**Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of 24×7 Magazine.**
By Barbara Christe, PhD
In a recent piece profiling “wonder women” in healthcare technology management, Sue Schade, AAMI board member and IT professional, explained that she encourages women not to “take the crap.” This statement is a tough stance when ‘the crap’ is coming from superiors or other people who possess a power distance.
Unfortunately, steps to stopping these issues can be extreme and carry a high price. Most of us love our profession and are committed to it. As a result, we may tolerate more than we should in order to accomplish broader goals and advance the field.
But, in tolerating ‘the crap,’ I believe we often balance our expectations with a realistic view of the HTM landscape. This is very true in higher education. With fewer than 40 academic programs in the country feeding thousands of hospitals, the clash between a realistic vision of academic training and available options drive many people to accept lower standards and dubious academic credentials.
For example, an employer who seeks to understand academic accreditation to evaluate potential candidates may be wasting his or her time if graduates are only available from one institution. If no selection or variety exists, then the one choice available is a fine choice, indeed.
A Vicious Cycle?
In my opinion, we have become a profession entwined in a vicious circle—not enough academic programs produce not enough graduates, yielding not enough employees with solid academic credentials who could move on to become educators to support academic programs. This vortex of shortages seems to be worsening!
Could we establish a requirement that all HTM professionals need an academic degree? Would employers find college graduates to hire? Brown Mackie College tried to fill the shortage nationally but eventually closed its HTM-related programs. Is a college degree required in our profession?
Of course, as an educator, I would like to think that the academic training I provide offers significant value to both employers and patients, but, as a realist, I know that many HTM professionals disagree with my position. Yet, I suggest that downplaying the importance of an academic credential runs countercurrent to the world of healthcare where training expectations, prior to employment, are the norm for everyone from surgical techs to nurses.
If the creation of new academic programs is the answer, where would the instructors with minimum academic credentials (usually a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree) come from? And how would they manage the low salaries of educators? And those hurdles are just the beginning.
As a member of the engineering technology department here at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, my colleagues readily admit they are uncomfortable with the patient care environment. Faculty members are squeamish and wince when retrieving an anatomy worksheet from the shared printer. As a unique breed: blending technical skills with compassion and empathy, HTM educators do not fit into the typical engineering technology workforce.
As a profession, I believe we need to recognize that all academic credentials are not created equal. Many institutions offer degrees in creative ways, some validating life and professional experience, while others provide an “accredited” degree (Remember: Almost every school is accredited by some organization.) based on a fee payment.
Too often, I am trying to characterize the Purdue University name and rigor in comparison to other schools, some prominent in our profession, advertising on websites related to our profession, or seeking start-up donations. Academic reputation seems to play a limited role in our field. I find this futile and disheartening!
Moreover, I believe this stance is hindering HTM growth and our ability to reach the C-suite leaders. We must acknowledge the role campus rank, reputation, and rigor play in our ability to communicate with medical colleagues and hospital administration.
Let me be clear: I recognize that individual student quality varies widely. In a one-to-one comparison, a graduate of my program may not be as desirable as a graduate from a different program for a wide variety of reasons. However, I am suggesting that, for example, the grade point average of students from Purdue University should be viewed differently than the grades attained at other schools, where grades may be awarded based on a wide variety of criteria. In a second example, I posit that the depth and breadth of our course content may be stronger than schools who offer only online materials.
Advocating for Academic Quality
To guide this evaluation, some programs have sought program accreditation through ABET. This voluntary review is supported by AAMI, with AAMI members involved in the campus visits. Even if only a few programs have attained ABET accreditation, it is time that employers, especially the ISOs and manufacturers, seek out programs that have achieved recognition of program quality—and support those programs!
While I understand that the dearth of academic training opportunities does offer fertile ground for the “anything is better than nothing stance,” our profession needs to expect more. We simply cannot throw our hands up and tolerate everything because that is all that is available.
HTM leaders must support the academic programs that produce high quality graduates, offer opportunities to recruit students, take action to retain students once enrolled, and carefully consider the quality of a program when selecting candidates. As Sue Schade suggested, we need to end tolerating mediocrity and instead actively work to advocate for academic quality.
Barbara Christe, PhD, is program director of healthcare engineering technology management and a professor in the Engineering Technology Department of the Purdue School of Engineering & Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Questions and comments can be directed to chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.