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August 8, 2006 > Spotlight on Health Care Careers

Spotlight on Health Care Careers

Taking a Closer Look at Biomedical Engineering, Respiratory Care

by Washington Hospital

When you think of careers in the health care field, what are some that come to mind? Doctors and nurses maybe? While these professionals make up a prominent segment of the medical profession, there are countless other professionals who make up a valuable piece of the health care team.

Two important subsets of the health care field that play significant roles at Washington Hospital are biomedical engineering and respiratory care professionals.

Technology that makes the hospital go ‘round

Biomedical Equipment Technicians or BMETs, spend most of their time working behind the scenes in the hospital. While patients may not even know they are there, these professionals help keep the hospital functioning like a well-oiled machine.

Think about all of the different technological equipment you see on popular medical TV shows, such as Scrubs or Grey’s Anatomy. From ultrasound machines to cardiac monitors, there is an increasing number of technological tools that aid medical professionals in their jobs.

Technology plus health care expertise

BMETs are the ones responsible for servicing and maintaining the medical equipment and technology for hospitals and other health care facilities, as well as manufacturers, and third-party service organizations, making sure that the equipment is functioning properly, according to Washington Hospital’s Biomedical Engineering Manager Paul Kelley.

Like IT professionals, BMETs are experts in technological devices, but each profession has a different area of focus. Much of the technology that BMETs deal with is directly related to patient care.

“We evaluate the equipment before it’s even purchased, test it before it’s used and routinely thereafter, we fix it if it fails and replace it if necessary,” Kelley says. “If everything works perfectly, the patient may never see us.”

These skilled professionals are responsible for helping acquire, install, use, maintain, and train health care personnel to use cutting-edge medical equipment. BMETs also coordinate contracts and play a key role in investigating device-related problems. Common duties for these professionals include maintenance (returning equipment to operational status) and preventative maintenance (periodically insuring each of the hospital’s thousands of devices is safe and functioning properly), according to Kelley.

What you need to know

To be successful in the field, biomedical professionals must have strong math and science skills, especially the health sciences, be good with their hands and they must work well in a variety of high pressure situations, Kelley says.

“Besides knowing the basics of electronics and computers, knowledge of medical terminology, anatomy, as well as being fairly quick with decision-making and being good with customer service are vital,” he says. “Knowing that priorities can change at a moment’s notice in a hospital is also important.”

Kelley, who had always had an interest in the medical profession, said it was almost by accident that he found what was going to be a very rewarding future career.
“Ever since I was a toddler, I wanted to be a doctor,” Kelley explains. “I was studying to go to med school, and one day I decided I didn’t want to be a doctor so I took a career planning class, and the career planner pointed me towards this field. When I found this field, I got into it and never regretted it once. Every day is different. We get requests all the time that are unique, and things change constantly as technology advances.”

An essential – if behind the scenes – part of the health care team, BMETs are part of a growing trend in the health care field due to a tremendous growth of technology in biology and medicine over the past four decades. Biomedical engineering professionals help bridge the gap between technology and health care.
To learn more about the biomedical profession, visit the California Medical Instrumentation Association’s Web site at www.cmia.org and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s Web site at www.aami.org.

Helping patients breathe better

The most important, and sometimes the least thought of, action we take each moment of every day is breathing. It’s easy, it’s automatic – but not for everyone. For sufferers of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), each breath can be a struggle. And for those brought into the hospital under life-threatening conditions, making sure they can breathe properly is a top priority.

Respiratory therapists (RTs) at Washington Hospital are medical professionals who help with the diagnosis and treatment of patients, from newborns to adults, suffering from cardiopulmonary problems. They are also specialists in airway management; mechanical ventilation; acid/base balance (which must be precisely controlled, because even a minor deviation from the body’s normal range can severely affect many organs); and critical care medicine, all of which bring these professionals to different areas of the hospital.

Looking for the next generation

There is currently a shortage of qualified respiratory care professionals, according to Washington Hospital’s Director of Respiratory Care Kent Joraanstad.

“The average age of a respiratory care practitioner is about 47,” Joraanstad says. “And we’re not as well-known amongst the Allied Health professions. The current respiratory care professionals, we’re graying, and we’re not all going to be here forever.”

As with most health care professions, those who excel are generally strong in math and science, according to Joraanstad. RTs must finish an associate’s degree program and pass a licensing exam before they begin practicing.

If you choose to advance your education, there are baccalaureate programs available in different parts of the country that will allow you to advance into supervision/management, education or research. There are also specialty exams for those who would like to work in perinatal/pediatrics and pulmonary function technology.

A career of reward and opportunity

The job is challenging, but also very rewarding, Joraanstad says. RTs are on their feet most of the time, ready to treat the next patient, and many times they deal with critically ill patients. But RTs are a valued part of the health care team, and the compensation is competitive.

“We’re always dealing with people, and anytime you’re dealing with people it’s rewarding,” Joraanstad adds.

The profession exists primarily in the Unites States and Canada, and the opportunities are almost endless, according to Joraanstad. RTs work in home health care, education, management and children’s care, in addition to many other areas and institutions.

Joraanstad, who earned his master’s degree public health administration, has taught and managed other respiratory care professionals, and for a number of years worked with heart and lung transplant patients, which is another avenue for new practitioners. Respiratory therapists are also used in air ambulance flight programs, which provide advanced medical care and rapid air transport of critically injured and ill patients in life-threatening situations.

To learn more about the field or find out about educational opportunities, visit the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) Web site at www.aarc.org.
To learn more about careers at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com and click on “Careers.”  Washington Hospital has several ways to learn about the programs and professionals that make up your community hospital. InHealth, A Washington Hospital Channel is currently airing “Voices InHealth: Careers in Health Care” on Comcast Channel 78. In this program, Washington Hospital staff members discuss current careers opportunities in the health care profession. InHealth Channel 78 is available to Comcast subscribers in Newark, Union City and Fremont.

To see current job openings at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com and click on “Careers.”

 
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