As the COVID-19 vaccine gains wider distribution, it brings the promise of decreased deaths worldwide, a healthier global economy, and the opportunity to return to a more “normal” life. What’s not to like, right? Ironically, reducing the severity of the pandemic does create a unique set of challenges for the medical imaging industry; challenges that could have alarming consequences.
The Vaccine’s Impact on the Medical Imaging Workforce
With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, many hospitals and clinics anticipate a surge in demand for medical imaging procedures, but a shortage of engineers to maintain the equipment could cause delays in vital care. Due to the very nature of mechanical, electronic, and computer equipment, this increased activity will lead to additional wear and tear on equipment, which, in turn, will lead to more frequent service and repair. Managing maintenance issues is part of the equation for healthcare administrators, so the problem isn’t truly evident until the growing shortage of qualified imaging engineers is also factored in. These individuals are a critical component to keeping imaging equipment up and running, so their scarcity could have a major impact on the availability of patient care. Despite a record number of patients, scanners may remain dormant without the skilled individuals needed to maintain them.
Over the last few years, imaging directors and managers have become increasingly aware of the rapidly growing shortage of qualified imaging engineers. This has already created two distinct challenges for those hoping to hire additional engineers. On one hand, because of the high demand, most candidates are already employed. That can make it prohibitively expensive to entice them to leave their current position. Plus, it can be difficult to retain existing staff because competing companies are working diligently to recruit them as well.
On the other hand, biomedical professionals who want to pursue imaging engineering to advance their careers quickly discover there’s very little opportunity for training. Colleges don’t offer degree programs for imaging engineering, so when these individuals were students, counselors weren’t advising them to pursue this particular career path. It just doesn’t exist in the academic world. Qualified imaging engineers were likely trained in the military or previously worked for an OEM. The result is that many biomedical professionals are now stuck in their role.
Under ordinary circumstances, this situation would be addressed over time and the industry would evolve to prevent a mere staffing challenge from becoming a healthcare crisis. However, the pandemic created a drastic drop in imaging procedures, so many who lacked the foresight to predict the inevitable post-COVID-19 resurgence were lulled into complacency. The result? Possible delays in potentially life-saving procedures for patients and millions, if not billions, of dollars in lost revenue for hospitals and imaging facilities.
An Unorthodox, Yet Cost-Effective and Timely, Solution
There is a rapidly developing solution for preventing this crisis: Identify and develop existing team members, particularly biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs), who have a desire to advance their career. Healthcare managers can facilitate the training necessary for those individuals to move into the engineer role. With the lack of degree programs as a major factor contributing to the talent shortage, one could assume that a plethora of other training opportunities are readily available for those wishing to become imaging engineers. Surprisingly, that’s not the case. Professional imaging engineer certification training is almost unheard of, but the reason doesn’t lie in a lack of facilities capable of providing it.
The lack of opportunities has instead been created by an unwillingness of hospitals and other facilities to break the status quo. Whether due to liability concerns or simply tradition, an unfortunate prejudice against promoting BMETs often exists within healthcare organizations. Developing in-house talent could provide answers to many of the challenges faced by directors today were it not for this internal bias. BMETs are a viable talent pool from which to draw fresh imaging engineer candidates, so directors need to consider how they can grow BMETs beyond their pre-defined role. By encouraging BMETs to advance their skills, directors can set them on a career path that was previously considered unavailable. By providing information on the key differences between a BMET and an engineer, aspiring candidates will quickly recognize the potential for the increased relevancy of the position, the opportunity for continuous improvement, and, of course, an increase in salary.
In addition to addressing the talent shortage, a strategy of promoting from within can create substantial ancillary benefits for both the director and the healthcare organization. These go far beyond the mere cost savings associated with staffing versus outsourcing. By showing interest in staff development, leadership can expect increased staff loyalty and significantly lower employee turnover. According to the Work Institute’s 2020 Retention Report, 20% of employees who leave their job do so because of a lack of career development opportunities. Considering the average exit expense is 30% of annual salary, retention can lead to substantial cost savings.
Being a BMET does not automatically qualify an individual as a potential imaging engineer, however. Directors need to be on the lookout for additional attributes that can help identify them as suitable candidates. Staff members who show ambition, go beyond expectations, and show an interest in furthering their education will quickly stand out from the rest. Those who have researched the tools and best practices of their trade, or have pursued relevant training on their own, are typically ideal for advancement into an engineering career.
Developing BMETs into Imaging Engineers
Once leadership embraces this paradigm shift and recognizes potential candidates, the next steps in turning BMETs into imaging engineers are comparable to traditional employee development. Mentorship, in-house workshops, and enrollment in AAMI-certified courses, like those offered by DirectMed Imaging, will go a long way towards encouraging them to climb the organizational ladder. Simple things, like assisting with scheduling and clarifying the investment—both in time and money—can make the difference between a stagnated technician and a highly sought-after and valuable imaging engineer, potentially even a senior engineer. Helping staff members move forward on their career journey is a simple (yet vital) step in securing an ongoing source of high-quality imaging talent.
Moving Forward with the New Paradigm
As the demand for medical imaging procedures rapidly increases, directors will need qualified engineers in place so critical patient care can continue without equipment downtime or undo stress on existing imaging staff. While unintentional biases and academic short-sightedness have made it difficult to secure qualified individuals, the good news is that a more substantial source of potential candidates already exists within the industry – BMETs looking to advance their careers. A simple paradigm shift is all that’s needed to tap into this wellspring of talent.
DirectMed Imaging is Here to Help
As an AAMI-certified Siemens training center, DirectMed Imaging is at the forefront of this fundamental change. Premium courses offering 8 continuing education credits (CEUs) per day of training from the AAMI Credential Institute (ACI) are considered the gold standard. Our students earn 45 ACI CEU credits per CT course, with each course consisting of 85% hands-on training on more Siemens equipment than any non-OEM provider. Our lab-based courses are taught at our world-class training center in Appleton, Wisconsin. The facility includes 17 clinical environment training and QA bays with 27 fully operational Siemens systems, two modern classrooms, and a cafeteria/kitchen area. During our courses, students engage in discussions, lectures, and labs centered on the core principles of equipment operation, configuration, troubleshooting, and repair of all primary system components. In response to the growing need for imaging engineer training and the increased acceptance of online coursework, we’re also developing more virtual training opportunities to add to our current offerings. Email us to learn more or enroll in upcoming training sessions.