March 2015

Tech World: Learning and Making a Difference Abroad

Philip Camillocci is the technical training developer-biomedical for GE Healthcare and has been in the biomedical field for more 30 years, working in a variety of roles.

Philip Camillocci
Philip Camillocci volunteered to help teach BMET students in Cambodia.

My journey with Engineering World Health (EWH), which brings experienced and aspiring healthcare technology management professionals to underserved countries, started in August 2014, when I read an article in AAMI News about the organization.

In developing countries, there is a lack of skilled biomedical technicians (BMETs) who can install, maintain, or repair medical equipment. EWH estimates that 40% of medical equipment in developing countries is in need of repair or replacement at any one time.

With my educational background at the U.S. Army Medical Equipment and Optical School and my 30 years of experience working on just about every type of medical equipment both as a field service technician and in-house biomed, I decided to visit the EWH website and complete an application for the guest instructor program, which brings experienced BMETs to Cambodia, Ghana, Honduras, or Rwanda to train biomedical engineering students to service and maintain medical equipment. I thought my experience training other BMETs, and working as a part-time adjunct professor of biomedical electronics at a technical college in South Carolina, might give me an edge.

I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Dec. 7. I was met at the airport and taken to the guest house. While the guest house was nothing fancy, it was comfortable and an easy walk to local markets and restaurants. A tuk-tuk driver was made available to take me where I needed to go. In case you have never seen a tuk-tuk, it is a small scooter with a trailer hitch bolted to the bike above the rear seat. A trailer that has been converted to carry passengers is attached.

I started Dec. 8 with 28 students. In those first few days, I was working through jet lag.

Lessons are presented in English via PowerPoint, handouts, and videos. The student handbook includes a translation of the material into Khmer. Additionally, a translator is present in the class during all courses to assist. The lesson starts with a short history of the technology, along with an explanation of the terms and definitions. The lesson progresses to cover more complicated training and more detailed information about the specific device, in this case, suction units. We then move on to working with actual devices: taking the suction units apart and learning how they operate, basic maintenance requirements, and troubleshooting. At the end of the lesson, students take a test.

EWH partnered with the University of Puthisastra in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to create the biomedical training program. The university is a private school and helps support the students from rural hospitals.

Upon completion of training, students can return to the healthcare facilities in their home province and maintain the equipment—reducing downtime and improving patient care.

In October 2014, the inauguration of Cambodia’s first National Center of Excellence (COE) for Biomedical Equipment Technology was launched. The COE, located at Calmette Hospital, the nation’s premier public hospital, was established in collaboration with the GE Foundation. The purpose of the COE is to train, mentor, and professionally develop and support technicians from around the country. The COE will give BMETs from national and provincial hospitals an opportunity to gain supervised, hands-on experience working with a large variety of medical equipment in a well-managed workshop. Students from the university shadow and train at the COE.

My adventure ended Dec. 26. My stay was very rewarding; the EWH team was supportive and went out of its way to help me. Students were eager to learn the material and apply what was taught. I learned a lot about Cambodia, the Khmer people, and some of the history of the area.

I am already planning for my next visit to support this great program. I hope that you will consider donating your time and experience to EWH or another great program—either somewhere as close as your local school, or as far away as a developing country.

For more information on these programs, visit www.ewh.org.