By K. Richard Douglas
It was practical advice from a mentor that got Lewis Free into the biomed field, and eventually, into a career path in imaging. Free is director of biomedical engineering and imaging engineering at Cape Cod Hospital and works for Sodexo Clinical Technology Management.
Much like the old adage about death and taxes, he learned early on that there would always be a need for those who repair medical equipment; a more positive truism.
“I was introduced to the biomed/imaging service profession by one of my engineering professors, while researching various companies, to submit my resume [to], for an internship while in college. He informed me that a biomedical/clinical engineer does an amazing job maintaining medical devices for the safe use on patients,” Free says.
“I always had the thought of designing and constructing machines for release to the market but had not given much thought to the maintenance of the machines. What convinced me was his statement ‘there will always be a need for skilled individuals that can repair these devices, and the more complicated the system, the more in demand that individual is.’ With research, I decided that I would pursue the biomed field,” he adds.
Free says that he began to learn the skills that were required of a biomed by shadowing another employee that his manager assigned him to. During that time, he learned some simple rules that would serve a biomed well; beyond realizing that not everything can be gleaned from shadowing.
“The exception was you were expected to know essential problem-solving,” Free says. “One is a critical thinker. For every problem, start in the middle; the second don’t over-think it. And when I was working on a problem, I was unable to resolve, I would ask, and they would hand me the book – service manual – even if, and especially if, they know the answer. It wasn’t until later in my career, when I took a job with Sodexo, that I received formal training in imaging from DITEC and RSTI on various imaging modalities,” Free says.
Free’s introduction to imaging happened through happenstance.
“I was fortunate to assist a senior biomed staff on a service call from the radiology department,” he says. “After seeing the system complexity, and the challenge it poses, I knew I had found my career path in the field.”
Since joining the biomed and imaging professions, Free has served as a Biomed I, Biomed II and Biomed III; a lab specialist and [an] imaging engineering specialist prior to his current position as director of biomedical engineering and imaging engineering.
Trusting In-house Resources
Free says that it can be a challenge to convince some clinicians that the trained in-house expertise of imaging specialists is up to the task as much as factory engineers.
“The most challenging thing in this field is convincing the radiology manager that the OEM is not the only vendor that has experienced service engineers to repair, calibrate and PM the imaging system,” he says.
“Additionally, the OEM does not have a moratorium on service engineers; we (all vendors) pick the service engineer from the same pot. In this age of competition, we cannot just be the imaging guy/girl only. What I have done, that has been very effective in winning over the radiology department and allowing us to take over more imaging systems, was: being proactive and injecting myself into imaging systems that have been a problem in the past with the OEM and their inability to resolve the problem,” Free adds.
He says that he has stepped in to find the problem and contacted the OEM, because the system [was] under contract, and together we resolved the issued.
“This approach works, because as third-party imaging engineers, we are expected to be right every time, unlike the OEM. And this shows the radiology department staff that we are not lower in skill than the OEM,” Free says.
“In my role at Cape Cod Hospital, I have been assisting the hospital each year with their budget as it relates to planning and ordering medical devices throughout the hospital. Additionally, I am on the project committee, EOC committee, radiation safety committee and heading a biomed sub-committee,” Free adds.
Free says that prior to joining Sodexo; he had started his own company called Freesystems Technology, which specialized in repairing and calibrating X-ray systems throughout the U.S. He said the enactment of a new standard made it difficult to continue the company.
“I took a job with Sodexo CTM, and within a year of my employment, I won Imaging Engineer of the Year from Sodexo CTM,” Free says.
Start Each Morning the Right Way
Free is part of a family of four. “I am blessed to have a lovely wife, Nicola, and two daughters Alivia (11) and Alanna (3),” he says. Away from work, he enjoys repairing electrical devices.
Free also believes having the right attitude is important when it comes to being successful.
“I am a passionate guy that loves to joke around and not take things too seriously. I am also competitive and self-motivated. My drive comes from words that I live by,” he explains.
Those words come in a quotation attributed to Don Montano that state: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are the lion or the gazelle; when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
The imaging systems at Cape Cod Hospital are in good hands with a imaging engineering director who hits the road running every morning.