Biomedical Equipment Technician Career Guide

What is a Biomedical Equipment Technician?

A biomedical equipment technician (BMET), sometimes also referred to as a biomedical engineering technologist, is  responsible for keeping all biomedical equipment within a given healthcare facility in sound working order. A person in this position is responsible for ensuring that the equipment is safe, and that it performs as it should.

Although referred to as a technician in many cases, the position is in essence a biomedical engineering position. A biomedical equipment technician deals with highly sensitive and complex medical machines on a daily basis.

What Does a Biomedical Equipment Technician Do?

A biomedical technician can be employed in a number of healthcare facilities, from hospitals, to clinics to doctor’s offices.  From installing and calibrating equipment, to repairing equipment, a biomedical technician is responsible for the smooth running of such equipment as x-ray machines, CAT scanners, and the like. A biomedical equipment technician also keeps equipment such as patient monitors,  diagnostic equipment, wheel chairs and gurneys operational. The technician must work with equipment from the simple to the complex.

Biomedical equipment requires regular inspection and maintenance in order to continue to function properly. A technician prepares inspection and maintenance schedules and keeps records of those. These schedules are often in compliance with manufacturer’s guidelines. To that end, a technician must be intimately familiar with the equipment, usually via training seminars.

Much of this equipment has computerized components. These sophisticated pieces of equipment also have sophisticated diagnostic tools that are used in routine maintenance and repair. These diagnostic tools usually have software that is used to test and calibrate this equipment. A BMET is often in charge of modifying software in computerized equipment in when repairs are needed.

A technician must be able to diagnose detailed problems and know what he or is able to repair and when to call in another professional. As  medical technology continues to evolve and become more sophisticated, the biomedical equipment technician’s job becomes more complex.

A biomedical equipment engineer also trains others how to use equipment. That means that at least some of his or her work day is spent reading training and operating manuals or attending training seminars.

These technicians  must be good with their hands, and be mechanically minded. And feel comfortable working with hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics and mechanical parts in general. They must be comfortable using hand tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches and soldering irons.

When equipment fails, a biomedical equipment technician must document equipment failure, diagnose its origin, and be able communicate and work effectively with vendors, manufacturers and other employees in the process of effectuating repairs or replacement. When replacement is necessary, a BMET often manages that replacement.

In addition, a BMET is often required to ensure that all equipment meets regulatory standards set out by local, state and federal governments. This may include the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which issues guidance on regulatory issues, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP).

Why are Biomedical Technicians Important?

Trained biomedical equipment technicians have been sown to have a positive correlation to better patient outcomes. We often take their work for granted, because when they perform their jobs effectively, medical technology functions as it should. In that sense, their behind-the-scenes- work is critical to healthcare as we know it. Without them, our healthcare system simply could not provide adequate diagnoses and care.

What Do You Learn in a Biomedical Equipment Technician Training Program?

Shop Skills for Biomedical Equipment: This class focuses on repairs tools and skills such as manual tools, soldering tools and the like, and their role in biomedical equipment.

Digital Electronics: This class introduces and works with such things as microprocessors and solid state electronics, focusing on design, failures, and repairs.

Biomedical Instrumentation: This include information regarding all sorts of equipment used in the BMET field, including general medical  equipment, therapeutic equipment and appliances and the like. It may also include an internship providing hands-on training.

Medical Circuits: Circuits and circuit boards are an integral part of many pieces of biomedical equipment. This is a basic class on repairs to these types of circuits.

Diagnosing Imaging Systems: This class focuses on maintaining and repairing equipment used in MRIs, x-rays, ultrasounds, elastography, tomography and the like. This is a particular area of specialization for many BMETs in the field.

Anatomy and Physiology: This course focuses on the human body and its mechanics. This is a basic core class.

Medical Terminology: It is important for a BMET to understand basic medical terminology in order to communicate effectively with co-workers on the job.

Biomedical Ethics: This is a growing field.  Topics covered may include such things as the impact of health care technology on end of life decisions, public-health access, and doctor-patient communication and communication issues.

What Degree Does a Biomedical Equipment Technician Need?

A biomedical equipment engineer typically has an associate’s degree in either biomedical equipment technology, electronics or engineering.  An associate’s degree is generally a 1 to 2 year program at a local community college or technical school. A two-year program is usually 60 units and will cover classes within the biomedical field as well as core literacy and writing classes as well as humanities and arts classes. This degree provides the basic training needed to work with less complicated equipment.

Some employers will hire BMETs without a college degree. These BMET positions usually provide several weeks of on the job training and workers will be expected to work on less complicated equipment such as wheelchairs and the like.

