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Picture this: A patient begins to “code.” The first doctor to respond gets the paddles ready, places them on the patient’s body, yells “Clear!” and…nothing. The defibrillator doesn’t work—and in the time it takes for a second machine to be brought in, the patient dies. Not the typical scene you see on your favorite hospital drama, but without the important work of biomedical equipment technicians, this scenario would more often be the case.
Medical devices like the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) used in running a code blue need regular maintenance in order to work properly when needed. Biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs or biomeds) form part of the healthcare technology management team in a medical facility. These vital front line workers repair and perform routine maintenance on the machines used in patient care. The number of positions in this field is increasing, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the BLS predicts that there will be 5 percent growth nationally in jobs for BMETs between 2019 and 2029, faster than the 4 percent average growth expected among all occupations in the same period.
Though the BMET profession has traditionally comprised a predominantly male workforce, an increasing number of women are entering the field. In 2016, 52 percent of BMET certificates were awarded to women, a 13 percent increase from 2010. On his website devoted to medical device education, careers, and product development, Joaquin Mayoral, PhD, stated that “Women continue to be attracted to this degree in unusually high percentages.”
To enter the field, an associate’s degree is typically required; however, there are opportunities for on-the-job training for applicants with relevant experience. With a median salary close to $50,000 reported in 2019, the BMET profession could be a solid option for mechanically-inclined individuals who enjoy working with their hands, have an aptitude for technology, and desire to support patient outcomes behind-the-scenes.
Discover what to expect from this growing field from an expert who graciously answered our questions.
Meet the Mentor: Leticia Reynolds, President of the Colorado Association of Biomedical Equipment Technicians (CABMET)
Leticia Reynolds, CHTM, CBET, is the president of the Colorado Association of Biomedical Equipment Technicians (CABMET). She is currently a clinical engineering specialist at Memorial Hospital, part of the University of Colorado Health system in Colorado Springs.
Ms. Reynolds received her training as a military reservist and served as a biomedical equipment technician on deployments in Qatar and Afghanistan. She currently specializes in respiratory equipment repair and is the platoon sergeant for the 143rd Medical Company. She holds degrees in biomedical engineering (AAS), biomedical electronics (BSAT), and management (MS).
What Biomedical Equipment Technicians Do?
BMET or biomed professionals are responsible for maintaining the medical equipment used to treat patients. This can include anything from pumps to patient monitors to defibrillators, to x-ray devices.
Ms. Reynolds explained, “A lot of what you do is going to be general biomed. You’re going to take care of many different types of equipment in a department. Usually, the longer you’re in [the field], you get specialized in certain types of equipment.”
At Memorial Hospital, Ms. Reynold continued, BMET teams or individual biomeds might work on solely one kind of equipment. For example, those focused on imaging repair CT machines and MRIs. Another biomed works in the OR specializing in anesthesia. And Ms. Reynolds works on respiratory equipment. She explained that BMETs who work for manufacturers may also specialize by type (e.g., lab equipment, analyzers) or specialize by company product. She explained, “If you’re with GE, you might specialize in a GE-type CT machine.”
A Day in the Life of a Biomed Professional: Be Prepared for The Unexpected
A typical day varies greatly depending upon the setting in which a BMET is working. In general, however, Ms. Reyonold shared that in a hospital setting, the work entails primarily maintenance and repair:
A big part of what we do is preventive maintenance. Finding equipment that needs routine maintenance to make sure that it’s gonna work well for patients. And during the day, you’re gonna get those calls, “Oh no. It broke! Can you come look at it?”
And depending on the day, work may be needed urgently and occur in the middle of medical procedures happening in treatment rooms:
Sometimes it’s devices that you can pull into the shop [and] take your time, and sometimes, depending on the areas that you support, you may have a patient on the table in the OR, and the table doesn’t work. And so it’s going in there and trying to fix it while the patient is there.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the work, Ms. Reynold pointed out that depending on the particular day and equipment maintenance and repair needs, the stress quotient for a BMET can vary considerably from one day to the next.
How to Become a Biomed: The Educational Pathway
As a military biomed, Ms. Reynolds earned her degree in the service. She completed her training in 2003 and has been working as a biomed professional and military reservist ever since, mostly in hospital settings. She shared:
I came to the civilian role in the hospital. In the military, the biomed school is a lot of hands-on … We have other technicians that went to civilian school. It’s usually a two- to three-year program. It’s an associate’s degree. Some schools require an internship before you graduate; some do not. It just depends on your program.
Ms. Reynolds explained that in order to get promoted in her current employment, she needed a two-year degree in either biomedical equipment tech or electronics. To get your foot in the door, however, one’s experience is the most important consideration:
When we hire people for the entry-level role, we’re looking for people with electrical experience, electronics, or mechanical experience because that’s the stuff you’re working on.
Once you get in the door, however, if you don’t have the degree, there’s an expectation that it will come. If you want to become a senior biomed, for example, a degree and certification are required:
It can be really easy when you’re first out of school to get a job with a manufacturer because they’re gonna say, ‘You’re gonna be our tech on this,’ and they’re gonna send you to every school you need for that. And you’ll have that background.
