How to Become a Biomedical Technician
Biomedical technicians contribute enormously to successful patient outcomes in healthcare by inspecting, repairing, calibrating and designing medical equipment that grows more advanced and vital all the time.
Also called biomeds, biomedical engineers and biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs), these professionals have worked diligently for the past several decades in an area of medicine where science fiction becomes fact and present meets future. Their profession continually proves to be one of the most dynamic and exciting in healthcare. Their impact? Profound. From electric wheelchairs to nuclear imaging devices and surgical robots, BMETs ensure the safety and proper functioning of medical equipment on which patients and healthcare professionals rely in order to achieve safe, accurate diagnosis and successful treatment.
BMETs use their technological expertise to prevent mechanical and computer errors that could harm patients or lead providers to the wrong diagnosis. They also set up preventative maintenance programs to keep equipment running and prevent life-threatening breakdowns.
Many facilities consult biomeds when choosing new machines and planning for the future. These technicians train medical professionals to use equipment safely and effectively. Hospitals depend on BMETs in order to meet local, state and federal regulations governing the use of medical equipment.
Some BMETs are generalists who work with a multitude of machines, while others specialize in a narrower area such as imaging or laboratory devices.
Biomedical technicians work in a variety of environments. Many are employed by hospitals and health systems. Others work in the supply end of the industry at medical equipment retail centers or wholesalers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13 percent of BMETs were self-employed in 2010.
Most BMETs are employed full time. Technicians with wholesale and retail suppliers usually work regular business hours and may be on call some nights and weekends. In hospitals, BMETs often work evening and overnight shifts.
Biomeds spend much of their time working hands-on with machines. To adjust and repair equipment, they use both tools and computer applications. In performing their duties, they often stand for several hours at a time and frequently bend and crouch. BMETs also perform some office duties such as reviewing product manuals and record keeping.
A BMET’s job requires plenty of interaction with others. The technicians spend a significant amount of time training other professionals and meeting with hospital administrators. They also work closely with nurses, medical materials personnel and the hospital facilities department. Because they often service equipment that is in use, BMETs have frequent contact with patients.
A BMET career requires a two-year associate degree in biomedical equipment technology or a related field such as electronics or engineering. Many technicians train while serving in the military. While employers generally value hands-on experience over advanced education, more and more companies require that applicants have bachelor’s degrees.
When enrolling in a training program, it’s essential to choose a school accredited by the American Board for Engineering and Technology. These programs have demonstrated a commitment to quality and have an excellent track record of preparing students for successful careers.
Because technology advances quickly, BMETs must constantly update their skills through continuing education.
Accredited BMET training programs provide extensive hands-on instruction. Students gradually gain independence by training on a series of medical machines, each more complex than the last. Working technicians extend this training by studying equipment manuals and attending continuing education classes.
Licensing and/or Certification
Voluntary certification as a Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician (CBET) paves the way for greater employment and advancement opportunities. Some BMETs also pursue niche certification as a Certified Laboratory Equipment Specialist (CLES) or Certified Radiology Equipment Specialist (CRES). To earn these credentials, candidates must meet education and work experience requirements and pass a computer-based examination.
While not mandatory, membership in the Medical Equipment and Technology Association (META) connects BMETs with networking opportunities that help to advance their careers.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Aspiring biomedical technicians should have a passion for machines and technology as well as a knack for troubleshooting and repairs. Because an equipment failure often creates an emergency situation, the technician must work well in fast-paced, high-pressure situations. Stamina is important, as the job requires standing, crouching and moving for long periods. Finally, BMETs must have excellent interpersonal skills in order to work effectively with medical professionals, hospital staff, administrators and patients.
Opportunities for Advancement
Experienced BMETs may be promoted to supervise the work of junior technicians. Others specialize in a particular area or become instructors in training programs. Many technicians start their own businesses and work for several facilities on a freelance basis.
Experience and certification increase the opportunities for advancement. Many employers will pay the costs associated with certification.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for BMETs in May 2010 was $44,500. The highest-paid 10% earned more than $70,260 a year.
BMET salaries vary by work setting. Retail suppliers usually pay the least while wholesalers pay above average wages. The best-paid jobs are found in hospitals and health systems. Salary tends to increase with education, training and certification.
The job outlook for BMETs is excellent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment is expected to grow by 31 percent between 2010 and 2020. The aging of U.S. population will largely drive this growth. It will increase the demand for medical care in coming decades. BMETs are rarely laid off or outsourced and enjoy excellent job security.
Top workplaces for BMETs include hospitals and medical equipment suppliers. Demand is greatest for BMETs with Associate’s degrees in biomedical engineering or biomedical equipment technology. Technicians also improve their employment opportunities by relocating to shortage areas (particularly rural areas).