Jennifer DeFrancesco: Is HTM Becoming a Starter Career? How We Can Retain Talent

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:

  1. Better Job Opportunity/Higher Compensation (88%)
  2. Further Education (12%)

Women, reasons for loss:

  1. Better Job Opportunity/Higher Compensation (38%)
  2. Family/Significant Other Move (37%)
  3. 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.

3 thoughts on “Jennifer DeFrancesco: Is HTM Becoming a Starter Career? How We Can Retain Talent

  1. That is good information Jennifer.
    I’m going to off on a tangent that I have seen and experienced.

    To many people think that men are the thing fix it guy, and women are the fix them person. We all have the fix it/them gene, some are better at it than others even with training.
    People don’t get along and they don’t want to that reason mention for leaving. It denotes failure to play well with others on their part.
    Then there is the itch you just can’t scratch, “wanting something, someone or someplace different”. There is a time line on that too, 3 to 7 years.

    Then there is the fact that HTM pay does not meet the cost of the education needed to be in the HTM field without going on to become an engineer. And where there are areas that have HTM training these places are full of trained techs with no jobs. Facilities don’t want to pay to move a techs into the area or pay enough to entice them to come and work for them. If they have a CBET behind their name does not impress because they don’t recognize it, or the C-suite just thinks they are going to cost more.

    CF had it right. The C-Suite needs to look at the HTM as a positive supporting aspect of the facility rather than a drain on resources.
    I just got a new office. I was not asked how it should be set up. It has bad lighting for working on stuff, it has 5 tones of gray carpet, it’s too small for supplies with a work area. I am just going to have to make it work because, of the views of the C-suite it’s either that or leave.

  2. Ladies and Gentlemen,
    I am a biomedical tech / Imaging service person for the last dozen years coming from manufacturing, tooling and auto repair backgrounds. It is a flawed methodology to look at job retention in this industry as a sign of satisfaction, much of the reason persons stay at a position is the lack of ability to change to another company with relocating. This stifles the ability to move to another company when working conditions and pay are not competitive.

    Most of the persons who are competent to work with the technology currently coming into medical and imaging equipment have the skills to work in IT where a person can easily move to another position without relocating. There is also better pay and benefits associated with these positions.

    As you visit hospitals compare the work areas of IT departments and biomed shops:
    -The IT areas I have seen are generally not cramped and disorganized.
    -Many of the biomed shops are an afterthought by the hospital and are poorly organized.

    Until hospital management puts greater emphasis on providing a professional work environment with better long term job growth prospects the best and brightest will go where the grass is greener.

  3. I think Jennifer’s analysis is terrific and is highly focused on folks with engineering degrees. I posit that the same analysis on engineering technologists (those with bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology) would produce different results. When I survey my alumni, I find very, very few have left the profession. In fact, I hear strong job satisfaction and very high salaries. The VA requires that graduates of biomedical engineering programs be hired to fill clinical engineering roles. Perhaps this disconnect between education and employment is also associated with the departure from the profession. Barb Christe, IUPUI

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