Clinical engineers, sometimes known as bioengineers, research, design, develop and maintain technology and equipment used to meet patients' clinical needs both during and after medical treatment. They work in the fields of instrumentation, rehabilitation and biomaterials. The work includes building and testing prototypes, running clinical trials, evaluating results and building products. Clinical engineers are employed by the health service, medical equipment manufacturers and university research departments.
Engineers design and develop assistive technology, for example, wheelchairs, walking aids, speech synthesizers or robotic and electronic technology used in the rehabilitation of stroke patients. This often involves custom building products to match as closely as possible the requirements of the individual.
They also develop and test replacement prostheses, for instance, by using microelectronic technology, they can integrate sensors on an artificial limb with the patient's own nervous system. They create new types of artificial joint, heart valves and hearing implants, using a variety of new biocompatible materials in order to minimise bodily rejection. Engineers employ biomechanical research techniques to analyse in greater detail the problems encountered by patients who have undergone prosthetic treatments.
Engineers design and build equipment which enables new forms of medical treatment to evolve, for example, precision instruments used in minimally-invasive techniques, such as keyhole surgery and image-guided surgery systems.
Engineers are also responsible for the day-to-day management of medical equipment, such as scanners, imaging equipment, and physiological measuring and monitoring equipment, scheduling quality assurance checks to ensure they are functioning correctly and safely.
Engineers often specialise in a particular aspect of clinical engineering such as medical physics, electronics, biomechanics or materials. They work closely with other medical professionals, technical staff and patients.
Clinical engineers normally work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. In hospitals, they may have extra on-call or standby duties. Part time work is possible.
Those employed in hospitals spend about half their time in clinics and the rest in workshops. In research and industry, the work is laboratory based.
To be a clinical engineer you should:
Employers include hospitals, universities, research establishments such as the Medical Research Council, and manufacturers of medical equipment. In universities, research work may be combined with teaching duties. Some clinical engineers are self-employed and work on a consultancy basis.
In the NHS clinical engineers can be promoted to consultant-level grades. It is possible to move from jobs in the health service to jobs with medical equipment manufacturers.
Chartered engineers may progress into senior general management and be responsible for a team of incorporated engineers and technicians.
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