By K. Richard Douglas
Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Intermountain Healthcare is a health care system comprised of 22 hospitals, more than 185 clinics and approximately 1,400 physicians. The health system serves patients in Utah, southeastern Idaho and surrounding areas. Intermountain was established in 1975 and currently has 37,000 employees.
One of those employees is Nate Gottwald, an imaging service engineer in the Imaging Equipment Services Department.
Speaking of Nate, his boss says that “he is great with his customers and very willing to keep learning new equipment.” Gottwald has over 15 years in the field and has been with Intermountain for more than five years.
“I graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s of science in information systems. While this degree doesn’t necessarily directly relate to servicing imaging equipment, what I’ve found is that nowadays nearly every imaging device consists of two things; some kind of image acquisition equipment, and a computer or computers to capture, process, and store the images. Because of this, as well as the networking of these devices, my degree has helped immensely,” Gottwald says.
Gottwald started out in IT, but a friend piqued his interest in imaging service.
“Out of college, I worked as IT support for a small medical equipment leasing business. At the same time, a friend was working for AGFA, as a field engineer, servicing computed radiography equipment, doctor reading stations and enterprise PACS servers,” he says. “He showed me some of what he did, it looked interesting so when a position there came open I applied and was hired.”
After he had worked at AGFA for about two years, the company went through two reduction in force events, according to Gottwald. He was caught up in the second round and was laid off.
“I put my feelers out and was soon picked up by GE Healthcare. They had an opening in my area for an ultrasound field engineer. I really enjoyed working on ultrasound systems; I did that for six years,” he says.
“I heard that our largest contracted hospital was starting an in-house imaging service program; they had already taken on the X-ray devices and ultrasound was next. I saw this as an opportunity to work for a local company rather than a large company like GE Healthcare, where sometimes it felt like you were just a number. I also saw an opportunity for growth into other modalities, where at GE I was pigeon-holed into ultrasound,” Gottwald adds.
He applied at Intermountain Healthcare in 2012 and got the job.
“Right away, they started cross training me on X-ray devices; it was great to learn something new,” Gottwald says.
“In 2015, I became a CT service engineer. This was a little intimidating at first, but Intermountain did a great job making sure I had all of the right tools and the necessary training from third parties and the OEMs. The stress level is definitely higher with CT, but I’ve really enjoyed working on them. I work on GE and Toshiba CTs,” he adds.
Taking on Challenges
Transitioning from an OEM to an in-house department allowed Gottwald to experience both worlds. He points out that with an OEM the resources are limitless.
“I had access all the way up to the engineers and developers who designed the systems,” he remembers. “Working in-house requires more ingenuity in troubleshooting and doing repairs. While Intermountain has done a great job getting me the training and tools I need to do my job effectively, it is definitely more of a challenge when you’re not working for the OEM.”
“I remember when I went to training at RSTI, Dale Cover told us that he had seen several hospitals go in-house for their imaging equipment maintenance and repair. He said that the only ones that were successful were the ones that weren’t constantly calling in third-party companies and OEMs to complete their PMs and repairs,” Gottwald says.
Cover’s insight has really stuck with Gottwald.
“I’ve always tried to keep escalations to outside vendors to a minimum. Sometimes this requires me to go outside my comfort zone, if I’m asked to work on a piece of equipment, that I’m not very familiar with or haven’t worked on for a while, but this attitude nearly always pays off,” Gottwald adds.
Away from the Imaging Equipment
Food and home improvement have been on Gottwald’s off-hours calendar. A truck project could be in the future as well.
“I’ve recently taken up smoking … meats,” Gottwald jokes. “I purchased a pellet smoker this spring and have been trying out different woods with different meats. I think that so far, the family favorite is my cherry-smoked chicken wings. With the weather turning cooler, this week I will be cold smoking some cheese. It’s been a fun and tasty hobby.”
Over the last four years, all of his free time has been spent finishing his basement.
“I’ve done all of the framing, electrical, mechanical and plumbing work. A few times I have surprised myself, when I look at a task that seems beyond my capabilities, I’m able to do the research to know the building codes, etcetera — yes, I took out a building permit — and I’m able to get it done, sometimes with a little help from YouTube.”
After the basement project, a truck might be in the offing.
“I’ve always liked working on cars. In high school, I began restoring my dad’s old ’66 GTO. After the basement is done, I’d like to find a ’69 Chevy K10 pickup to restore,” Gottwald says.
He has been married for 12 years and has four daughters ranging in age from 6 to 11.
“I haven’t told them, but my goal is to have the basement finished before the oldest becomes a teenager, so I have a place to hide. I’m right on target,” Gottwald says.
Those girls have a talented dad and Intermountain has a resourceful CT service engineer. In a couple of years, look for him in the basement.