Paul Kelley: Are You Still Relevant?

My son and I had a discussion recently that helped to crystallize several thoughts for me. The discussion was about how a lot of people who lost their jobs during the downturn had believed that they would have those jobs for life. Some had worked in factories; they had learned one skill and used it on their jobs every day. When the layoffs hit and the job environment changed, these people had skills that were no longer relevant. They had to invest in training to learn newer, more marketable skills.

Healthcare technology management (HTM) professionals can fall into this same trap once they start their jobs. In too many cases, employees think that the employer owes it to them to keep their skills current. While most employers want their employees to stay current with technology, there is only so much that they can provide.

In general, I see two kinds of people in the field. To the first kind, work is just a job. These employees punch in in the morning, do what is assigned, and punch out at the end of the day—forgetting about work until the next work day. The second type sees work as a career. Such professionals are always trying to learn and improve. They read journals and articles to see how to better themselves and their work environment, as well as to understand the ever-changing world of healthcare technology and regulations. This type of person does not believe in continuing education, but continuous education.

At my first job, we had a department of 12 people. One of them, an older tech, did nothing but take care of the infusion pumps. That is all he knew, and all he wanted to know. He was very good at what he did, but it was a good thing he retired before the institution changed pumps. In many ways, he had become irrelevant and expendable.

When I started in the field, I learned about vacuum tubes and transistors. I kept learning about electronic devices as they became integrated, and boards became multilayered. I had to learn about computers and networking. Did my employer teach me these things? For the most part, no. It was not my employer’s responsibility. I attended as many local society meetings as possible, read a lot of articles, and picked as many brains as I could. In doing so, I think I have maintained my relevance in the field—even being declared as an honorary member of our Information Services team. I understand the basics of many of the technologies that affect us directly or indirectly, including HL7, without having gone through formal training. I just need enough to understand what is happening, to see how it relates to the issues at hand, and to “connect the dots.”

The choice is yours: Take the initiative, and stay relevant in your career—or just do a good job and hope to be useful in the future. As some have said, “I create what happens to me.”

Paul Kelley, CBET, is director of Biomedical Engineering, the Green Initiative, and Asset Redeployment at Washington Hospital in Fremont, CA. He is a member of the AAMI Board of Directors.

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