The best way for technicians to prepare for the MECH exam is to get as much hands-on experience as possible.

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Health care facilities managers are tasked with numerous and constantly changing priorities. One way these professionals address these day-to-day tasks is by leaning on the highly skilled health care technicians on their teams. Often, these technicians display ideas and skill sets that have been forged through the experiences of education, along with trial and error.

Technicians certified through the Mechanic Evaluation and Certification for Healthcare (MECH) program, which last year joined the American Society for Health Care Engineering’s (ASHE’s) line of professional certifications, are recognized for these attributes and provide a benefit to facilities managers and the health care facilities in which they work.

Importance of technicians

When people think of health care professionals, the first thing that comes to mind is doctors and nurses. Rightly so, as these individuals are often the ones who are directly in contact with the patients and delivering care. But there are additional people within the facility who are indirectly influencing the care of those patients. 

Health care facilities managers sometimes joke that they never get calls to their office from folks thanking them for the lights coming on or the temperature being just right. The reason these things are often taken for granted is that there are skilled technicians within the facilities division working behind the scenes to ensure the buildings are working as they should. 

These individuals often act like extensions of the facilities management group and are not only constantly representing the division but also projecting the customer service attitude of the entire organization. They provide the foundation that allows the front-line clinical staff to do their jobs in a safe and efficient manner. Items as simple as lighting and heating are not a big deal to clinical staff until they are not working. 

The role of the facilities staff can sometimes be overlooked, but it provides indirect support that can also have an impact on patient outcomes. For example, health care-associated infections (HAIs) continue to be consistent drivers of length of patient stay and even hospital reimbursement. Health care organizations are constantly trying to reduce and eliminate these HAIs. 

Technicians working in the facility division who understand and can apply the principles within American National Standards Institute/ASHRAE/ASHE Standard 170, Ventilation of Health Care Facilities, ensure that the health care facility is following best practices to reduce operating room infection rates. For example, a qualified professional needs to be monitoring items such as proper air exchange relationships along with temperature and humidity control. Knowing that the operating room suites need to be more positive than the adjacent spaces and that humidity needs to stay within the proper range to inhibit microbial growth and disease transmission in the space speaks to the “why” of having skilled technicians maintaining and monitoring those facilities.

It could be argued that everything health care technicians touch within a facility could essentially have an impact on patient care and outcomes. Having equipment within patient rooms and restrooms that function as intended is also another small part that is often overlooked. For example, night lights are very small items that are taken for granted until a patient attempts to get out of bed at night. If that patient should fall and injure themselves because the room was too dark, that incident eventually falls back to the maintenance team.

The same could be said for ground fault circuit interrupter outlets and their function. It is imperative for patient safety that qualified individuals are testing and maintaining these small but critical parts of the patient care environment. Along with this, there is also a mental and visual aspect of the health care experience that can have a significant impact on that healing environment. The facilities technician impacts these aspects as well. 

How well is the patient’s room lit? What does the paint on the walls look like? Does the bathroom door close and latch properly? Are there stained or dirty ceiling tiles? These are the types of items that patients notice or think about while lying in bed for numerous hours. 

Promotion of a healing environment starts with technicians maintaining that environment. A clean, functional and organized facility impresses upon the patient that the health care organization cares for their facilities and, therefore, the patients’ needs. If patients are not preoccupied with burned out lighting, outlets that do not work or stained ceiling tiles, they are less likely to be stressed and more relaxed to help with the healing process.

Indeed, despite many technicians working behind the scenes, their work is often front and center, impacting patients, staff and guests within the facility.

Benefits of certification

Because health care facilities technicians play such an important role in impacting patient care and outcomes, certified technicians provide that verification through demonstrated skills and professionalism that benefit not only themselves but also the organizations in which those technicians work. One of the best ways that facilities technicians can become certified is through MECH. 

The MECH certification was established by members of the Michigan Society for Healthcare Engineering as a way for health care mechanics to help develop a career path through education and certification. Certified technicians obtain a valuable credential in which they validate their knowledge and experience. 

Many health care organizations have utilized the MECH certification to demonstrate staff competency, establish recognition for employees and assist with building their department compensation scales. Certified technicians are rewarded for obtaining this certification by being recognized by their peers as understanding and executing the skills needed to be successful and competent health care mechanics. The MECH certification gives validation to the work that is done by these technicians.

Health care facilities also benefit from having facilities staff that are certified. Passing the MECH certification demonstrates that technicians understand the elements of performing maintenance tasks in hospitals and other health care facilities. By requiring the in-house staff to have broad-based skills and knowledge, health care facilities are providing improved efficiency and better patient care. 

Additional benefits to the health care organization include increased productivity and potential reductions in contracted service costs, improved employee engagement due to professional recognition for health care mechanics and overall enhanced efficiency in the health care engineering department. 

Health care facilities also benefit from knowing that their certified technicians are required to provide documented continuing education ensuring that skills stay relevant and sharp. Even the organization’s human resources department can save time by quickly determining the skills and capabilities of potential new employees. Being certified demonstrates to the organization that the required skills are there and have been validated.

