AAMI News September 2017

Professor Reflects on Changes, Challenges in HTM Education

Barbara Christe
Barbara Christe, PhD, is the program director of healthcare engineering technology management and an associate professor with the Engineering Technology Department at Purdue School of Engineering & Technology at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

Education has changed tremendously over the last few decades. As medical technology has evolved and expanded into most aspects of patient care, so too has technology reshaped the college classroom. For example, healthcare technology management (HTM) and other related courses are managed with an online course management system that houses grades, supplemental readings, and collects assignment submissions.

To facilitate improved topic exploration, classrooms feature real-life scenarios that begin students’ preparation for the workplace very early in the curriculum. The faculty role of “sage on the stage” has shifted to a “guide on the side,” with a focus on student-centric learning, facilitated by instructional technology.

Students also have Google and YouTube to supplement classroom instruction. Now, an error in the instructional content is quickly detected by astute learners—accountability happens in real time. Electronic communication between faculty and students facilitates deeper understanding and can resolve confusion quickly.

HTM education has mirrored other trends in the field, such as the retirement of a significant portion of the workforce. When institutions of higher education bid farewell to longtime instructors, they struggle to find replacements—folks in possession of academic credentials who are willing to work at a fraction of the salary they would receive at clinical sites. This has prompted colleges to shutter their programs at the same time that employers are increasing their demand for graduates. The hope of expanded academic programs to meet employer demands seems misguided without significant interventions. I believe this may be the greatest hurdle we face as a profession since, without faculty, students cannot become graduates.

The passage of time has shaped higher education in other ways as well. Employer expectations of graduates’ skills have expanded, and legislative oversight has reduced the amount of credit hours a curriculum can include, giving educators the impossible choice between a curriculum that meets the needs of the profession and one based on higher education standards.

Should graduates have excellent hand tool skills and be able to analyze circuits, or should students explore project management and cybersecurity techniques, or both? In the last few decades, I have seen the list of potential course topics expand beyond the Core Competencies for the Entry-Level HTM Technician document faster than revisions can be written. How can educators continue to provide a solid foundation in equipment basics and regulatory compliance and include newer technologies such as asset tracking and radio-frequency identification in the short timeframe a student is with us? I believe that recent efforts by AAMI to dramatically improve program accreditation through ABET will better align academic coursework with the expectations of the profession.

Despite the challenges, many of the changes we’ve experienced in HTM-related education have been for the better. Our current classrooms are more diverse and feature more women. This is a dramatic change from the time when I attended engineering school, and our four-story building did not have any ladies’ restrooms. Clearly no one could envision female students enrolling in the program.

Our classrooms are also getting younger. Most schools still enroll many career changers and veterans with extensive life experience, but some programs have increased the number of freshmen they’ve recruited directly from high school. This is an audience HTM educators have struggled to reach in the past. However, with general college enrollment dramatically increasing for this student group and the opportunity to quickly find employment with strong salaries after graduating from an HTM-related program, more and more young people are being enticed into the field.

Perhaps my greatest job satisfaction occurs when recent graduates, often the first in their families to attend college, stop me in a store to introduce me to their family. The former students tell me how happy they are, how much they enjoy their position, and how transformative a good job with benefits has been. We know the career offers professional growth and personal satisfaction, and hearing that directly from former students is what moves all of us forward. That feeling of pride and contribution to the future is compelling—and has not changed at all.