There has been much talk in the past few years about a shortage of biomedical engineers. This is for both the manufacturing sector and the hospital sector. I am not attempting to analyze this situation to determine why it has happened although it is rather disturbing. This group plays a vital role in both innovation in medical device design and in the use of medical devices for delivery of quality healthcare. I have been in the medical device industry my entire career and I hope that anyone considering working in this field takes whatever steps necessary to make that happen.
While I have never worked directly for a hospital, I have worked closely with hospital clinical and biomedical engineering on many occasions. My career started working in the Stress Test industry for Quinton Instruments where I worked on the design of ECG monitoring devices as well as electronic controllers for treadmills and bicycle ergometer exercise equipment. When I started, I had no idea of what “biomedical engineering” was and had only a basic understanding of medical devices and the role they played in healthcare.
About 5 or 6 years later, and after working for a couple of different companies in the medical device arena I landed in the international marketing group for Squibb Medical, owner of Spacelabs, Advanced Technology Laboratories (before they were Philips), Tektronix patient monitoring (before they were Spacelabs), and Instruments for Cardiac Research (Holter monitoring). My role was a Marketing Engineer, and this gave me a broad experience in various types of medical devices and markets.
After 10 months into the job, in a cold, wet mid-October I received a phone call from my Mother telling me my Father had a heart attack and I needed to come right away. At this point in my career, I had not been in an Intensive Care Unit. What I found out in the next few days and weeks would change my mind about medical devices, their use and application, and the career path I had chosen.
My first time in an ICU and it was to visit my Father. He was conscious but could not speak as he was on a ventilator. His IV line was in his right arm and he could only communicate by writing notes with his left hand. For my part, I understood enough to be able to read his vital signs on the patient monitor and they were not good. As I looked more closely, I could see that something about his invasive blood pressure did not appear right. I couldn’t put my finger on it at that time because I was still new at hemodynamic monitoring.
Not long after I went into the ICU to see him a nurse came to the bed. I commented about the blood pressure and she said that yes, they had trouble zeroing the pressure system and did not really understand how to do it. Well, that is something I knew how to do, and in fact had taught some of my sales and marketing colleagues how to do as well. I asked the nurse if they had instructions for use, or operation manuals for the monitoring equipment? Did they have training on the equipment or did they know how to get that training? The response was no, they did not have the manuals, or if they did no one there could locate them. And, they were not sure who to contact or how to get in-service training.
My Father survived just over 72 hours in the ICU and passed away with another massive heart attack.
During the next few days and weeks I relived this experience over and over in my mind. And, I became determined to make a difference in the world of medical devices. I decided that where I had knowledge I would share and where I had little or no knowledge I would learn so I could understand and share with others. I made biomedical engineering and the medical device industry my life’s work. When I got frustrated with my job or current employer, I thought back to how I was able to make things better for my Father and help the ICU where he was treated. A week after his funeral I returned to the ICU with a full set of operation guides and manuals for their patient monitoring equipment and gave them the name of the individual to contact for follow on in-service training.
I have had many experiences over the course of my career, and I have had the opportunity to work in other industries. Honestly, the work I do creating, producing, marketing, and teaching medical devices is too rewarding to think about moving to another field. When I run into old friends and acquaintances at industry trade shows, or seminars we often discuss how this field “gets into your blood” and you can’t think of doing something else.
The rewards may not be there every day, but when they come, they are significant. Knowing that the work you do makes a difference in peoples lives, or saves lives is something that not many industries can claim. I am proud of what I do and have told many people that my job is my hobby. So, if you are a biomedical engineer, or work in the medical device industry in any capacity, kudos to you. Understand that you make a difference and people young and old rely on us whether they know it or not. If you are an engineering student, or a high school student wondering where to specialize, I encourage you to look at biomedical/clinical engineering. There is no field as rewarding!