For many people, the medical field holds promise that is not found in other areas. A medical position offers benefits, high job availability, and financial security. Not everyone, however, is comfortable with administering shots or dealing with blood or other aspects of the field that are unavoidable and vital. For those people, or for those just more interested in and skilled with computers and technology, a career as a biomedical equipment technician may hold appeal. A biomedical technician is responsible for fixing, maintaining, and overseeing equipment throughout a hospital. Should you pursue this career, you would not only find yourself with great job stability, but you would also find yourself in an important position in the health care industry. A hospital without dependable equipment will be no more successful or effective than a hospital without doctors.
The ICC Certification for Biomedical Equipment Technicians (CBET) is a certification exam available to those interested in becoming or already employed as a biomedical equipment technician. It is possible to become a biomedical equipment technician without taking this certification exam, but those who take the CBET will find that they are eligible for job advancement, higher salaries, and greater credibility in their field. They may also find that in studying for and passing the exam they broaden their knowledge base and expertise, thus proving their qualifications to themselves and becoming more comfortable with their duties.
The exam is typically administered five to six times a year at locations across the country. You can find specific dates and locations at the website for the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, which issues and administers the exam. Before applying, you should be aware that you must submit a set fee of $350 with your application. If you don’t live within a 250 mile range of any of the available exam locations, a special testing center can be arranged. The fees for special testing centers are $100 for an individual or $250 for a group of five persons or more. In either of these cases a special request must be sent at least eight weeks prior to the certification exam. Military applicants and international applicants can also have special arrangements made for a different exam location according to their needs, and their requests must be submitted eight weeks prior to the certification exam as well. Any applicants expressing a desire to test in a special location should be aware that they will still have to take the exam on one of the official testing dates. Applicants who cannot take Saturday exams due to religious beliefs can submit a request for a Sunday exam. Arrangements can be made for special needs applicants upon request as well.
Once all fees and applications have been processed, applicants admitted into the CBET will have 4 hours to take their exam. You should arrive at your exam location at least 30 minutes before testing is set to begin. You’ll need to have your admissions notice, a photo identification, such as driver’s license or passport, a Number 2 pencil (you should probably bring more than one) and a calculator that is not programmable. Don’t plan on using the calculator feature on your cell phone, as electronic devices must be turned off while the test is in progress.
The exam is divided into five areas of content: anatomy and physiology (13%), public safety in the health care facility (17%), fundamentals of electricity, electronics, and solid-state devices (17%), medical equipment function and operation (26%), and medical equipment problem solving (27%). Overall, the exam will come out to 150 questions. Expect a multiple choice format.
You will receive your results about 6 weeks after the test is administered. To become certified you will have to get 105 out of the 150 questions correct. After 2 years you will have to get your certification renewed, and then every 3 years after the first renewal.
CBET Exam: Eligibility and the Application Process
Not everyone qualifies for taking the CBET exam. A certain amount of education and/or experience is required as a prerequisite to admission to certification testing. There are four different ways an individual can qualify for eligibility. A biomedical Associate’s degree and two years of experience as a biomedical equipment technician (BMET) can qualify an individual. Any biomedical Associate’s degree will do, and you must have full-time status in your work experience. Another route to eligibility is going through a U.S. military BMET program in conjunction with obtaining two years work experience as a BMET. Again, this work experience must be on a full-time basis.
An individual can also meet eligibility requirements by obtaining an electronics technology Associate’s degree and working for three years as a full-time BMET. There is not a preference over a biomedical degree or electronics technology degree. You will have to accumulate more work experience to qualify with the electronics degree, but you’ll find that going through such a program will prepare you greatly for the kinds of issues you’re going to be working with.
You can also qualify for admission into the exam without a degree. This route requires you to work four years as a BMET on a full-time basis. This is one of the less likely ways to qualify, as most hospitals will check for an educational background before hiring a biomedical equipment technician.
Only one of these requirements must be met. Thus, there are several different avenues to meet eligibility requirements. Keep in mind, however, that these are the minimum requirements. Anything less, and your application will be sent back and your fees refunded.
