Tips for recruiting and retaining HTM staff

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | June 04, 2021
From the June 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Amid a national biomedical engineer shortage, it’s more important than ever to understand how to recruit and retain these valuable employees. Veterans Affairs (VA) developed a group dedicated to this eight years ago and it has proved to be very successful.

Jay Patterson, chief of HTM at Orlando VA Healthcare System, and Elena Buckley, chief of clinical engineering at VA Boston Healthcare System, spoke at an AAMI Summer Learning Series webinar in 2020 about the health system’s VA Biomedical Engineering Recruitment and Retention (BERR) group.

This group is composed of three subgroups — the biomedical engineer (BME) group, biomedical equipment support specialist (BESS) group and the technical career field (TCF) group. The 172 VA Medical Centers nationwide employ roughly 360 BMEs and over 1,200 BESSs.

The health system conducts a survey every few years to get input from the HTM community about what drives recruitment. The 2019 survey included 334 responses from BESS, BME, supervisors and the Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) staff.

When asked how satisfied the participants are with their current position, 65% responded “very satisfied/satisfied,” which was up from 63% in 2017. Furthermore, it was discovered that salary and promotional opportunities were a big driver of satisfaction in the VA.

“So we knew that our recruitment and retention strategies had to be focused on these two areas because, obviously, this is a priority in our field,” said Buckley.

The survey also found that the top motivation for leaving the VA in 2019 was salary dissatisfaction, followed by lack of promotion opportunity and poor service line leadership. In response to this, the VA included retention strategies in each of their work groups to address those concerns.

The BME subgroup deployed a 10-question exit interview for their service line across the U.S. to pinpoint why people are leaving and to prevent that from happening. They also rolled out a Stay VA interview process for staff members currently employed to find out what drives them to stay.

According to Buckley, once you know what they like about the job, you can develop strategies to enhance those aspects. For instance, if they really like imaging then you can focus their preventative maintenance or everyday tasks on that department.

“Salary is a big driver of keeping people in the VA system but unfortunately because of the government pay scales, we are a little bit limited in what we can do for salary,” explained Buckley.

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