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Hot Topics - Unification of SMBE's in Australia

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The Future of International Affiliation for BME Practitioners within Australia


The Adelaide Discussion 2005

At the EPSM/ABEC 2005 conference in Adelaide a meeting was convened to discuss the means by which international affiliation for Australian Biomedical practitioners may best be achieved. The model to date for the individual state SMBE's, the College of BME within Engineers Australia (CBME) and the Engineering members within the ACPSEM has been via the Australian Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering (AFMBE). It has been thought, particularly by some office bearers within the AFMBE, that there may be a better way. An initial discussion document, specifically discussing the issue from an SMBE perspective was circulated in early 2004 to promote discussion. The 2005 discussion was convened to particularly engage all AFMBE affiliates in a broader discussion.

At the above-mentioned meeting there was healthy debate about the pro's and cons of the options available. One principal factor was the acknowledgment that the International body with whom we affiliate, the IFMBE, does now allow multiple affiliations from within a single country. This was not the case until recently, the very situation that gave rise to the AFMBE as an umbrella affiliation body many years ago.

It was also acknowledged by those present that there may well be benefits in the SMBE's forming their own overarching structure to tie together what is now a range of disparate groups, and that they would have far greater potential if they presented with a common voice.

The ACPSEM it would appear have felt for some time that the AFMBE only providing affiliation for their Australian members, their engineering members in New Zealand have been compromised. They would welcome a model that recognised them as a trans-national organization, something that the IFMBE have also done with other organisations in the recent past.

A possible outcome therefore emerged that could comprise

  • The SMBE's establishing a national model and affiliating with the IFMBE
  • The EA CBME also seeking similar affiliation
  • Trans-national IFMBE recognition being sought for the ACPSEM so that their broader geographic base was adequately catered for.

The Way Ahead

It was agreed to pursue this overall plan with the key issue being the bringing together of the SMBEs from each state. I agreed, as the current AFMBE president, to play a co-ordinating role in this. I therefore propose that this be put on the agenda for the committees of each SMBE for earnest discussion and resolution at their earliest possible opportunity. I would appreciate if each group would feed back to me the results of those discussions, highlighting any issues that they may have identified that we may need to work through. Keep in mind that during the discussions in Adelaide , at which all groups were represented, there emerged a consensus to move in this direction, what we are looking for from this point on is constructive input so that discussions can move forward. I will collate these comments, circulate them for consideration and then convene a teleconference involving office bearers from each state to facilitate further discussion.

One of the matters that we will need to consider is how the national structure may appear. I would welcome comments on this but could easily be something along the lines of a rotating Chair/Secretariat between states, maybe following the EPSM/ABEC conference for example.

During this process I would plan to keep the chairs of both Colleges updated with progress so that they remain engaged in the process, despite much of the deliberation needing to be amongst the SMBEs in the first instance.

IFMBE Discussions

Concurrent with this Richard Kirsner, who has very close formal and informal links with the IFMBE has undertaken to commence discussions with the relevant people within that organisation to “test the waters” in respect to the plan that is emerging. We can be optimistic of the outcomes based upon the fact that what we are proposing is no longer out of the ordinary and that it is being done in a cohesive and structured manner rather than in a divisive or competitive manner like some other examples that they have encountered.

Please feel free to contact me at any time with any comments or suggestions that we can take into consideration during this very important process. It really is a sign that the BME scene here within Australia is reaching another level of maturity that will see all of the bodies involved serve their members well.

Adrian Richards
President AFMBE
Imm. Past President SMBE (SA)
Dep. Chair CBME, Engineers Australia
Mar 2006

The Case for National Unification of the SMBEs in Australia


Current Situation 2004

SMBEs are well established in WA, SA, Vic, NSW and Queensland. There is fledgling activity in NT also. Collectively their membership constitutes easily the largest group of BME practitioners and other medical technology orientated individuals within Australia, totaling in the order of 300-400 members. Currently there is no formal mechanism of co-ordination of activities, policies or strategies between these groups. This does occur, at times, by way of the informal networks that exist across the country. Theoretically the Australian Federation of Medical and Biological Engineering (AFMBE) provides a forum that brings them together however this is not the intended purpose of this federation, it is not structured to act as a conduit for SMBE issues.