A nontraditional means of meeting eligibility requirements is applying under candidate status. In this case, the applicant must complete a biomedical Associate’s degree, a U.S. military BMET program, an electronics technology Associate’s degree in conjunction with one year working as a full-time BMET, or two years as a full-time BMET. The applicant applying under candidate status then has five years to pass their examination and fulfill the minimum eligibility requirements that traditionally must be met.
To apply for a slot in the CBET exam, go to the website of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and print off an application. The AAMI offers several certification exams, so make sure to indicate in the appropriate box that it is the CBET exam you wish to take. Fill out the rest of the application as indicated by the instructions. The application is divided into two parts, so be sure to fill out all necessary information in both portions.
Along with your application, you’ll need to send in a copy of your diploma issued by your educational institution if you are meeting eligibility requirements with an Associate’s degree or greater, a copy of your diploma issued by the U.S. military if you completed a military BMET program, an official copy of your college transcripts if you are applying for the certification exam as an international applicant, and all of the required fees. For most candidates, fees will amount to $315, but for those requesting a special exam location because of military or international status, or due to not being within a reasonable distance of an official testing location, fees will be $100. All of these documents should be sent to the ICC Examinations address, which can be found on the AAMI website. Your application package should be postmarked by the official application deadline, which you will find listed on the AAMI website.
After sending in your application, you should expect to wait about two weeks to hear back on whether you have met eligibility requirements and been accepted into the certification exam. Your slot in the exam will either be confirmed or your application and fees will be returned if you do not qualify.
CBET Exam: Study Strategies
Because so much material is covered in the CBET exam, preparation and studying may seem like a daunting task. You may not even know where to begin, but there is a methodical approach you can take. While taking college courses may be the best way to prepare yourself for this exam, it is possible to do it on your own. Begin by writing out a schedule. You’ll need to start preparing in advance, or any amount of studying you do won’t be of use. Cramming, even if it is the week before rather than the night before, can result in general exhaustion and forgetfulness the day of the test. To ensure that you are really learning the material and not just storing it in your short term memory, plan to start studying long before the test date is even in sight. Given the vast amount of material the test can draw from, it would be best to set aside a month for each of the five content areas and a month for general study. So six months in advance, you should get materials together and get started.
As is the case with most endeavors toward furthering your education, you’re going to have to spend some money. Purchase textbooks covering anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, electronics, biomedical instruments, and information technology and networking. Look into buying these used at a local college bookstore or online to save money. You’ll also need any relevant handbooks on safety regulations in the hospital setting. Most of these you can download for free at the websites of organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). While there is no official study guide put out by the International Certification Commission (ICC), there are companies that publish study guides for the CBET exam. You can study on your own or in conjunction with one of these guides if you wish.
After you have your study materials, start the first month on anatomy and physiology. A typical anatomy and physiology textbook will cover the skeletal, muscular, nervous, circulatory, immune, respiratory, urinary, digestive, and male and female reproductive systems. Read through chapter by chapter, highlighting any terms or relevant phrases as you go. At the end of each chapter, answer any exercise questions and write a brief summary of what you just read. Make flashcards of all the terms you have highlighted and go over them daily, each day incorporating new sets from chapters just finished.
Follow this study plan with each of the textbooks covering the five different content areas of the exam. You should at least cover a chapter per day, and no more than three per day. Answer all exercise problems, write summaries of each chapter, and use flashcards. You may not feel like you are learning everything. That’s because you’re not. Even in six months’ time, there is no way you’re going to learn everything you need to know from anatomy and physiology to electronics. You will, however, be absorbing and retaining a great deal of information, and as you go, you’ll find it easier and easier to pick out the most relevant parts of text and focus on them, while quickly scanning through the less important portions. Although the safety guidelines will not come in chapters, try to apply this plan to them as much as possible. Flashcards will be very useful for learning safety standards.
Use the final month to review everything you have learned. Go over flashcards and pick questions at random from your textbooks to tackle. While the ICC does not issue an official practice test, some study guides come with them included. This last month would be a good time to take a practice test while timing yourself. You’ll be able to gauge your problem areas more accurately and spend more time on those in the days leading up to the exam.