To work with more sophisticated equipment such as CAT scanners, defibrillators and the like, may require a bachelor’s degree. Employers are also likely to want a bachelor’s  degree for any supervisory level or level leading to advancement. This is usually a 4 year program and may cover as many as 120 units. Classes contain both more depth and more breadth within the biomedical field. In addition, general education classes are required in math, sciences, history, writing and the arts.

All programs focus on both hands-on skills and theoretical knowledge. Courses may include  math, general science courses as well as the main categories of biomedical technology courses. Biomedical equipment programs usually do not allow a student to specialize in any one field. Rather, their aim is to ensure basic competency over a broad array of skills and areas. Specialization usually occurs with higher levels of education, certification and work experience.

What is a Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician?

Certification, though not mandatory, can make a job candidate more competitive in the marketplace. It can also lead to advancement. Once hired, some employers may offer payment for certification for their BMETs.

Certification for BMET is offered in  number of specialties, including: Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician (CBET), Certified Radiology Equipment Specialists (CRES), and Certified Laboratory Equipment Specialist (CLES).  This certification is available through the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation. Certification demonstrates that the BMET has achieved a high level of both theoretical and practical knowledge.

Certification requires passing an exam. Candidates are expected to have experience with electro-mechanical devices, computers, networks, and software.

In order to sit for the certification exam, a candidate must have either an associate’s degree in a biomedical technology program and two years’ full time BMET work experience, or have completed a U.S.  military biomedical equipment technology program and two years’ full time BMET experience, or have an associate’s degree in electronics technology and three years’ full time BMET work experience.

What Skills are Needed to be a Biomedical Equipment Technician?

Mechanically Adept: At the simplest level, the job requires that the technician be able to take equipment apart, replace parts and effectuate repairs. The more complex the equipment, the more skilled the technician must be. This includes skills with hand tools of all sorts, but it also includes skills with computers and software.  Good hand-eye coordination is a must.

Problem-Solving/Trouble-Shooting Skills: It is crucial that a BMET work from a problem-solving framework in order to diagnose and repair equipment. While technical manuals can inform you regarding all the parts inside a piece of equipment and can deal with some likely problems, many equipment failures may not be covered in technical manuals. It is imperative, that a BMET be able to able to problem solve.

Physical Strength: Standing and lifting are an integral part of the job. A BMET may stand for hours during the day while working on equipment and must be able to move equipment and parts around while diagnosing and repairing equipment.

Documentation/Communication Skills: All actions taken by a BMET must be clearly documented. A BMET must be able to clearly and concisely document problems, actions taken and additional recommendations. Communication skills are particularly important whether in supervising others or in being supervised. It is important that co-workers clearly understand the nature of existing problems and measures that are being taken to resolve them.

Detail Oriented: Small details matter in this field. Forgetting to insert a part or screw it down correctly can make a big difference in equipment operation.

Reliability: When a piece of health care equipment breaks down, it could mean the difference between life and death for a patient.

Science and Design Background: A scientific approach is as much about how you think about problem solving as it is about managing scientific facts. It is a clear and organized approach to problem solving. That and knowledge regarding equipment design go a long way toward being able to diagnose and repair an equipment problem.

Time Management Skills: Medical equipment can be in short supply in a health care facility. That means that equipment failures need to be repaired quickly and efficiently without a lot of backlog time. A BMET must make efficient use of time in order to ensure that he or she keeps up with work flow.

Servicing Technical Manuals and Schematics: This position requires continuous work with technical manuals and design schematics. It is important that a BMET have a working knowledge with basic technical language and know how to read and interpret schematics.

Where Does a Biomedical Equipment Technician Work?

BMETs work in hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices. They also work for professional and commercial equipment and supply merchants and wholesalers, inspecting, calibrating and repairing equipment. This may be a job where the BMET travels to the healthcare site in order to effectuate repairs.

Finally, biomedical equipment technicians are sometimes self-employed. This allows the technician freedom in scheduling work, but pay may vacillate.

How Much Does a Biomedical Equipment Technician Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists 2017 median pay for a Medical Equipment Repairers as $48,820 annually, or $23.47 hourly.  This is a median pay scale. Job location can affect pay either positively or negatively. In areas where Medical Equipment Repairers are in demand and are scarce, salaries may be higher. Salaries also vary depending on the work setting. Retail positions  generally pay less than do field repair positions.

Adding a bachelor’s degree may also increase salary. There are varying pay-scale levels for this position, each with a corresponding increase in salary and responsibility level.

What is the Job Outlook for Biomedical Equipment Technicians?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for Medical Equipment Repairers is expected to grow at approximately 4 % from 2016 to 2026. This rate of growth is somewhat slower than the average for all  occupations, and slower than most healthcare positions. This is a field that continues to evolve. and requires continuing education in order to remain at the forefront of medical technology.

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