Army biomed techs train with General Electric to enhance medical readiness

By Sgt. 1st Class John Freese | 88th Readiness Division | Nov. 13, 2019

WAUKESHA, Wis. —

An Army Reserve training with industry program enables Army Reserve biomedical equipment specialists to take 10 months of advanced training through the GE Healthcare Institute here.

The program, known as the GE Healthcare Institute Externship, will increase the readiness of key medical equipment. That, in turn, will support the medical readiness of Army Reserve units and Soldiers called up for mobilizations and deployments overseas, by ensuring care givers have access to the best diagnostic and treatment technology available.

First begun in 2011 by the then commander of the 807th Medical Command, Maj. Gen. Lie-Pang Chang, and President and CEO of Global Services, Michael Swinford, the program has evolved to enhance the capability of Soldiers with the 68A military occupational specialty, the Army nomenclature for biomed equipment techs. With the new skills, the Soldiers will be able to maintain and install the newest devices and systems used by military medical centers and medical units in the field.

The Army Reserve Soldiers in the program, known as externs, are placed on active duty orders during their 10 month training program, which is conducted in four phases, and offered in two cohorts per year of less than a dozen students each. The two cohorts begin in March and October. While a member of the program, each extern receives a GE issued lap top computer, iPad, and GE polo shirts, and draw active duty military pay and entitlements.

“It’s a very good program. Fast paced, and that’s good,” said Spc. Axel Cruzdiaz, from the 810th Medical Company (Dental), in Cary, N.C., who first heard about the program through a former extern.

The course phases take the externs through GE orientation and initial training phase for four weeks at HCI, followed by 12 weeks at a GE assigned location to work on the modalities on which they trained in previous weeks. Following that, the externs return to HCI for work on CT scanners and X-ray equipment for five weeks. The culminating phase of four weeks places them among the actual equipment used by Army medical units in medical centers and field settings for hands-on work alongside experienced biomed techs.

Many of the externs work in related fields in their civilian jobs, and the training also provides them the credentials and experience to take on a greater range of responsibilities in that setting. But for those externs who do not work in the same civilian roles, the training allows them to work with industry leading professionals who have strong skills, experience and teaching methodology.

While touting the program’s contribution to the readiness of Army Reserve medical units, Cruzdiaz also noted its benefits to his civilian profession. “For me, being a biomed (tech) on the civilian side, it’s also more training and education,” he said, referring to the additional know-how and equipment certification. He’s not alone in this appreciation.

“I’ve been working at a hospital for 10 years, so this is a lot of the equipment that I’ve seen before, said extern Sgt. David Travis, who is from the same Army Reserve dental unit as Cruzdiaz. “It’s good to get the opportunity to train more on it,” he said.

In addition to the development of skills on specific equipment, Travis sees a broader benefit gained from the enhanced problem-solving skills the program and its instructors impart to the students.

“There’s an underlying thought process and way of figuring out or gaining familiarization with a system that comes into play,” Travis said of the general trouble shooting methodology taught in the program.

Experienced medical equipment technicians who not only teach, but actually help design the courses, make up the training teams for the multi-phased program.

“We have dual roles with developing training content and then also facilitating that content,” said Frank Wade, a member of the ultra-sound training team, now in his third iteration as an instructor. He noted the success of this method and also pointed to characteristics of the extern student body that made teaching easier.

“Top notch,” Wade said, referring to the externs. “We have a lot of good students who come through our programs, whether it be through this externship program or just field engineers that we’ve hired with GE. There’s definitely a noticeable difference when you get a class room full of Soldiers and the way they approach the work and opportunity to learn. It’s noticeable,” he said. He felt that Army training gave them the right kind of logic to absorb potentially complex processes and courses of action.

While a strong sense of logic is a good foundation, it is only part of what is expected, and also fostered, in the GE HCI Externship program.

“You want individuals who are able to work independently, who are self-starters,” said Josh Davis, Director of Leadership and Training for the externship program, and a former Army medic, who holds the externs in high regard.

“They are motivated, and don’t need a lot of direction. Once given a task, they just jump in and get to work,” said Davis. “A lot of the learning is seated in their minds and in their hands when they take to the field setting and they have to control that destiny. That’s where being a self-starter is a really big deal,” he said.

The Army training method excels in the simplification of information, and that sets the stage. From there it’s the ability of the extern Soldier to employ the creative and emotional intelligence they all seem to share, despite their age and experience, Davis added.

“After that it’s different than typical Army training—you know, tasks, conditions and standards,” Davis said. “A lot of times, these guys have to determine what the conditions are on their own, and take it forward from there.”

In the last four week phase of the program, the externs are sent to the Medical Equipment Concentration Site in Odgen, Utah, where, in support of the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support), they play an important role that will directly impact medical readiness in the Army Reserve.

In response to a potentially changing threat involving near-peer capability adversaries, part of the more recent strategic outlay calls for the Army Reserve to enhance its preparedness, which it has been already doing through an initiative known as Ready Force X.

Ready Force X is meant to get certain units, their personnel and equipment prepared and moved as quickly into the field as possible, relative to the historic Army Reserve mobilization models of our past conflicts.

A key component in the support of ongoing operations in that context is serviceable and reliable medical equipment, such as anesthesia machines, ventilators, infusion pumps, defibrillators and patient monitors, vital to military physicians, nurses and care giving professionals.

The GE HCI externs are brought into the MECS to augment the current team of experienced biomed techs already there. This allows the simultaneous benefits of supporting the MECS effort, while also allowing the externs to polish their skills alongside more seasoned peers. Together they work toward achieving the operational support objectives outlined by Army Reserve Commander Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, consistent with his vision for more expedited mobilizations to meet the threat.

"The program provides an important link to Ready Force X. Medical units need to be prepared to rapidly deploy," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Todd Wilkerson, the Senior Health Services Maintenance Adviser at the 807th MCDS. "Advanced medical technology requires the most skilled technicians to support it. The Externship graduates are those most skilled technicians," he said.

Wilkerson went on to describe how the program also emphasizes work on the types of medical devices most likely found in a deployed environment. The field experience portions of the program are designed to place the Soldiers in stressful situations. The intent, is to better prepare the Soldiers to function under duress so they will be more successful on the battlefield in support of caregivers who in turn care for our Soldiers.

That commitment to enhanced readiness that the GE HCI Externship program supports is consistent with the relationship between GE Healthcare and its employees who serve in the Reserve Components of the U.S. military at large. On a wall in one of the main corridors at GE HCI are photos of each employee who is a mobilized or deployed service member. Alongside them is a plaque paying tribute not only to the deployed, but to the military veterans and currently serving personnel within the GE Healthcare family, where nearly 40 percent of the work force is either a veteran or current service member.

The pre-requisites to enter the externship program are few. A Soldier must be qualified in the 68A military occupational specialty, and must have 24 months of time-in-service remaining on his or her current contract. Interested Army Reserve Biomedical Equipment Specialists can learn more by contacting their Army Reserve Career Counselor.