Once you have passed the CBET exam, you will need to renew your certification on a regular basis by continuing your education. Renewing your CBET certification ensures patient safety, your awareness of changes or advancements in your field, and your job standards. If your certification is revoked, you may no longer be eligible for the salary you currently enjoy with your certification. After you pass the CBET exam, you will be certified for the remainder of the calendar year in which you passed the exam as well as for the following year. When this time is up you’ll receive notification by mail that you need to pay your renewal fees. Once you’ve paid this, your certification will be valid for three years. Every three years thereafter you will have to comply with ICC standards to renew your certification. The renewal procedure essentially requires your doing two things: paying fees and accruing activity points.
Over the course of a three year period you will have to accrue 15 “activity points.” These points convey your level of involvement in your field, both during and outside of working hours. You can gain these points by going to work-sponsored meetings, going to educational meetings in your field, or joining and participating in a professional organization that deals with your area of expertise. Once you’ve joined an organization, writing papers or making public speeches may count for points. There are some continuing education courses you can sign up for and take to accrue points. These courses are outlined in the Continuing Practice Journal and on the AAMI’s website. These may be workshops put on by hospital administration, classes offered by local community colleges, or courses taken online. In addition to taking courses, you can also teach courses to accrue points. Teaching will typically garner you more points that taking a class. In general, every activity will count for a certain number of points. Some will count for more, and some will count for less. As long as their combination comes out to a minimum of 15 points, you will be clear on this level.
You can find out the number of points an activity constitutes and document it in the Continuing Practice Journal. You can find the journal online at the website for the AAMI. In the journal you will fill out your basic information and proceed to document how you have attained your points. If you have taken or taught a course, indicate the course’s name, instructor, the dates you took it, the location where it was taught, and your individual status in the course (instructor or student). If you have written an article, indicate the article’s title, the journal it was published in, and the date it appeared. If you have participated in a professional organization, indicate your title and assignments, the location of the meetings, and the dates you were involved. If you hold an active membership but do not carry out regular duties, you can still obtain points, though fewer than if you were keeping minutes or executing some other assignment. Lastly, you can document hours you have spent in personal study of books, online resources, or published periodicals that are relevant to your field. Work experience can also help you accrue points, but even at full-time status, you will only get one point per year.
Be aware that there are a maximum number of points you can gain in each of several categories. For example, you can gain no more than 10 points by taking or teaching classes, so after you have reached that maximum, you will have to get the remaining five points from another area, such as involvement in an organization or publishing papers in established journals.
Once you have documented your points, fill out the rest of your forms, have them signed by your supervisor, and send them along with your fees (typically $90) to renew your certification.
CBET Exam Content: Sections I, II, & III
In terms of content, the CBET exam is divided into five sections: anatomy and physiology, public safety in the health care facility, fundamentals of electricity, electronics and solid-state devices, medical equipment function and operation, and medical equipment problem solving. While all of these topics will certainly be of relevance to you as a biomedical equipment technician, they are somewhat broad and would merit some explanation. The more specific your knowledge of the test content, the better you can prepare beforehand while you’re studying.
The first portion covers anatomy and physiology. If you have obtained an Associate’s degree in a biomedical program in order to meet eligibility requirements, the odds are you have probably encountered a course in anatomy and physiology in your college experience. If not, there are basically four different subtopics you will need to familiarize yourself with: systems, organs, blood, and terminology. The systems you will be tested over include the circulatory system, respiratory system, nervous system, endocrine system, gastrointestinal system, and musculoskeletal system. You’ll need to know about the organs involved in each of these systems, the ends they work toward, and how they function, both among themselves and in conjunction with the rest of the body.
There are also some specific organs you’ll be tested over. The heart, brain, liver, lungs, and kidneys are a few examples. Any bodily is fair game for testing material. You will be expected to know all the parts of these organs (for example, the aorta, left and right ventricle, and left and right atrium of the heart) and where they are located on a diagram. You will be expected to know the function of the individual parts of an organ and the overall function of the organ itself.
Blood is another aspect of anatomy and physiology you’ll be tested on. Expect questions over the blood’s components, such as plasma and red and white blood cells. You’ll also need to know about metabolism. On top of systems, organs, and blood, expect anatomy and physiology questions over terminology. Relevant terminology includes names for different body parts, as well as the names of functions and processes within the body.
