Donald Armstrong: What Makes a Great Biomed?

During a recent discussion with several respected biomed colleagues, the topic of certification came up. There was mix of certified and noncertified biomedical equipment technicians at the table, some with bachelor’s degrees and others with associate’s degrees. We considered a couple of questions:

  1. “Does being certified make you a better biomed?”
  2. Would you choose a CBET (with lesser skills) over a non-certified biomedical equipment technician (with great skills) to answer a tough or important call with lots riding on the person who answers the call?

That second question is tough, to say the least. My answer, by the way, is that I would send the biomed with the best ability to answer the call irrespective of certification or degrees.

But the discussion got me thinking about an even larger question: What makes up a great biomed?

Let me be upfront: I am an advocate for certification and sit on the ACI CBET Scheme Board. So please read my comments with that in mind.

Similar to getting a higher education degree, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree, taking and passing certification exams for a biomedical equipment technician (CBET),  laboratory equipment specialist (CLES), or radiology equipment specialist (CRES) shows a level of commitment and dedication. I know many noncertified biomeds who are completely dedicated to their jobs and profession. If those folks suddenly decided to take and pass a certification test, it would not automatically make them even better because they were already great.

The reverse is also true. If a struggling biomed were to take the CBET exam and pass, that fact alone does not automatically make him or her a better biomed, although I would hope that preparing for the exam would raise level of performance. Also, it’s important to note that becoming a CBET will result in a higher salary in most cases, and a certified technician may be considered first for a higher-level position, so there is value for a biomed to become certified.

Still, what makes a great biomed if certification and higher degrees in and of themselves are not the answers? There are several factors to consider:

  1. Engagement is key. Individuals who are apathetic about their jobs will never be stars. If a person cares about what he or she is doing, that person is far more apt to do a better job. Plus, always remember who we are doing are jobs for—the patients. A caring and engaged professional will be a better fit than someone who may be highly technical but does not seem to care.
  2. Communication skills are so important. My experience leads me to conclude that one “truth” about being a biomed is that our success depends to a large extent on relationships. We must work with each other, our clinical partners, such as nurses, and the C-suite—not to mention the patients and families. Communicating what we do, what is needed, and how we best contribute to patient care is vital. Communicating well under pressure is especially valuable because a person’s character comes to the surface under pressure.
  3. Flexibility is a very important factor because it’s not uncommon to be asked to do something that you have never done before. (As a manager, you may do the asking.) You will be asked to work long hours and weekends. Finding such flexibility in biomeds can difficult because we all have busy lives, but having that quality will make a biomed more valuable to his or her organization.
  4. Willingness to learn. No one come out of the womb a great biomed. One is taught this trade. Biomeds who can drop their egos long enough to learn will thrive, and colleagues and supervisors will want them on their teams.  The learning should never stop, even among those of us who have years of experience. There is much to learn from our younger colleagues, and I approach learning with a sense of gratitude. Try to learn something new every day.
  5. Technical ability is, of course, very important, but notice it was not first on my list. There are those out there with incredible technical skills, but they have trouble in engaging co-workers and colleagues in other departments. I think that being a great biomed involves a marriage between the hard technical skills and the softer people skills.
  6. A great team player is humble, hungry, and knows how to deal with people. Such folks are easy to spot. They help without being asked, they take on stretch roles, and perform their tasks with a great attitude. Humility is crucial as there are plenty of strong personalities in the biomed field, and a little modesty is greatly accepted.
  7. Solid Core Value. What does this mean? Start by considering that biomeds work on medical devices that may be needed by your family or friends. So, expecting this person to have the basic values or honesty and caring is a given. You want a person who shows up on time, performs quality work, and gets along with others. One way to determine this core value is to go to a dinner or lunch with people and see how they treat the staff. Are they kind or rude? True tells.
  8. Education. Our field is growing and getting more complex. Like it or note, having an associate’s degree or more is an attractive quality. Education is last on my list because it is not the most important quality for me, but it does matter to HR when looking for the next great biomed.

I have just scratched the surface, but if you can find most of these qualities in someone, then the odds are you have a pretty good biomed (certified or not, higher degree or not).  What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts as this topic has always generated great debates with my colleagues over the years.

Donald Armstrong, CBET, CHTM, works in the Clinical Technology and Biomedical Engineering Department at Stanford Health Care in California. He is a member of AAMI’s Technology Management Council.

12 thoughts on “Donald Armstrong: What Makes a Great Biomed?

  1. I love the debate here, and I am glad we started this conversation. The topic of certified vs non- certified is a long-argued point, along with the degreed viomed vs. non-degreed biomed question.

    As far as I know, there has not been any research on the effectiveness of CBETs vs. non-BETs in our field. I am aware that there are studies done on patient outcomes when the nursing staff is BSN vs. non-BSN, but those metrics seem easier to come up with (or it would seem).

    I would like to hear if you all think a study of that kind would be possible in the HTM profession.

    I’m not seeking to prove that one way is more effective, but it sure would be great to know.

    Don Armstrong, CBET, CHTM

    • Very good questions. To pick a matrix to me would seem difficult. We could pick between equipment down time, response time to issues, EST/ESI completion percentages, equipment service hours vs. PM hours, documentation completing, inventory work load per department per BMET or by surveying the rest of the facility staff and managers.
      But, do we truly want to open this barrel of monkeys?

