By John Garrett
Many hospital clinical engineering programs have co-op programs that work with colleges. This allows some real world experience to be gained by the student as well as assist the hospital by reducing the labor costs of low-risk work. These are typically arranged for biomedical engineering students. The idea of imaging co-op programs has been floated.
The concept being that the co-op programs may help to fill the coming void that will hit when the massive retirement era begins. Most people in the industry know that the mass exodus of medical imaging field service engineer (FSE) personnel by retirement is coming and a manpower challenge will follow.
There are a number of issues that come with co-op programs when it is for medical imaging repair and service. The primary issue revolves around qualifications. It is rare that a biomedical engineering student, while still in school, has an applicable understanding of X-ray generation and image capture. The second common problem is the schedule that the students are able to work – one or two days a week for four to eight hours. Those hours typically fall during the middle of the day.
The answer to the labor shortage that is coming to a hospital near you soon, may be internships – real, full-on internships for developing FSEs that may work for your hospital or service company. The trick is to make sure that a mutually beneficial program is created.
The employer gets the benefit of labor, that can lead to a permanent employee that is trained to meet the needs of the company. Beyond being trained for the specific technical requirements, the intern will also be exposed to the company culture. In health care, the culture of a hospital is as important as the technical abilities in getting maximum reimbursement.
A successful program would give the intern basic training in imaging, typically X-ray. Let them work for a period, then allow them to obtain more advanced training, and another period of work. This may be basic X-ray training followed by six months to a year of work, followed by advanced imaging and another six months to a year of work. At that point, the intern would be evaluated for employment and/or further training. Meanwhile, the intern gets training and invaluable hands-on experience, while earning a living. The experience of working in a hospital environment is a valuable resume booster in and of itself. Ideally some of the interns would be offered a permanent position within the company filling out the work force as retirement comes for the senior employees.
There are several models of internship. There are even independent service organizations (ISO) that are running successful internships. If enough companies get involved, the labor shortage may be avoided.
John Garrett has 20 years experience in imaging service including general radiation, mammography, CT and nuclear medicine. He has worked for third-party service companies, manufacturers, sales companies and in-house imaging teams.