Clinical engineers apply engineering principles and techniques to medicine and biology. They often work in a multi-disciplinary team on a variety of problems. They design and maintain medical equipment such as scanners, x-ray machines and heart monitors. They may also be concerned with heart surgery, kidney dialysis machines, materials for bone repair or aids for people with disabilities.
Clinical engineers work in research and development in a laboratory or a workshop and are involved in consulting with medical staff and perhaps with patients. They may have to travel to different locations to conduct research. In a hospital they are more directly involved with patient care. There may be a requirement to work in a sterile environment and to wear special clothing.
Typical job responsibilities include:
- Designing and maintaining medical equipment such as pace makers and blood pressure monitors.
- Designing equipment for surgery and instruments used in medical research.
- Testing equipment and collaborating with hospital staff
- Installing equipment and teaching other staff how to use it
- Calibrating, maintaining and operating complex equipment used in hospitals to diagnose and treat patients
- Ensuring that the wide range of equipment in hospitals used to diagnose and treat patients works properly and safely
- Working in a team alongside doctors, medical physicists, pharmacists and nurses
- Supporting equipment used in the treatment of cancer (radiotherapy engineering)
Clinical engineers work mainly in hospitals or laboratories. They are mainly dealing with medical equipment and they may occasionally have direct contact with patients. Clinical engineers usually work a 37 hour week although shift work on a rota basis may be required at times.
Clinical engineers can progress to higher grades within the NHS, with more decision making and responsibility for managing and training other engineers.
If working in a hospital environment the role can be stressful at times and involves a high level of pressure. However, the job is very rewarding as you will be helping patients by building and maintaining medical equipment to improve their quality of life.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for clinical engineers
- A strong interest in science or electronic and mechanical engineering
- An interest in health and medical issues
- Good at problem solving and prepared to update your knowledge in science, medicine and engineering regularly
- Good organisational skills to prioritise and plan your workload
- Excellent communication and team work skills
- A careful and precise approach to your work with attention to detail
- A creative and inventive mind
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of clinical engineers
Examples of major employers of clinical engineers include:
- National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and laboratories
- Private hospitals and laboratories
- Medical equipment manufacturing companies
Qualifications and training required
To become a clinical engineer you will require a degree in healthcare science (clinical engineering). The degree must be accredited by the Practitioner Training Programme (PTP). Currently the only accredited PTP degree is at the University of Bradford, in Healthcare Science (Clinical Engineering). The degree combines academic learning and work-based training. There are 50 weeks of work-based training in the NHS over the 3 years of the course.
Over the first two years of the course the training is in broad scientific areas. You will have the opportunity to specialise at the start of the second or third year. Specialisms are in medical, rehabilitation or renal engineering.
It is also possible to enter this career through the graduate-entry Scientist Training Programme (STP). For this route you will need to have achieved a 2:1 in a science or engineering subject that is relevant to clinical engineering. Degree areas which are acceptable to NHS trusts include physics, engineering and maths. You will be employed by an NHS trust throughout your training and you will work towards an accredited masters' degree.
This is a relatively small profession and depending on the training route you have taken there are opportunities to specialise in specific areas.