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Keeping medical technology healthy

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Mindy Gonzales operates a vital signs monitora vital signs monitor a vital signs monitor a vital signs monitor

Chuck Fennings shows off a bronchoscope - Mindy Gonzales operates a vital signs monitor

When Dr. Gregory House of the television drama "House M.D." needs his defibrillator to work, it always does. Whether you are watching TV or visiting the doctor in real life, it’s hard to remember a medical device malfunctioning.

It’s because a biomedical technician makes sure it doesn’t.

The training of biomed technicians to provide these critical services just got much easier. The new Biomedical Engineering Technology option at PCC has been approved by the state of Oregon and now is the only program option of its kind in the state. Biomedical technicians make sure medical technology is properly maintained and repaired to ensure every patient receives the best treatment possible. In short, doctors and nurses aren’t the only hospital personnel who help save people’s lives.

"Biomed technicians are the Navy Seals of medical technology," said Mindy Gonzales, instructor and the biomed technology coordinator at the Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington. "We sneak in, do our job and nobody knows we were there. It’s all about preventive maintenance."

The option, accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges Commission, is part of the Electronic Engineering Technology program at the Sylvania Campus.

"The whole biomed community is very excited at the opportunity of growing our own technicians in state," said Sanda Nedelcu, electronic engineering instructor and department chair. "We’ve received a lot of support from our local hospitals with curriculum development, equipment donations and specialized instructors."

Chuck Fennings, another instructor and a supervisor of biomedical technicians at Oregon Health & Science University, said biomedical techs are important.

"It’s a fairly critical job," added Fennings. "We are on-site technicians who can deliver the service right there in short order."

Fennings, who is a 1971 PCC graduate in the electronics engineering program, said local hospitals had to recruit biomedical technicians out of state as the closest programs were located in north Seattle and Spokane. But with PCC’s new program option, local hospitals and medical companies have a better option.

Chuck Fennings shows off a bronchoscope

"It will be a great way to get qualified people (for the hospitals)," Fennings said.

Students will be able to start the option in the fall. The curriculum includes an internship at an area hospital. In total, there are 330 hours of internships with local hospitals, which include OHSU, Portland VA Medical Center, Southwest Washington Medical Center and Providence.

Nedelcu said the biomedical technology program option will offer flexibility with day and evening courses, "real-world" training and quality instruction from certified biomedical electronics technicians. They can go on to work in hospitals or other health-care organizations, medical equipment manufacturers, third-party private contractors, or can be self-employed. Salaries range from $41,000 to $48,000. Those with more experience or more advanced degrees can expect to earn more.

"The need for experienced biomedical technicians will increase drastically in the next five to 10 years due to the combination of a lot of senior technicians retiring and much of the medical equipment becoming more technically advanced," said Gonzales, who served in the Navy for a decade as a biomedical technician. "Plus, it’s a really good job."

For more information on the PCC Biomedical Engineering Technology option, call (503) 977-4159.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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