The second portion of the exam will cover public safety in the health care facility. This refers to the safety and well-being of hospital staff, patients, and patient visitors. Questions in this area will cover the proper handling and disposal of chemical and biological materials, electrical safety, radiation danger and safeguards, and protocol in the event of fires. You’ll be tested extensively over codes and standards as delineated by a number of different professional bodies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Questions regarding safety will also be drawn from the Joint Commission Comprehensive Accreditation Manual.
The third portion of the exam will cover fundamentals of electricity, electronics, and solid-state devices. If you have obtained an Associate’s degree in electronics technology in order to meet eligibility requirements, some of the information covered in this part of the test will probably look familiar to you. This portion covers transducers, circuits, test equipment, calculations and conversions, devices, and batteries. Not only will you need to know about things like semiconductor theory, electronic tests, and AC and DC circuits, you’ll need to know how to solve hypothetical problems that may arise with an electronic device or piece of equipment. Electronics only make up about 13% of the test material, but it is the backbone of the work you’ll be doing as a biomedical equipment technician. You need to know and understand electricity and electronics in order to pass your certification exam and effectively and safely carry out your job.
The remaining two areas of the CBET exam will focus on medical equipment function and operation and medical equipment problems solving.
CBET Exam Content: Sections IV & V
The first three content areas covered in the CBET exam are anatomy and physiology, public safety in the health care facility, and fundamentals of electricity, electronics, and solid-state devices. The two remaining sections cover medical equipment function and operation and medical equipment problem solving. These last portions are the most important content areas. They constitute the bulk of the exam material, coming in at about 57% of the 150 questions, and they test your understanding of some of the most important duties you will have as a biomedical equipment technician. You may not always be dealing directly with the musculoskeletal system or electronics theory, but you will always be working with the application of medical equipment.
There are a number of types of equipment you will need to be familiar with for the fourth content area of the exam. You’ll need to know about test equipment, centrifuges, microscopes, refrigerators, blood gas analyzers, urinalysis equipment, blood bank equipment, microbiology equipment, histology equipment, hematology equipment, and chemistry equipment. Each of these areas of equipment requires extensive knowledge of more than one piece of equipment. For example, histology equipment you will be expected to know about may include cryostats, microtomes, and their accessories. Urinalysis equipment may include a refractometer, centrifuge, and microscope. Blood bank equipment will include platelet incubators, plasma freezers, and red cell freezers, among other things. Essentially, you need to have a thorough understanding of any apparatus found in a hospital. This means you should know what each piece of equipment is for, how it works, and how to fix it in the event of an unexpected problem.
In addition to specific pieces of equipment, you’ll also need to know about any relevant computer software, hardware, operating systems, or network topologies typically used in a hospital setting. You will get questions testing your knowledge of how these things work and how to navigate through them when problems arise. Familiarize yourself with terminology related to hospital equipment and computer programs for this portion of the exam. There may be questions on routine diagnostic tests you can perform to ensure the successful functioning of medical instruments and hospital computer equipment before any problems have a chance to arise.
The fifth and final content area of the CBET exam is medical equipment problem solving. Once you are certified and are in the work place, it will be one thing to know how various pieces of equipment work, and another thing altogether to know what to do when something goes wrong. This is where the importance of your job comes into play. Without a biomedical equipment technician to help when machines malfunction, patients could be put at serious risk.
This portion of the test will draw directly from the apparatus and equipment from the previous portion. You’ll get questions dealing with specific, common problems you will have to address with these machines and situational problems, such as prioritizing work and the applications of equipment. Some other specific examples of instruments you may be tested over include spectrophotometers, colometers, anesthesia machines, ventilators, ultrasound equipment, X-ray equipment, and sterilizers. The typical format for these problem solving questions will be in the form of a description of a problem that arises with a piece of equipment and then several choices as to what is causing the problem. Be careful with these questions, because the answer you choose will not only depend on the type of equipment, but the particular situation being described to you. These questions can vary in difficulty and may require you to think creatively to determine which of the possible answers is correct. You may get questions in this section or the previous section on medical equipment function and operation over safety procedures you can execute on a regular basis to prevent certain problems from arising with medical equipment.