With HTMs and imaging engineers the most difficult jobs to fill in healthcare, the status quo of employee retention simply isn’t working

By Patrick Lynch, CBET, CCE, CHTM, CPHIMS, FACCE

Current statistics highlight the unprecedented turnover of hospital personnel. In fact, a recent poll revealed that more than half of the respondents had been at their hospital for less than five years—with a whopping 43% there less than two years. While a lack of employee longevity in healthcare is a problem across the board, I believe the financial and safety ramifications of high turnover in highly technical—and highly scarce—jobs are much more significant.

I’m speaking of HTM professionals, especially biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) and imaging engineers. There is a common misconception among employers that all of HTM professionals possess the same skills and are interchangeable. This could not be further from the truth. While they all receive very similar training in their schools, colleges, or the military, the diversity of medical equipment causes them to quickly develop unique and specialized skills.

Such skills often do not mature until HTM professionals complete several weeks of specialized training—which often costs tens of thousands of dollars—and have several years of experience under their belt. That’s why ensuring the continued employment of these valuable employees should become a priority.

After all, it doesn’t make sense to pour thousands of dollars into an expensive asset (the employee) and then not take the proper steps to assure that he or she will remain a part of the institution for many years to come.

Employee Retention 101

So, what’s the best way to make sure that a highly valuable employee stays with you for the long haul? Tuition repayment? Limitation of work opportunities for some period of time? Revocation of training certification if the employer changes?

Personally, I don’t believe that the tuition repayment penalty works. In many cases, it isn’t legally enforceable; at most, it will protect the employer for a couple of years. But in all cases, it creates an adversarial atmosphere between the employee and the employer—harkening back to the days of indentured servitude. Still, it’s a method that is often employed.

Furthermore, limiting a person’s employment opportunities—even with his or her permission—is a bad thing. Saying that employees can’t work for a competitor within a 100-mile radius is once again turning them into a servant and not allowing them to practice their chosen trade.

Some manufacturers will issue a training certificate that loses its validity if the trained individual leaves a certain company. Therefore, the person is not recognized as trained—and is unable to purchase parts, receive tech support, or access online manuals. This, too, is done to protect the company and the employer—but in reality, the training and knowledge does not evaporate because somebody’s paycheck changes. This is also a negative way to hold somebody as an employee.

While there is no perfect way to guarantee a person’s employment in the future, a good manager can take certain actions to maximize the odds. The first is to hire the right people. Having employees in key positions who want to be there—in that hospital, in that state, in that city, in that department, in that role—makes their continued presence almost a guarantee.

The next thing is to make the employee’s job as satisfying as possible. Teamwork, a sense of accomplishment, the ability to be in control of one’s own destiny, and a sense of recognition are all important to people in their day-to-day jobs. Good managers find out what’s important to each of their employees and try to provide as much of that as possible.

  • Pay: Your people don’t have to be the highest paid in the area. After all, pay is not a job satisfier. But is certainly a job dissatisfier. Too little pay makes one feel undervalued and opens them up to entertaining offers that they might have otherwise ignored. A competitive pay plan, with fair compensation, adequate benefits, and ample time off for important events will keep most employees happy.
  • Technical training: As technical people, BMETs and imaging engineers identify with their technical skills. And they begin to feel inferior when these skills become aged. Sending all technical staff to frequent training will keep them happy and usually too busy to become dissatisfied.

Lastly, and most importantly, talk to all members of your staff. Here’s how I did it: We had a staff meeting in the shop, with all 20 technical and support staff members present. As the director, I lead the meeting and said:

After a two-year training dry spell, we are going to begin training everybody on almost everything they requested to be trained on. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to spend on this. I intend to approve all training courses that can be even remotely justified. But, in return, I have one request from all of you: Please do not return from school and quit the hospital for another job.

Here’s why: The hospital, while not restricting how this money is being spent, will look at those of you who quit. If someone goes to school and leaves soon after—before the hospital feels that they have gotten their value back from the cost of training—our training budget will surely be cut. Everyone in this room who is left at the hospital will suffer. You will be screwing up their futures.

So, I ask you, as adults, to do the mature thing. If you attend a school, plan to stay with the hospital for at least two years. If you feel that you can’t, or might not stay that long, simply turn down the school. No problem. I understand that everyone has their own lives and we can accept that you may be looking around at other jobs. Just don’t mess up our department’s training in the process.”

People had questions, but my speech went over very well. Over the next 7.5 years, we spent almost $2 million on training—and had no employee turnover whatsoever. My case is closed.

Patrick Lynch, CBET, CCE, CHTM, CPHIMS, FACCE, is a biomedical manager with 40 years’ experience. For more information, contact chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at kstephens@medqor.com.