So you want one of those high-pay, high-tech jobs, and you want the military to give you a head start. But how do you choose a field when “tech” is so ubiquitous in today’s job market? You could play it safe and go for information technology, but what if you want to carve out a more specific niche from the get-go?
One option is to specialize in biomedical equipment repair, which Payscale.com’s “Ask Dr. Salary” reports was one of the top technology jobs for veterans in 2012 -- with projected growth of 27% through 2018.
True, the military does train many of its medical professionals to operate in austere environments, where conditions aren’t so friendly to high-tech equipment and low-tech skills can be your best friend. But they don’t dare shun the diagnostic and treatment advantages afforded by the latest technology. That’s why the Army, Navy, and Air Force all train their own Biomedical Equipment Technicians (BMETs) to keep everything from lab equipment to diagnostic imaging tools running in tip-top condition.
Now that the military has standardized and consolidated all medical training, students from the three service branches attend BMET school together at the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) aboard Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. (As of 2012, you can ignore any information out there claiming the course is given at Sheppard Air Force Base or other locations.)
The Biomedical Equipment Technician course lasts 41 weeks, beginning with basic electronics and troubleshooting before moving on to cover each of a wide variety of medical equipment categories, including surgical, dental, diagnostic imaging, and information technology equipment. There is also a segment built into the curriculum for each branch to conduct training specific to soldiers, sailors, or airmen.
The ultimate goal is to produce technicians who can not only troubleshoot, adjust, and calibrate biomedical equipment, but perform repairs down to the component and circuit board level -- because as the Air Force’s website aptly observes, “when you're in the middle of nowhere, you can't send out for parts, especially when lives are on the line.”
After initial training, working military BMETs can (and definitely should) enroll in additional certification programs to bolster their performance and credentials. The Army and Navy Credentialing Opportunities Online sites, and the Air Force Credentialing and Education Research Tool, all recommend possibilities such as Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician, Certified Technicians in Biomedical Electronics and Biomedical Imaging, and Certified Specialists in Radiology or Laboratory Equipment. BMETs can also get an edge using tuition assistance and the GI Bill to complete a college-level education like the Community College of the Air Force’s Biomedical Equipment Technology degree program.
As an enlisted specialty in any branch, entering the BMET field generally requires at least a high school diploma. Normal color vision is a must given the circuit board work. In addition:
- The Army requires a composite Electronics score of 107 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB.) They also expect “[c]redit for 1-year high school Algebra or score of 45 or higher on GED Test 5,” according to their welcome letter to students at the BMET course.
- Using their own version of ASVAB scores, the Air Force sets the bar at 70 for Electronics and 60 for Mechanical. (See the difference between Air Force and Army scoring systems here.)
- The Navy requires prior enlistment as a Hospital Corpsman and a rank of at least E-4 to enroll in BMET training (more on that below.)
The Different Service Branches to Join
While it seems like a matter of personal taste, there are practical considerations when choosing between Army, Navy, or Air Force BMET careers. The Army and Air Force both have an entry-level Military Occupational Specialty or Air Force Specialty Code for Biomedical Equipment Technicians. As long as the recruiter can find you a slot, this guarantees a fast track to paid training and a career where you’ll develop a solid resume focused exclusively on medical equipment repair.
The Navy, on the other hand, treats BMET as a secondary specialization under the broad purview of Hospital Corpsmen (HM). This means the BMET field isn’t entry-level for sailors -- you’d have to enlist as a Corpsman first -- but there are advantages. BMET is just one of many specializations possible for HMs, so there’s more flexibility available over the course of your career, and you could build a wider range of marketable skills.
Biomedical engineering blogger Joaquin Mayoral, Ph.D. points out that “Navy BMET’s are probably the best prepared . . . [because] they have an insight into the medical professional’s needs which no current A.S. or B.S. BMET curriculum can or will ever match.”
The downside? There’s no stipulation on a Navy enlistment contract guaranteeing the specialization. Even after you get promoted to E-4 and apply for BMET school, you’re not guaranteed a seat. So if you want to join the Navy and study biomedical equipment repair, it’s best to have an interest in the medical field as a whole – with healthy doses of patience and flexibility.