Exploring Clinical Engineering as a career
The application, management and maintenance of technology in a medical environment describes Clinical Engineering best. From its initial days with a ‘research only’ scope, this stream of engineering has evolved into a broad area covering on the one hand, review of medical diagnostic equipment before purchase, installation and testing, preventive/ breakdown maintenance and cost effectiveness, and performance evaluation, incident investigation, patient safety and information systems integration on the other. The medical field is increasingly dependent on technology and equipment in every area of operations – be it in diagnosis, drug delivery, patient care and even in new drug formulation. It’s critical then, that the equipment be managed well so that healthcare delivery can be effective, efficient and immediate. This management forms the core area of responsibility for a clinical engineer.
Working in a real clinical environment, a clinical engineer gets to experience first-hand the functioning and performance of medical equipment, and how it influences medical care on a day-to-day basis – be it in emergency situations or regular patient care. Clinical engineering is sometimes confused with the wider field of biomedical engineering. Clinical engineering places the engineer directly in a medical environment like a hospital where technology is applied and used, while a biomedical engineer is more likely to be involved in the design and development of equipment and devices. A clinical engineer learns to observe the delivery of healthcare using technology and applies this learning to enhance the performance quality of the equipment. This stream of engineering combines engineering and management skills.
The role of a clinical engineer is defined by the interaction involving multiple disciplines including doctors, nurses, medical technicians, IT specialists, administrators and pharmacists within the clinical environment, and equipment/ device manufacturers and regulatory authorities outside. The clinical engineer in a significant way, is the bridge between the two environments, as well as an interface between medical care and technology development. For instance, the development of equipment and monitors used in operating theatres and intensive care units, ultrasonic imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other critical care infrastructure has been preceded by extensive research based on studies inside a hospital.
A clinical engineer has a fresher perspective on technological problems created in clinical situations, and hence has a key role to play in either adapting existing technologies, or developing newer technologies to effectively handle real situations. With the advent of remote healthcare delivery via the Internet, there is an additional component of communication that has entered the traditional domain of clinical engineering.
By education and training, a clinical engineer is prepared to meet challenges and solve problems in a technology-driven medical environment. Apart from the primary roles, a clinical engineer also manages service contracts, and departments like data processing and maintenance. Training medical personnel to handle and operate sensitive equipment is another responsibility. Safety of the equipment for the operators as well as the patients is also of paramount importance. A clinical engineer is not only in control of technology as it is available today for the medical industry, he also influences the technology development of tomorrow.
This engineering stream is offered as a specialised course of study at the post graduate level. Programmes usually involve a clinical attachment to gain knowledge of real world problems, evaluate them and find unique solutions. Students who have completed BE, BTech, or any other recognised four-year engineering course at the undergraduate level are eligible for admission. Many universities abroad offer the course as part of their Bio-medical Engineering course. These universities offer admission on the basis of GRE scores and English language tests.
One of the best courses available in India is the one offered by IIT, Madras in collaboration with the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, and Christian Medical College, Vellore. The MTech programme is a 2½ year-course and students will study and train at all three institutes. This programme incorporates a clinical attachment for students who will be placed in a hospital environment and asked to identify 25 problems. They will then be required to innovate solutions for them. Consequently, students are trained to respond and perform in a real medical environment. This particular course costs about Rs 50,000.
Career & Salary
Career-wise, a clinical engineer is placed at a supervisory position at the point of patient care, but with more experience and advanced education at the PhD level, an engineer can progress to a higher training and research role in a hospital. Starting salaries can be as high as Rs 7 Lac per annum in a corporate hospital.
Not all hospitals employ Clinical Engineers. Though there are over 16,000 hospitals in India, only the mainstream hospitals and specialist medical centres have positions open in the field. Once accreditation rules are in place, all hospitals will be required as a matter of compliance to place clinical engineers on their rolls. The medical devices manufacturing sector holds promise as a career choice considering the almost complete reliance on technology and automation in the medical field. Placement can also be in the business development and marketing areas.
On the brighter side, the Clinical Engineering profession has very few qualified and trained people, so the employability factor is very high even in India. Presently, the overseas market offers the widest scope to a specialist clinical engineer in the context of exposure, experience, processes and state-of-the-art technology.
Top Study Destinations – Universities & Colleges
Christian Medical College/ Indian Institute of Technology, Madras: http://cmch-vellore.edu/
University of Virginia: http://www.virginia.edu/
Duke University Health System, Clinical Engineering: http://clinicalengineering.duhs.duke.edu/
University of Liverpool Clinical Engineering Research Unit: http://www.liv.ac.uk/clineng/
University of Toronto Clinical Engineering: http://www.ibbme.utoronto.ca/home.htm
Cardiff University Clinical Engineering: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/