From influencer to decision maker: HTM’s role in contract negotiation

TRIMEDX Senior Site Manager Calvin McDowall at Valley Health System (Winchester, Virginia) was recently featured in the January 2024 TechNation Magazine cover story that highlighted individuals in the HTM industry who have grown in their roles and provide insight when decisions are being made at their respective health systems. The full article, as it appeared on Jan. 1, 2024, is below.

A career is like a snowball, rolling uphill instead of downhill, gathering more knowledge and experience as it gains momentum. A person’s credibility, respect and authority also increase as they learn more relevant information through on-the-job experience, challenging situations and formal training programs and education.

Other job-related knowledge comes from colleagues, mentors, leadership and association participation.

The process of accumulating this savings account of tricks, tips, processes and protocols, techniques and procedures, relationships and nuance comes out of purposeful learning, simple experience and dedication.

In HTM, the store of knowledge and experience has been slowly drained as veteran biomeds have retired and taken much of that knowledge and experience with them.

Everything from soft skills, knowing about the work and procedures of nurses, physicians, technicians and field service engineers; these things help cultivate and shape a biomed’s actions and decisions.

In any career, the employee who is new to that profession needs to go from rookie to veteran. Time on the job is one qualifier, but that doesn’t guarantee confidence, insights and authority.

In HTM, as in other professions, the job requires more than just “showing up” every day. There are a number of skill sets that must be learned, from time management to interacting with clinicians, maintenance and calibration procedures to infection-prevention protocols.

With this accumulated experience, a biomed becomes more valuable to their clinical colleagues and also to their team and management. They can then provide insights and sound advice that helps the team in many specialized areas such as service contract negotiations.

In terms of contract negotiations, the biomed needs to bring reasoned and informed insights to the table that point to considerations that only a knowledgeable biomed would know.

How does a biomed, new to the profession, go about the task of acquiring and adopting the skills and knowledge to formulate an informed viewpoint that influences decision makers?

It is one thing to be the biomed with an opinion and quite another thing to be a biomed whose insights and suggestions receive serious consideration.

“First things first, we need to understand the difference between someone with an opinion, an influencer and a decision maker. I believe opinions are simply a verbal judgement or view, influencers will research the information and provide valuable data to the process, and decision makers are the individuals signing on the dotted line. Of course, there are many levels or types of influencers and decision makers, but that is a whole other topic,” says F. Mike Busdicker, MBA, CHTM, AAMIF, FACHE, system director of healthcare technology management at Intermountain Health.

Guidance for Biomeds New to the Profession

Is there a path that an entry-level biomed can take to become a decision maker? Are there decisions that can be made early in an HTM career to put a new biomed on a trajectory towards respect and authority?

The insights of experienced HTM professionals can give a rookie biomed a leg-up in building a reputation as a source for useful information, such as service contract negotiations.

“The ability for individuals to progress from influencers to decision makers comes down to self-driven motivation with guidance from current leaders. It is important for these individuals to understand the role of an influencer and the importance they play in the process,” Busdicker says.

He says that there are times an actual decision may come down to the information, data and input from an influencer.

“Therefore, it is imperative for individuals to understand the difference. This can be accomplished through professional education, involvement on local department or facility level initiatives, volunteering for activities with professional HTM organizations and working with a mentor,” Busdicker adds.

Those views are shared by another member of leadership.

“There are several avenues of approach for a biomed to advance from a rookie with an opinion to a HTM professional with respect and authority, when it comes to decision making. Avenues include a combination of knowledge attained from technical publications, volunteering to be on committees in respected organizations, gaining work experience, continuing education, certifications, membership in a local biomed association, mentorship and membership in AAMI,” says Calvin McDowall, DBA, CHTM, site senior manager for TRIMEDX at Valley Health System in Winchester, Virginia.

McDowall says that this journey is a process and that it will take time to attain the necessary knowledge and skills. Experience is one of the best pathways and is a common denominator among HTM professionals. Experience provides real-world development of the HTM professional along with lessons learned to appropriately apply to future opportunities.

“In my experience, gaining respect and authority begins at the rookie level. New technicians need to be confident in sharing their opinions, while also realizing they can gain more by listening closely to the experienced HTM techs. The experienced technicians will notice the interest shown and be more willing to help them grow as a technician. I am one that believes you should take advantage of every opportunity presented, as each is a learning experience and will help you make informed decisions at a higher level,” says Charles Woolfolk, manager of healthcare technology management at Temple Memorial Hospital and Clinics/McLane Children’s Hospital/Continuous Care Hospital at Baylor Scott & White in Temple, Texas.

Working hard and showing the will to continue learning new devices are qualities that will gain respect for rookie technicians in the view of Ralph McCall, assistant director of healthcare technology management at Texas Children’s Hospital.

“By developing these skills veteran HTM professionals become more open to taking new techs under their wings and passing on any knowledge they have gained over the years. Now becoming a true HTM professional is not only when you gain knowledge on equipment repairs and preventative maintenance on multiple devices, but when you understand the clinical operations in health care as well,” McCall says.

He says that after years of being a technician, he became comfortable properly repairing and performing PMs on numerous devices, but when he started to speak with clinical leadership, he gained more knowledge of the impact of the field.

