Technological advancements and policy changes have traditionally served as a catalyst for evolution in the healthcare technology management (HTM) field. But today, there is a new dynamic. A growing shortage of qualified talent is increasing the length of time to hire and creating numerous issues in the workplace, such as low morale and deferred maintenance for in-house hospital teams, equipment manufacturers, and external service providers, among others.
Donna Dyer, senior director of HTM for GE Healthcare, an employer of more than 1,500 BMETs in the U.S., is seeing this hiring problem firsthand. "While our industry is accustomed to continuous transformation from equipment upgrades, hospital changes, and evolving accreditation rules for quality and compliance, the talent shortage is definitely adding a new dimension of complexity to an already complex ecosystem."
Formalizing a new talent pipeline process
Accelerating numbers of vacancies left by baby boomers reaching retirement combined with a decline in biomedical equipment technology (BMET) education programs has altered the talent landscape. Today, there are fewer new graduates with the necessary education and training available to fill vacancies. At the same time, fewer qualified and experienced HTM technicians are remaining in the same job for the duration of their career.
In addition to their own large staff of BMETs, GE Healthcare works very closely with in-house teams at a range of facilities and organizations. "What we're seeing ourselves with our hiring process and hearing from our in-house partners is that this is going to be a wheel that's always turning and really needs to just be accepted as a healthy throughput and managed in that environment," said Dyer.
Employers now must develop and implement an ongoing process that spans hiring and training to grow qualified job candidates into employees with the right skillsets. But even the process of thinking about the complex individual pieces of equipment that make up a facility's inventory is a whole new type of awareness and level of comprehension for employers to get comfortable with.
Medical equipment as a category encompasses a broad range of devices. A relatively simple thermometer requires a less developed technician skillset compared to complex magnetic resonance scanners which require special training and tools. And there is a whole continuum of device sophistication in between.
"On a recent call with some of our in-house hospital partners, we discussed the strain that this new way of thinking about equipment inventory and skillsets creates," noted Dyer. "It requires understanding each piece of equipment in completely different ways than before and translating all that knowledge into a plan that includes the right employee with a tailored development and training schedule."
Modern workforce development education, training, and certification
With fewer colleges and universities offering BMET programs, companies must consider a wider range of candidates with more varied academic and educational backgrounds. Taken in the context of an industry survey growth rate of four percent, the dwindling numbers of degree programs and graduates have become a concern to many of those affected by the talent shortage.
In response, other education and training resources are stepping in with more contemporary programs aimed at developing a modern workforce. For example, a new online academy with a multidisciplinary advisory board is offering a novel distance learning alternative that awards a diploma in medical equipment training.3 Promoting certification is another way to encourage up-to-date knowledge and skills. BMET and HTM manager certifications are available through AAMI.4
A new custom-built program that is currently addressing the industry skills gap internally at the GE Healthcare College of HTM in the Waukesha, WI, training center is expected to be available to the external HTM community in 2020. It consists of a comprehensive system designed to specifically address the entire process of developing a job candidate from new hire to a BMET position. An individual with a technical skill base is educated and trained over time to grow into a medical equipment technician position. Once the individual is in their new BMET role, they can then receive further career development. This can include planning and tracking according to their employer's future HTM needs.
"What's important to understand about education and training is it now requires having an in-depth understanding of both the specific equipment and required skillsets in order to create alignment with the right employee," said Dyer. "Once that match is made and the employee has been assessed for a particular competency, a personalized plan for further career development should be designed, monitored, and followed through on."
Training tailored to fit each person
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to training a semi-skilled workforce today because each individual arrives with a particular set of skills and knowledge depending on their background. Hospitals and organizations report hiring individuals from IT/Networking, customer service, OEM with no biomedical background, and non-medical equipment field service. In other words, determining where they are now in terms of their skills, what equipment they need to be assessed for competence, and an appropriate process and plan for getting them to the point where they are confident doing the work are now critical steps to succeeding.
"There are many options for training that can be customized to a specific employee," explains Dyer. "For example, in one type of situation someone may be sent directly to the manufacturer for training on a very specific ventilator versus constructing an individualized training plan for another person that exposes them to infusion pump services. In this training scenario, the employee will not receive training directly from the manufacturer and instead will first watch others do the work then do it themselves under observation until they meet goals and are released to perform the work on their own."
With workforce demographics and other trends driving an HTM talent shortage, traditional academic programs dwindling, and industry members stepping in to fill the need, the main objective for all of these efforts must be engaging and enlisting new people to enter the HTM field and go on to support hospitals, service providers, and OEM's. Beyond this, it is important to understand that the new workforce dynamic is a wheel that will always be turning.
- Interview with Donna Dyer, senior director of HTM for GE Healthcare on 9/12/2019
- GE Healthcare AAMI presentation slides
- Academy of Healthcare Technology Management (HTM) https://academyofhtm.org/ Accessed 9/14/2019
- Certification Programs. Association for the Advancement of Instrumentation https://www.aami.org/professionaldevelopment/index.aspx?navItemNumber=503 Accessed 9/14/2019