A few years back, I performed a cohort analysis to study retention of entry-level biomedical engineers over a ten-year period. At first glance, this data appeared promising and aligns with many of the reasons why biomedical engineering, medical device repair, and healthcare technology management are some of the best and fastest growing careers out there.
The five-year retention rate for these individuals was about 86%. That’s pretty good by all objective standards. However, in a career field expected to grow by more than 50% in a decade, is 86% retention good enough? With the looming mass retirement of many seasoned HTM staff, many managers would argue that it isn’t. It’s hard enough to recruit or grow your own new talent to meet new demands, let alone while losing 14% of the people you need to desperately keep.
Digging further into that 14% loss: there was little difference in retention among men (86.67%) and women (85.96%). Again, at first glance there’s no real “aha” moment. To get a sense of why people left, I identified the individuals and coded them to see what took them out of their positions—and this is where the data begins to tell two different stories. While we retained men and women in HTM at nearly the same rates, the reason why they left their positions was staggeringly different.
Men, reasons for loss:
- Better Job Opportunity/Higher Compensation (88%)
- Further Education (12%)
Women, reasons for loss:
- Better Job Opportunity/Higher Compensation (38%)
- Family/Significant Other Move (37%)
- Further Education (25%)
We can’t necessarily take a one-size-fits-all approach when talking about retention. The above data suggests that we need to consider overarching trends as well as specifics to the individuals’ interests or needs, which may also include gender-specific considerations. So, what can HTM do to build capacity to retain these individuals in a field of growing need and demand?
Compensation/Growth. The top reason for loss of both men and women was higher compensation or a better job opportunity. To counter this, HTM will need to work to create career ladder positions that allow for consistent and metered growth. Additionally, organizations will have to compensate staff commensurate to their abilities and market standards. Alternatives could be providing compensation in various forms of retention incentives such as student loan repayment, flexible schedules, enhanced benefits, etc.
Continuing Education. In this study, pursuing higher education was a significant factor in losses for both men and women. While we may not be able to mitigate the complete loss of many people in this cohort, we can make continuing education a more feasible option while working in HTM. Options to consider include part-time positions, flexible schedules, and career ladder positions that offer options for career advancement with education.
Flexible Work. A major factor in the loss of women in this study was the relocation or job transfer of a significant other. In these cases, the organization was not able to adapt roles to retain the staff member. To increase retention, particularly for women, HTM will need to work to identify and address roles that can be flexible with work schedules, remote work, travel, etc. While this isn’t feasible for a wide range of HTM roles, there may be unexplored or innovative ways we could address this and retain quality staff.
Issues with recruiting and retaining qualified HTM staff will persist as the field booms, while at the same time many veterans in the field become retirement eligible. HTM will need to employ a wide range of strategies to ensure that it doesn’t become a starter career for many young, talented staff. Rather, HTM can be a career with lifelong learning and promotion potential. Striking the right balance between advancement pace and healthcare needs will be paramount to these endeavors.
Jennifer DeFrancesco is acting associate director for the Dayton VA Medical Center, a member of AAMI’s Technology Management Council, and the winner of AAMI’s 2016 Young Professional Award.