“I believe it begins with competency. As a budding biomed, I had to prove I was competent to take on more responsibility. It is like juggling. You start with one pin, then two, three, four, so on and so forth. I also discuss my career goals with my management team, they know I aspire to be a CRES. Several hospitals have already begun taking imagining in-house. I worked on mobile X-rays at my last place of work. I would like to continue my training here,” says Francesca Fam, CBET, biomedical equipment technician in the biomedical engineering department at Stanford Health Care-Tri-Valley in Pleasanton, California.

Busdicker says that individuals new to the HTM industry need to document their aspirations and set personal and professional goals.

“Once this is complete, they should identify options available to gain the required knowledge and experience. The next step would be to evaluate these potential options, obtain input from leaders within and outside the industry and then move to action. Periodically, there should be a pause to evaluate progress and, if required, make any course corrections,” he says.

Busdicker says that career progression and moving from someone with an opinion, to an influencer, and into a role with decision making responsibilities can be very satisfying.

“The HTM industry is in a period when the next generation of leaders are being required to step forward. The success of new leaders is somewhat contingent on the knowledge and expertise passed down to them. Current HTM leaders should be focusing on the impression being left on the industry and not on their own personal legacy. This type of approach will provide the tools and resources necessary for new individuals to move from ‘a rookie in the field’ to ‘a leader in the industry,’ ” he adds.

Get Excited about HTM

In addition to tried-and-true recommendations for gaining credibility in the HTM field, the traits of passion and enthusiasm cannot be overstated. A true commitment to the field, along with offering to participate beyond the base requirements of the job are necessary.

“There are many paths to success, but I will tell you what worked for me. Show up! Be curious! Be willing! Speak up! Wear your passion on your sleeve!” says Mayra Becerra, BAS, CBET, biomedical supervisor at Memorial Healthcare Systems in South Florida.

Becerra says that she started her career by simply showing up at a hospital and applying to be a volunteer.

“Once accepted, I asked if I could help out in the clinical engineering department. This wasn’t common as they didn’t typically take volunteers, but not letting that derail my desires, I was able to speak up enough and this eventually happened! With wide eyes and a passion to help with anything I could, while always keeping a positive demeanor, opportunities began to surface,” she says.

“A great attitude will inspire others around you to want to help out when you ask for guidance, so I asked away and jumped in! Concurrently, I was pursuing an associate degree in engineering technology with an emphasis in biomedical engineering, eventually a bachelor’s degree in technology management, and obtaining industry certifications like a CBET,” Becerra adds.

That enthusiasm should be supplemented with a sense of professional ethics.

“There are three words I live my life by; honesty, open-mindedness and willingness,” Fam says.

She says that she always needs to be honest with herself and others.

“Ethics plays an important role in our industry. Doing the right thing when no one’s watching. If I don’t know the answer to something, I could lie and make it sound convincing. But that would not sit right with me. Instead, I tell whoever is asking me that I will look it up and get back to him/her with the answer. Open-mindedness. If I didn’t have an open-mind, I would literally have no friends and never know I liked different types of music, foods, etc. How do you know you like or dislike something until you give it a try? Willingness. I am always willing to learn, to better myself/my community, and to help those in need when I am able,” Fam adds.

Every Opportunity Builds Credibility

Creating a well-rounded and informed persona as an HTM professional requires exploring several avenues and participation and involvement in group activities internal and external to your employment.

“Throughout my career, my decision-making skills were developed through a variety of job positions in the HTM field. I had opportunities both on the military and civilian side; small and large organizations; nationally and internationally. The experiences helped to stretch me and gave added confidence, respect and authority. I further compliment my experience with continuing education, CHTM certification, attending biomed association meetings, serving on committees in my organization and AAMI, and through mentorship. The more diverse the exposure, the better equipped the HTM leader is in making future decisions,” McDowall says.

Getting involved with a local HTM association or society will provide more continuing education opportunities and contacts.

“Most areas probably have a local chapter of an HTM group so go to meetings, learn, network, and engage with everyone you can to learn best practices and tap into some of the knowledge of those that came before you and are still leading the way forward,” Becerra says.

She says that this eventually opened doors for her to take on official roles in the local HTM chapter and at the state level, and has served in different capacities on multiple boards from the bottom all the way to being the chair.

“If you love what you do, and show that, and speak that to anyone and everyone that will listen, doors will open and the goals you thought were previously unattainable will begin to present themselves at every turn,” Becerra adds.

Much of what determines the value that others place on the insights from a biomed comes from the level of respect that colleagues and clinical staff have for that person.

“Whether it be learning about different types of equipment while on the PM committee or learning processes outside of your department during project planning meetings, I have learned something from every opportunity that has helped me in my current role. To gain respect requires more than experience. I see respect gained by being a team player, willing to help wherever you are needed and, most importantly, by showing respect to those around you,” Woolfolk says.

He suggests that you learn as much as you can from the people you consider experts, ask questions and listen intently to the answers and reasoning and be willing to do the work to get to where you want to be.

“To become an HTM with respect and authority in the community, I would say you just need to be present and of service. No matter what position you end up holding, or how much money you make, remember that we’re all human and come from different walks of life. Humility and gratitude are key. I never want to take for granted the gifts I’ve been given today, and maybe I can help someone, spread some knowledge, help someone be a better biomed (or person in general),” Fam says.