Is There An Educational Shift for BMETs?
The field of nursing has experienced a significant expansion of its educational requirements in recent years. Historically, the typical pathway to becoming a nurse was to achieve a nursing diploma from a local hospital. Today, however, 43% of nurses hold degrees at the baccalaureate level or higher, with influential nursing associations and societies pushing to raise that figure even higher.
Could the field of biomedical technology be on the cusp of a similar educational shift? Some signs seem to indicate that it is.
“A couple of factors are at play here,” says Barbara Christe, the BMET program director and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering technology at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). “First, there is a societal shift toward higher education. And in the BMET field, medical equipment is becoming more and more integrated with a hospital’s computer system and related technologies, requiring BMETs to take more of a systems-oriented approach to their work, rather than component-level troubleshooting. This approach calls for higher levels of training and education.”
Steven Yelton, program chairman for the information and engineering technologies division at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Cincinnati, OH, has noticed that employers in the Cincinnati area “are requiring students without a degree in the biomedical area to pursue a BMET associate’s degree. This might be someone who has a lot of electronics experience but doesn’t have a degree or perhaps even any formal biomedical training, but who’s making a career change into the field.”
“Many more of my students are interested in pursuing four-year degrees than before,” says Roger Bowles, associate professor and interim department chair of biomedical equipment technology at Texas State Technical College in Waco, TX. “This is happening because most of the employers that visit our school and interview our students are advising them to continue their education.”
Mike O’Rear, PhD, PE, program chair and lead instructor of biomedical engineering technology at Georgia’s Chattahoochee Technical College, who was the driving force behind the creation of a BMET bachelor’s degree program at Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) in Marietta, GA, agrees. “I have noticed a trend toward employers requiring more education. A bachelor’s degree seems to be the most desirable — especially for specialized areas such as imaging or nuclear medicine.”
While higher levels of education may be particularly important for BMETs interested in becoming specialists, it appears to be at least as critical for those who wish to go into management.
“It is almost a necessity in order to advance to management,” says Bowles. “And although there is only one employer that I’m aware of that requires a four-year degree for entry-level BMETs, I could see that becoming more common in the future.”
According to Christe, “these days, at the entry levels, an associate’s degree is required, and a bachelor’s degree is preferred. But once you’re in the field, you simply have to have a bachelor’s degree to move up.”
What does this mean? “It means life-long learning is the trend of the future,” says O’Rear.
Growing Interest in the Field
Despite a relative scarcity of educational programs available to students interested in entering the biomedical technology field and those already in the field who are interested in continuing their education, interest in the field appears to be growing.
For example, AAMI has received significant interest in a new brochure it published that promotes the biomed field as a rewarding career. AAMI first announced the availability of the brochure in the January issue of AAMI News.By mid-February, AAMI had distributed more than 3,400 copies of the brochure to institutions, AAMI members, and others who have requested copies.
“Requests for copies of the brochure have come from recruiters, managers, schools, biomedical society leaders, and others who want the brochure for hospital career days, high school recruitment fairs, and to distribute to job applicants,” says Steve Campbell, vice president of marketing and communications at AAMI. “If these requests are any indication, it’s probably safe to assume that interest in the field is on the rise.”
According to Yelton, interest in the BMET program at Cincinnati State is growing by leaps and bounds. “Over the last couple of years, our program has had exceptional growth, with participation increasing by 50%. I attribute the interest partly to the fact that prospective students realize that there will always be medical equipment to repair. Also, students have expressed to me that they enjoy their work environment and the stability it provides them.”
Demetrius Dillard, 22, a student at Christe’s IUPUI BMET program, echoes that sentiment. “I learned about the field when my mother was being cared for at a hospital in South Bend, IN, for bleeding in her kidneys. I started watching a biomed at the hospital go about his work, began asking him questions, and realized what a rewarding career this could be.”
Dillard, whose career ambitions are to begin working in a hospital and to then go into nuclear medicine or radiology, recognizes that continuing education — and higher degrees — are sure to be part of his future.
“There are so many different situations you can encounter as a biomed, so you always have to be willing to learn,” Dillard says.
Dillard’s classmate, David Bunch, 26, is equally excited about being a part of the biomed field. He believes that students entering the field “are going to be the pioneers of a whole new generation of clinical engineers. This field is going so much farther than people expect. There will always be a need for what we do, so there will never be a shortage of work.”SOURCE: AAMI News: Vol. 41, No. 3, March 2006