  2. I wonder if any of your facilities hire nurses without a degree or credentials?
    This is what is wrong with your question and AAMI has not done their job in making the industry what it could be today.

    • AAMI stands for the Association for the Advancement for Medical Instrumentation. There are other guidelines and regulations to do with nursing and their accreditation: AAORN, TJC, federal mandates …

    • CBET certification means you passed a test and some level of skills. Just because you are CBET does not make you a great tech. Note, I have my CBET certification.

  3. I certainly agree with you, mainly that the degree and certification are not the most important factors that make a successful biomed. Here’s a personal experience that would elaborate on that point: My daughter is taking a pre-calc class in high school. She is an excellent and dedicated student. Like many in her class, she was not doing very well. I had to hire a private tutor, who was able to help her and drastically improve her grade to an A. The tutor is a junior college student. He has done a much better job that the teacher with a master’s degree. Yes she has the degree, but she lacks the skills to get the info across to the students.

  4. An excellent article that truly scratches the surface only. I am David McCanna, CBET, CCE Emeritus. My CBET is #003,and you will see I was active in the formation of the biomed society and wrote several articles of their newsletter as well. I also served on the Board of Examiners under Dr. Rawlings leadership.

    Is certification necessary to be a good tech? Of course not. Is a degree beyond your basic education to become a tech necessary? No. Does certification make you a better tech? No. But preparing and achieving each of those levels makes you a much more rounded person and therefore a bigger asset to your employer. I will argue that getting a degree within the discipline, such as an electrical engineer’s degree, will certainly help, and I will argue that preparing for the certification test will certainly broaden your horizons and will make you a more rounded technician.

    What makes a good technician, in my humble opinion, is attitude. If you have a positive attitude, you will be successful; of course, you need to learn what your abilities are and stay within them. Have an attitude that allows you to admit you don’t know something and learn it. Know when you are “out of your league” and tell the boss before you get someone hurt.

    I had signs up in my shops that read: “PERFORM EVERY REPAIR AND PM AS THOUGH YOUR MOTHER’S LIFE DEPENDED ON THAT MACHINE” as a subtle reminder.

    Certification does not make a better tech; it does, however, tell others that she or he had the attitude to learn the core material and take the test and pass.

  5. CBETMATT, good job! If your facility is accredited by The Joint Commission, your facility’s role in your education and competency are addressed in the HR standards. If you artfully present this rationale to your leadership and demonstrate you are keeping records to meet the standard. you may find it helpful. TJC has different standards for ASCs than hospitals. As a biomed, be aware of what TJC requires of you and your equipment management program. Make sure your polices reflect TJC standard and demonstrate that your practice and policy align. If you are a one-man show, reach out to your regional biomed society for guidance and mentoring. Build relationships carefully with your C-suite. If you are the only biomed in the company, you have to carefully wear a lot of hats. There are many regulatory compliance topics for equipment managers. As the biomed, you have to care for your caregivers needs. Both roles are important and the balance is difficult to find. Tread lightly around the admininstrator who sent you that note.
    Good Luck!

  6. Well put. I agree with that assessment. I see myself as a good BMET and by NO means a great one. I have too many faults.

    My biomedical career started in 1984. I had gotten my certification in 1995. As of 2002, I had to let it expire due to my ego combined with other circumstances. I have some college, a lot of OJT and a lot of self study. I took one of the week-long biomedical seminars took the CBET test and passed with a 76%. This did not get me a raise or recognition of from the administration. The administrator sent my a note on the same page I sent him of my new status writing: “Make sure you do your continuing education on your own time.” This left me very resentful. The medical staff were glad to see that I was willing to put myself out there and get certified even thought it was not required.

    I think continuing education is a good thing but, my facility does not do nephrology, so I don’t pursue that information line. My facility is an ASC with 10 beds and we are growing as legislation will let us. The plant OPS manager thinks I too much research; I feel I do less than what I feel is needed.

    I’m fair at transition of information.

    Being limited to 40 hours a week, I do some creative work when it comes to scheduling PMs and servicing of equipment that are always in use.

    I jump in on projects with both feet.

    It is not required for me to be certified here but, I feel it would be a good thing to get re-certified. It would validate my employer’s choice to higher me on as the only BMET in this corporation.

    There are some great CBETs out there, and there are others who need to find another profession. I found that most of the good or great BMETs who can do the work, teach, and those who can’t do the work, do paperwork and become mangers. Their social skills, when it comes working with the great BMETs, is poor.

    • Thanks for the positive note. I’ve been working on our new CMMs program for a year now. Some of those hats are kept clean and pressed; the others have been thrown down on the floor, stomped on, and then picked up put back on my pointed head as I stomped off grumbling. We are coming up for TJC this coming April or May.

    • cbetMatt: Until you sit on the other side of the desk, you have no room to judge.

      There are some great CBETs out there, and there are others who need to find another profession. I found that most of the good or great BMETs who can do the work, teach, and those who can’t do the work, do paperwork and become mangers. Their social skills, when it comes working with the great BMETs, are poor.

      • Since 1984 I have set on both sides of the desk and worked alongside of other techs; the adage of doing and teaching didn’t apply to several from both sides of the desk. I think I may have an idea. This basis comes from the constant contact I have with 6 or 7 biomedical techs I have mentored. I also know enough to know that I am not a big chair person.

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