The “Problems”

There is no doubt that these state based activities could continue, without formal links, very much as they do currently. However this could be considered to not be making best use of opportunities and significant potential that may arise should they act in a combined and co-hesive manner. At the present time:

  • Initiatives taken by individual states do not readily transfer to adoption by other states e.g. the state-by-state entering into MOU’s with Engineers Australia or the ability to pick up on workshop ideas and transfer them to other states.
  • Affiliation with like bodies overseas cannot readily be achieved. The best example of this is the emerging national body* within the USA that is quite similar in many ways to the SMBE, both organisations may mutually benefit by establishing links
  • Being only a “bit player” in national discussions such as the determination of conference venues and associated issues. Currently, the relevant state SMBE is simply invited to participate, often in a minor role, after the two colleges make the big decisions. We do not really have a place at the table in this regard.
  • Groups wanting to establish contact with the SMBE and it’s membership needing to do so in a disjointed and often problematic manner needing to chase up individually the current contact details for each state.
  • The ability to engage sponsors at a national level is not possible, there is opportunity to achieve this via advertising to such a large group of members. It is a market that companies cannot reach easily in any other manner.

The Opportunities

There is the chance to address all of the above issues fairly readily with a combined SMBE that featured a national system of governance. The idea would not be to take away financial or operational control of any of the State based SMBEs. They would continue to collect their own subscriptions, organise their own events in what could be thought of a federal type system. The National body would simply harness the collective voice and influence of what would become the largest and most broadly representative BME group in the country. The strength that would be achieved by way of this unity could be used to advantage in all of the above and possibly other situations.

A Plan

This “amalgamation” could be achieved by the establishment of an SMBE national executive. This could comprise the President of each existing state society from amongst whom a chairperson could be nominated. It should not really be necessary to have other appointed officers at this level; the secretariat/treasury function could be rotated between states. Discussions and affairs could largely be conducted by teleconference, with consideration perhaps being given to one face to face meeting per annum, possibly co-inciding with a national conference or event. These communications channels would need to be funded, this could be by way of a per capita contribution by each state to a national executive fund. Assuming teleconferences would be the initial means of communication something of the order of $1 per member per annum should adequately fund this activity.

The Role of the AFMBE

This organisation, having been in existence for some 30 plus years, is purely and simply intended as a vehicle to establish affiliation with the International Federation of Medical and Biological Engineering. (IFMBE). Affiliated in this means, via the AFMBE, are also the College of Biomedical Engineers within Engineers Australia and the engineering members of the Australian College and physical Sciences and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM). This is achieved with a degree of success, but the Federation is not set up to act as a decision making group for just a limited number of its affiliates (i.e. SMBE’s only). It also really just adds another layer and another entity between the international organisation and the local bodies seeking the international links. The BME community would be far better served by establishing these links directly i.e. a national SMBE directly affiliated with the IFMBE. This would leave both of the colleges without this affiliation however this is possibly not a major issue. The ASPSEM has other international links that arguably satisfy it’s requirements. The CBME within EA could establish its own links as we have seen a change of stance within the IFMBE lately with the allowing of two bodies within a single country to affiliate separately. This has not been accepted up until now, a policy that ultimately saw the formation of the AFMBE so many years ago. This strategy would see the AFMBE dissolving after having run its course and becoming an impediment rather than a facilitator of effective links.

The Way Ahead

This concept requires discussion within each state SMBE at the committee level to reach an consensus on the relative merit or otherwise of this strategy. Should it generally be considered as a worthwhile option to be explored, an initial teleconference could be set up to work through any matters or questions that arise from each states discussions.

Adrian Richards
President AFMBE
Imm. Past Pres SMBE(SA) Inc.

* See "Get Organised" by Mary Coker CBET, in 24x7 Magazine November 2003

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Updated September 28, 2010