So a combination of experience and education can get you into a position, but formal training will be required at some point. In some areas, there’s less training than there used to be. Ms. Reynolds elaborated,
There used to be two different schools in Colorado Springs, and neither one of them exist [now]. So in the state of Colorado, there is no actual biomed training program. Our entry-level positions only require relative experience. It doesn’t even require that biomed degree, but there are some locations where that’s all they want: that electrical degree or that biomed degree.
Getting Professional Biomed Experience
Since experience is the gateway to positions in BMET, job seekers should take stock of their skills and see how they might be able to gain experience on the job. Ms. Reynolds avises:
Your best bet would be to find a position that is potentially like a depot-type repair, where you’re not in the hospital … You’re working in a warehouse where people send the equipment to. You’ll get that direct, hands-on experience.
However, even some hospital-based BMET positions will train employees with the requisite skills and experience. At Memorial Hospital, Ms. Reyonolds explained that not all of the biomeds come with a lot of actual biomed experience, but they are trained on all the devices they are expected to maintain in a sign-off program upon hiring:
We teach them the equipment, and there is some self-study that has to come along with that because you can’t teach everything about everything in the field. But in our program, we have very detailed training. We’re going to teach you A through Z. After that, it’s about shadowing the other technicians that have been there longer and learning the equipment as you go. You’re not responsible for it—you’re just working with the technicians who are.
In-House vs. Third-Party BMET Positions
As a biomed located in a hospital setting, Ms. Reynolds works a Monday through Friday schedule and is on call from time to time. She enthusiastically shared how well this schedule works for her. She likes being in the hospital, the regular hours, and going home every night. She likes that she’s not on the road. Though she travels between the facilities in the area at times, she’s not away for periods of time covering an entire region, as is the case of some BMET positions:
If you work for a vendor or third party, you’re considered a field service engineer. You don’t always have that home-base that you go back to. So you’re gonna be traveling between facilities. With third parties, you may be [assigned] a certain area. But, manufacturing field service engineers usually have a territory. It could be one state or it could be a couple of states depending on how much equipment of that type they have in those areas. And so you’re gonna have a lot more travel. I’ve looked at field service in the past, and it was up to 40 percent travel. You don’t work set hours. You’re basing your workload on when you have maintenance due or when you get those calls. You could have 2:00 am calls when you have to go in and fix something.
So travel, territory, and hours can all vary significantly based on the setting you’re working in as well as the kind of equipment you work on as a biomedical equipment technician.
The Risks of Biomedical Equipment Repair
Obviously, working on electrical equipment, there’s always the potential of injury. Ms. Reynolds said that it doesn’t happen very often, but there is the risk, especially if you’re working with imaging devices: “In that case, you’re working on very high-powered, high-voltage systems, so the potential for injury comes with the territory.”
There is also the factor of sanitation. Ms. Reynolds explained, “If you don’t really clean the equipment when you get it, there’s always the chance you may get a nasty bug.”
However, there are certain precautions BMETs are trained to take when they start working on a piece of equipment, such as wearing gloves and making sure the equipment is thoroughly wiped down before performing any maintenance or repair work.
Ms. Reynolds elaborated that in the times of coronavirus, the biomed team takes the same precautions as other frontline healthcare workers. So in addition to wearing masks everywhere in the hospital now, she shared that, “You have to treat every piece of equipment like it came out of a COVID room because we don’t always know that.”
The Future of the BMET Field
When asked what qualities are important to have for work in this field, Ms. Reynolds was quick to answer:
I think being flexible to change because you never know what your day is going to be like. Also, being willing to learn because our field is so IT-related.
Ms. Reynolds was equally decisive in her response to the question of what’s on the horizon for biomed professionals in the years to come. IT is the clear future of this field. She elaborated,
We have a gentleman that’s been in the field 30-plus years. The stuff that he did was a lot of stand-alone equipment—it didn’t integrate anywhere. Now, so much is integrated and it’s having to know that and accept that. Our organization, the biomeds, we fall under IT. So, we are a direct IT department and that’s everywhere. That’s what we’re going to. You have to work with those teams and build those relationships because things are networked.
Ms. Reynolds passionately responded when asked what advice she has for those interested in becoming biomedical equipment technicians. She shared,
Go to school. Get your education. It’s a career that will always be there because there’s always going to be equipment in the hospital—and it will always need to be maintained by somebody. We do career fairs at my hospital and there are rarely people that consider some of the support services.
Overall, Leticia Reynolds feels that she landed in the right career. She explained that her choice to become a biomedical equipment technician was carefully considered and allowed her to enter healthcare—a rewarding field—without needing to treat patients directly:
It’s a great job if you want to be part of patient care without having to be on the front line with patients. My mom was a nurse, so I knew I wanted something in healthcare. But, I don’t think I, personally, would have liked being a nurse. I like being able to help patients without dealing with them on a day-to-day basis. I’d much rather be in the background!
Cevia Yellin is a freelance writer based in Eugene, Oregon. She studied English and French literature as an undergraduate. After serving two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer, she earned her master of arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cevia’s travels and experiences working with students of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds have contributed to her interest in the forces that shape identity. She grew up on the edge of Philadelphia, where her mom still lives in her childhood home.