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February 20, 2008 > Where Health Care and Technology Meet

Where Health Care and Technology Meet

Biomedical Engineering Professionals Ensure the Safety of Medical Equipment

Does being part of a team that ensures high-tech medical equipment works right sound exciting to you? Are you mechanically inclined and have a knack for medical terminology? For students looking for the right career path or those looking to make a change, the field of biomedical engineering could be the right one.
Paul Kelley, manager of Washington Hospital's Biomedical Engineering Department, entered the profession almost 30 years ago and says he has never looked back. After deciding that he didn't want to devote so much time to medical school, but also wanting more freedom after graduation, he began searching for other alternatives.
During a career planning class, he received high scores in both medical and mechanical aptitude. Convinced he had found the field that was right for him, he transferred schools and began to complete coursework to become a biomedical engineering technician (BMET).
"I transferred and have never been sorry," he says of the switch.
In fact, Kelley has enjoyed his work so much that he has become a champion for his profession, spending countless hours - writing articles and working with hospital staff - to promote his department's efforts. He is also an active member of biomedical engineering professional organizations dedicated to the promotion, education and information exchange of the state's clinical biomedical engineering community.
Today, he manages the a team that assists other departments with the selection of medical equipment purchases and works to keep any and all medical equipment functional and safe.
By performing routine testing and calibration of equipment, as well as completion of work orders, Kelley and his department help reduce the possibility of injuries and rescheduling of patient procedures.
"We are responsible for all patient care equipment, which includes diagnostic, treatment and therapeutic equipment," Kelley explains. "Some examples are bedside physiological monitors, defibrillators, anesthesia machines, X-ray devices, and laboratory equipment. Here at Washington we do not directly service everything ourselves, but we oversee the outside vendors when we do not."
The Biomedical Engineering staff members are also a resource for caregivers seeking answers about equipment. Additionally, they serve on numerous hospital committees where they share their expertise on equipment safety.
Kelley says what he likes best about the field and his job at the hospital is that each day is different, which ensures he never gets bored.
To be a good fit for the job, Kelley says candidates should possess a range of skills and interests. One of the most important is the ability to communicate well.
"I think BMETs have to be good mechanically, good at troubleshooting, and meticulous at documenting," he says. "BMETs also have to be very good at customer relations skills and communication. We often receive the frustrations from the caregivers when they encounter problems with equipment. We need to understand that this is not aimed at us personally and be able to diffuse the issue without giving the impression that we don't care. The caregivers just want the equipment to work," so that they can better treat the patients in their care.
Some general coursework and knowledge required for the biomedical engineering profession includes electronics, computers and networking, anatomy and physiology, physics and medical equipment.
"When we are trying to solve a problem we need to understand what the equipment does, how it does it and why," he says. "When the caregiver is trying to explain a problem we need to be able to speak their language."
As far as educational background goes, there are a variety of paths to take. Most BMETs have an associate degree, while some have a bachelor's, according to Kelley. The associate degree tends to be more targeted for the people who want to be hands on, "turning a wrench," he points out, while the bachelor's degree is geared more towards those interested in progressing into management. He says another avenue is the military, which offers a combined training program for BMETs that Kelley says is excellent.
According to statistics cited by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), demand for qualified health care professionals will remain high due to the rapidly expanding elderly population and other key factors. As medical equipment becomes increasingly complicated, the need for highly trained technicians will be a necessity for hospitals and healthcare facilities in all parts of the world, the organization says.
"The job outlook for the profession is very good," Kelley agrees. "It is a hard field to get into, but I think there will be a lot of people retiring in the near future and that will create a lot of openings. People tend to not move out of the field that often, and so openings are not that frequent currently. People enjoy the field once they get into it."
Washington Hospital's department employs four BMETs, one lead BMET, a manager and an executive assistant. Kelley says the department has also been researching the possibility of organizing internships with local schools.
To learn more about the biomedical engineering field, visit the California Medical Instrumentation Association's (CMIA) Web site at www.cmia.org or the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation's (AAMI) Web site at www.aami.org.
To see a list of open positions at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com and click on "Careers."

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