John Waller works for CME Corp as Biomedical Services Manager and also volunteers for the Air National Guard.
John has shared his experience of how he has combined his passion for caring and serving with his strong interest in electronics and fixing things.
Path to Biomedical Engineering
Could you give a brief description of your background and what led you to join the Army and then to move into Biomedical Engineering?
What drew me into the service was a deep patriotic conviction of wanting to be a part of something bigger than myself and doing something for my country. For as long as I can remember, I have been patriotic and to this day I still am! I did my time in the Army. Then after an honourable discharge I decided to join the Air Force. I then pursued my next passion which was Biomedical Engineering. It was here in the Air Force and through the Department of Defence BMET school that I was thrust into the Biomed world.
Were there any childhood interests which were a factor?
I always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together. Although I must admit in my earlier days that not much of what I took apart every made it back together correctly.
Has there been a particular person who has inspired you?
My mother inspired me as I watched her grow in her healthcare career. I knew she had been born to take care of others; she had the gift. I knew I wanted to help patients in the healthcare setting but not directly. This is where Biomedical Engineering came into play. We are like the “man behind the curtain,” if you will. That is a Wizard of Oz reference, a favourite movie of mine growing up.
Work life balance
How have you managed to study whilst working?
I have been blessed with a beautiful wife who is not only smart but understanding, as well as two amazing children. I get a lot of my studying for my M.S. in Engineering Management done on my lunch breaks at work but sometimes my academic work spills over into family time. We all make it work, and as they say, “it takes a village.”
How do you balance your Air National Guard work as well?
My duties only take me away from my family at most one weekend a month and a few weeks a year. However, we deploy all over the world. Most recently I was deployed to Africa last year to provide medical mission support. I guess you could say we hope for the best but plan for the worst in terms of time apart.
How do you keep time for family and friends?
Over the years my friend group has shrunk considerably. You start to realize who is really a friend and who is just an acquaintance. I only want people in my life who are going to make me a better person. Family has always been there for me, and I try to make sure I have a healthy work/life balance.
Your most recent overseas experience was in Senegal. What did it involve?
I was deployed with members of the 158th MDG out of Vermont, they call us the “Green Mountain Boys.”
We were sent there with two goals in mind:
provide exceptional health care to those that needed it
win the hearts and minds of the local population
Typically, we spent most of our days combatting COVID 19 as well as assisting in local hospitals. We were in the operating rooms, the birthing rooms, and anywhere we could be of service.
Members of my group consisted of Nurse Anesthetists, Doctors, Biomedical Engineers, Nurses, and other Healthcare professionals. It was truly a humbling experience to be able to assist these people and be a part of their lives. They have very little, but they are a very proud people, and it was an honour to be able to work alongside them.
Typical day as Biomedical Services Manager for CME Corp.
What’s your typical day like?
Usually, my day starts and ends with my team! I place them at the forefront of all that I do. It is through my team, that ultimately, we are successful. I like to check-in with them and make sure their work/life balance is manageable and ask them if there is anything I can do for them. Typically, we are providing Biomedical support to numerous healthcare organizations across multiple states in New England. We are working in fast-paced hospital settings and placing patient safety and customer satisfaction as our primary goals.
How much of your time is spent ‘hands on’ and how much managing and team leading?
To be completely transparent, a lot of what I do as a manger is no longer “hands on.” My role is one that is 100% leadership. I have been in the “trenches,” and I have done what I am asking my team to do daily, so I have gained their respect. Now, I take from my experience in the field and apply it to my everyday job responsibilities so that I can set up my team for success.
What exactly do your team service in terms of machines and devices?
We service all general Biomed equipment ranging from defibrillators and ECGs all the way down to the thermometers used to do patient temperature checks in hospitals.
Most challenging part of the job
What is the most challenging part of your job – technical side, people management or dealing with other parts of the organisation?
I would have to say that the hardest part of my job that I struggle with daily, is change. Change happens in the blink of an eye. Although we try to plan-ahead, the only thing that is certain in this industry is that nothing is certain. Our job requires that we remain in a constant state of flux and through our flexibility we can maintain patient safety and customer satisfaction.
What has been your most challenging job to date in any role?
This role has been my most challenging to date but also the most rewarding!
How do you explain technical issues to non-technical people?
Very carefully, and oftentimes I use utilize humour and humility to better explain technical information.
Have you ever serviced a machine and thought: “this has been brilliantly designed”?
Yes, I have always had a passion for working with imaging equipment. I think that the GE VIVID Ultrasounds are by far one of the best and brilliantly designed products I have ever come across. They are used to provide patients with a 3D look at their baby and the surrounding area.
Have you ever serviced a machine and thought: “this has not had any input from the service team”?
There are too many to choose from to be honest. A lot of times we run into issues with poor performance/engineering on medical equipment that is being used for purposes it was not originally intended for. This may not be a direct indication of poor engineering but just poor planning on the manufacturing/clinical side.
Air National Guard
What does your job involve?
My Air Force career is much like that of my civilian career. In fact so much so that sometimes I can no longer tell a difference minus the uniform of the day. I chose my careers for both Military and Civilian for such a reason, so that I could constantly do what I love every day and so that there was never a day I stopped learning.
What sort of training do you undertake each year?
We are held to standards just like in the civilian world. We are trained to keep up with our competencies and our physical as well as mental upkeep. This could be in the form of individual training or joint training with multiple branches of government.
Can you give an example of the sort of disasters you have helped with?
We are trained to assist with local and state disasters such as those requiring CBRN “Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, and Nuclear.” Any such disaster where the use of medical teams and equipment would prompt the immediate need for Biomedical Engineers to take care of the equipment.
Ideal service engineer
What sort of personality traits and skills are ideal?
Honestly, I look for Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and place a higher value on that versus someone with a high IQ.
The ability to think on one’s feet and react to ever-changing situations in a positive way are some of the traits I look for. Most importantly, if you don’t wake up excited to come to work every single day, you are probably in the wrong career field, or your work culture needs some tweaking.
Apart from a strong technical background, what are the three most important skills to have?
Resiliency, Resiliency, Resiliency.
I say this three time to emphasise the importance of being resilient day in and day out. Customer service-related fields are very high-stress and oftentimes not very rewarding from an outward view. This is the type of career that offers very few pats on the back but offers an abundance of self-satisfaction for those prepared to work.
Why would you recommend volunteering?
For those of you who want to make a difference in today’s health care setting but know you aren’t cut out for direct patient care, give electronics a shot. If you are technically apt and want to be challenged every day and continue to receive cutting-edge training, try out Biomed. This is a great career field that continues to grow and continues to offer an excellent salary and benefits for those individuals who choose this path.
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