By Joie Nicole Marhefka, PhD
The people who do the best in high school do not necessarily make the best biomed students (or the best biomeds). While being a “good student” certainly helps, during the four years that I have taught biomedical engineering technology classes at Penn State New Kensington, I have learned that there are a number of other traits that are perhaps more important than academic aptitude for being a successful biomed student.
People that have most or all of the following traits typically make good biomed students and ultimately are likely to have successful careers in healthcare technology management (HTM).
An Aptitude for “Tinkering”
An obvious trait to start with is being good at—and enjoying—hands-on work and fixing things. This is understandable since so much day-to-day biomed work involves repairing medical devices, and many of our classes include hands-on components. Many of our best students are those who spend their free time working on cars and are good at fixing things around the house, and recruits like this can come from many nonacademic routes.
Students coming from vo-tech programs in electronics or related fields often find success in biomed classes and careers, as do people who have previous work experience in HVAC, television repair, or related occupations. In addition, military veterans with experience in electronics or aircraft repair have done quite well in our biomed program.
A Passion for Computer Skills
Successful biomed students also need to be passionate about technology and knowledgeable about computers. Students who like working with technology and computers typically find an interest in working with medical equipment, since many devices encompass both, and those who understand this technology before starting the biomed program often have an easier time with technical courses.
In particular, computer-savvy students tend to find it easier to comprehend how medical devices function, and they tend to better understand the networking component of biomed education. These traits will become even more important as technology becomes more complex and more and more equipment becomes computer-based and networked.
Good Communication Skills
Being able to communicate effectively through e-mail, in person, on the phone, and in written reports is essential for biomeds, so we don’t ignore these skills in our classes. Our students are required to take writing and speech classes, and we emphasize these skills in our technical course as well. In fact, we focus on different kinds of professional communication throughout our technical courses. In addition, students who communicate well are most able to get help in courses when they need it and to take advantage of opportunities to make connections in the field. Therefore, students who communicate well typically make the best biomed students.
Good Teamwork Skills
Working effectively as a part of the healthcare team is essential for success as a student and as a biomed. Our students do several group projects and often work with partners when completing labs. Those who work well with others and are able to capitalize on each individual’s strengths have the easiest time with these assignments and typically do well on them. This prepares graduates to work together with a variety of people—including other biomeds, vendors, clinical personnel, and others—to solve problems and perform their job duties.
You might not think of creativity as an important trait for those entering this field, but biomed students need to be able to find innovative solutions to problems. Many of the projects and assignments in our courses involve solving problems, and people who are creative tend to think in a way that is necessary for troubleshooting and innovative problem solving.
Any student in any field or major needs to be able to adapt to new situations. It helps for students to be able to change the way they study or prepare for tests or other assignments when necessary. In college, students are also facing many new situations, and being able to adapt to this with ease will aid in their success.
Time management is a closely related skill that is vital for success as a biomed student who needs to balance a number of classes often with work or other responsibilities. Of course, this ability translates well to the workplace for biomeds who must be able to prioritize their responsibilities, because every day is different when working in HTM.
An Interest in Healthcare
Finally, people who have a strong interest in working in healthcare make the best biomed students. Often, this goes hand-in-hand with the desire to have a career that helps others. Biomeds are an essential part of the healthcare team, even though they are not always the most visible healthcare workers. Students who have a passion for being a part of the healthcare team tend to be successful. Perhaps this is simply because these people are more motivated and thus work harder to achieve their goals of a career in healthcare.
All of these capabilities go way beyond what you can learn from looking at the grades on a student transcript. Some are personality traits and others are skills that can be learned. I have found that the combination of these traits leads to success as a biomed student as well as in an HTM career.
Joie N. Marhefka, PhD, is assistant teaching professor and biomedical engineering technology program coordinator at Penn State New Kensington in Western Pennsylvania. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 Magazine chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.