A creative solution for the biomed shortage problem

March 02, 2021
by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter
Some hospitals have come up with creative solutions to tackle the shortage of biomedical equipment technicians and clinical engineers. Jeff Hooper, director of biomedical engineering at Children’s National Medical Center, decided a few years ago that an internship program was going to be his solution, and it has proven to be a successful one.

“The students were very willing because the quid pro quo they got out of the program for doing PMs all day was that they got to be in a hospital, wear a badge and be a part of the biomedical engineering department,” he remarked at a session titled, Training Biomedical Engineering Students to Help Alleviate the Staffing Shortage, at the AAMI Summer Learning Series.

Jeff Hooper
This started when he noticed an untapped market among the 150-plus undergraduate biomedical engineering-accredited universities. These students were searching for hands-on experience with medical devices and healthcare technology.

Children’s National has about 3,000 infusion devices and all of them require preventive maintenance. Hooper had his biomedical supervisor train the interns on how to perform PMs and after two to three years, the hospital had a very successful PM program for its infusion devices.

“It was the best one I had in my career because we had driven students who were doing two or three PMs at a time and staggering them,” said Hooper. “That was evidence that these students were willing to look at different ways to get things done.”

To take things to the next level, Hooper developed a graduate-level class over the last two years. This class walks the students through the different areas of the hospital including the general care areas, emergency room, intensive care and operating room, and educates them on the equipment that is used in each setting.

The class also delves into what healthcare technology management is, different regulations that guide the management of medical equipment, the tools available to manage this medical equipment and the roles of different members of the biomedical engineering team.

Later on in the course, the students are given the opportunity to do hands-on work with the equipment and watch demos of infusion pumps, vital signs monitors, defibrillators, CR monitors and ventilators. They learn how to change a power cord and plug, solder and make various video cables and install and troubleshoot a power supply.

“Some of these students are really intelligent, and once they get it, they’re so proud,” said Hooper.

In the hospital, the students learn how a medical equipment repair department operates on a daily basis as well as how to document work orders and inventory, communicate effectively with customers, check in and set up equipment, use test equipment and tools, and respond to safety events and document follow-up for hazards, recalls and incidents. They also get the opportunity to shadow senior technicians and engineers on complicated service calls.

One of the major issues Hooper ran into was figuring out how to get his leadership to agree to pay for these two extra positions. Those positions were for a PRN clinical engineer and a PRN biomedical equipment technician.

He developed a relationship with a third-party temp agency that his organization used for IT temp services. He pointed a few qualified people in the direction of the temp agency’s local manager and asked that they be hired as temp workers for his hospital.

The hospital paid the temp agency for their services and the agency paid the employees a decent fraction of that amount, explained Hooper. He used that strategy for three to four years.

To date, almost 30 students have already been through the internship at Children’s National and a few have gone on to work for GE Healthcare, Philips Healthcare and the FDA. Eight former students currently work at the hospital as biomedical equipment technicians or clinical engineers.

In Hooper’s 15 years at the hospital, the department has evolved from a five-person team to a 25-person team. The department has also grown to manage new areas, including device integration and medical device cybersecurity.

The next step is to develop relationships with neighboring facilities. In Washington, D.C., there are about 25 hospital that could benefit from this internship approach and Hooper is working with peers at MedStar Health facilities and the VA in trying to get these students placed.

“I’m happy that I had the opportunity to create a course and internship,” he concluded. “It’s really been a double-edged win-win for both the students and us.”