, and not just the ones that I’ve mentioned, will remain after the pandemic subsides?
Finally, thanks for all that you do!
Steven J. Yelton, P.E., is a senior HTM engineer for a large health network in Cincinnati, Ohio and is a professor emeritus at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College where he teaches biomedical instrumentation (HTM) courses. He is the chair of AAMI’s board of directors, vice-chair of the AAMI Foundation board of directors, previous chair of AAMI’s Technology Management Council (TMC), chair of AAMI’s HTAC Committee and is a member of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), area delegation. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of TechNation or MD Publishing.
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