Additionally, one benefit that is sometimes overlooked is how MECH can help establish compensation standards within a facility maintenance division. Because MECH has two levels of certification — certified and senior certified — there are essentially three tiers of technician compensation naturally created. 

As each of the two levels is attained, an increase in compensation would logically reinforce the rationale of the skills and knowledge required. This gives entry-level technicians something to strive for as they gain those skills necessary to be successful in testing at the certified level. 

Often, facilities utilizing MECH certification will require certain job classifications to have one of the MECH certifications to ensure that technicians have applicable training hours and job skills to be proficient in that role. Again, this gives technicians a way to show that they are qualified to continue to move into higher-paying roles within the division. This, along with the required continued training to stay certified, allows facilities managers to understand that technicians cannot stay “stagnant.” 

Having a validated system of evaluation helps keep the organization away from pay inequities where the highest pay goes to the technician with the highest seniority regardless of their skill set or motivation for continued learning.

Preparing for certification

The MECH certified level is reached by the technician preparing for at least two years within a health care setting before testing; and the MECH senior certified status is obtained by preparing for four or more years in a health care or patient care facility, and having a higher overall test score than the certified threshold. Ideally, technicians should have at least 4,000 to 8,000 hours of health care-related training before attempting either exam.

Many health care technicians and mechanics ask about test preparation and the best ways to be successful. Most technicians want to study, assuming if they memorize enough material that they will pass, but the test was not designed this way. The best way for a technician to prepare is to get as much hands-on experience as possible. 

The knowledge categories covered in the certification test include plumbing, carpentry, electrical, grounds, HVAC systems, general facility maintenance and safety practices. Testing candidates should look at the skills checklist in the “Test Preparation Workbook,” which they will receive with their applications, and pursue real-world experiences for each skill listed. 

The workbook includes test-taking tips and information about the process, along with a self-administered practice exam. The practice exam can be extremely beneficial, as technicians may be introduced to areas of focus not familiar to them. 

Questions answered incorrectly can be the starting point for training or education on a specific topic or practice. For example, if a candidate answering questions in the plumbing section does not answer correctly on the function of a sewer vent, they would then know this specific area needs more review or know to request help.

It is also a good idea to have technicians become familiar with taking this type of test. It is important to read each question carefully and choose the answer that is the most correct, even if it is not exactly correct. The test was designed to reward real-world experience. If technicians do not have that, they may not be able to ascertain which answer is plausible when none of them are right. Technicians should “troubleshoot” each question by eliminating the non-correct answers first and then deducing the best possible answer. Finally, test candidates should not expect the questions from the practice exam to appear on the actual test. Questions could be similar but will not be the same.

Facilities managers and supervisors can also play a role in the success of their testing candidates. MECH has available a “Supervisor’s Implementation Guide” that leaders can utilize to assist those who are preparing for the certification exam. This guide contains a very detailed skills checklist that also includes training tips, suggested training resources and a supervisor-administered practice exam. This practice exam should be taken under as close to real conditions as possible to get the candidate comfortable with the testing environment.

Managers and supervisors should pay attention to test anxiety symptoms in the respective candidates because the guide has suggestions to address this as well. These will help leaders identify where technicians may be falling short when it comes to test preparation along with getting them comfortable in a formal test-taking atmosphere. Managers can then sort those opportunities into learning lessons that will allow their technicians to be successful.

Keeping facilities running

In today’s health care field, MECH-certified technicians are a valuable, credentialed part of the facilities and patient care team. Facilities professionals have credentialed professionals working around them in their daily lives, from doctors and nurses to accountants and auto mechanics, who are trusted because they are certified and have demonstrated skill sets. Why not have the same levels of excellence and validity for the health care mechanics, who work behind the scenes to keep health care facilities running and safe for patient care? 

A history of the MECH program

The Mechanic Evaluation and Certification for Healthcare (MECH) program was developed in December 1992 out of the education subcommittee of the Michigan Society for Healthcare Engineering. At the time, the individuals on the education committee envisioned some highly idealistic goals, which included:

  • Developing a career path for health care mechanics through quality education and certification.
  • Providing better patient care and improving efficiency by equipping in-house staff with broad-based skills and knowledge.
  • Reducing the costs of expensive outside contractors by having internal staff perform contracted work.
  • Acknowledging mechanics for the important role they play in health care.

To accomplish these goals, a certification test was developed in conjunction with a group of health care mechanics, engineers and facilities managers. These individuals helped determine a core list of jobs and tasks associated with being a verified health care mechanic. From that core list, the certification test was built covering seven categories of relevant health care maintenance work. The object of the testing was to show the applicable skill sets and knowledge of the technicians and display the value and versatility of those employees.

Over the past 30 years, MECH has grown into a nationally recognized certification program for health care mechanics with hundreds of individuals performing high-quality work in their respective facilities. ASHE is proud to announce that it has added MECH to its outstanding lineup of certification and professional development programs. 

About this article 

This is one of a series of monthly articles submitted by members of the American Society for Health Care Engineering’s Member Tools Task Force.

Edward J. Belanger II, MA, is director of facilities and plant operations at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Mich. He can be reached at