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Medicine, Medical Sciences & Research careers

Clinical Engineering & Physical Sciences

What is clinical engineering?

All the medical equipment, scanners, devices and contraptions that we see in hospitals and surgeries don’t just appear out of nowhere. All of these things are developed, designed, installed and maintained by the clever people that work in the world of clinical engineering and physical sciences.

These guys don’t deal with medicines; they work with the technical solutions that medical professionals use to diagnose conditions and treat patients.

What do clinical engineers do?

Clinical engineers play an incredibly vital role in the medical sciences industry. The medical world would not be able to function without the things that they produce. Just imagine if hospitals didn’t have X-ray machines, life-support machines or even stethoscopes!  

Essentially, clinical engineers use their practical skills, technical expertise and knowledge of anatomy, medical science and engineering to produce innovative apparatus and lifesaving machines. Not only do clinical engineers design new equipment, they work with existing products, making alterations, refining them and optimising their functionality.

If you pursue a career in this area, you could be working on all kinds of gadgets, from hearing aids, MRI scanners and prosthetic limbs, to pacemakers, life support machines and defibrillators. Some clinical engineers might even work with radioactive dyes and other nuclear treatments.

What roles do clinical engineers perform?

Clinical engineers and physical scientists follow the same working process as all other engineers. Basically, they are presented with a problem and are tasked with creating an effective solution. They start by conducting extensive research into the problem, illness or injury. Consequently, an excellent understanding of the human anatomy and medical science is required.

Once they have finished the research process, they work alongside other clinical engineers to design the technical equipment (possibly using computer-aided design technologies) and develop a prototype. Understandably, all prototypes need to be rigorously tested. After all, you can’t go installing pacemakers into people’s hearts that are going to stop working after two weeks. The testing process is extensive and uncompromising.

Design modifications are made repeatedly while the testing process continues. Once everything has been refined and optimised, the new products are installed in healthcare settings and maintained throughout their lifecycle. If a clinically engineered product is used directly by patients (e.g. pacemakers or prosthetic legs) then the engineer may be asked to oversee the surgical or attachment process.

What do I need to become a clinical engineer?

To break into this line of work, you will need an excellent academic background. There are many different areas to clinical engineering and physical sciences; however, for every role you will need a minimum 2:1 degree in a relevant subject, such as mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, chemical engineering, biotechnology or biomedical sciences.

If you have a head for science and you’re the kind of person who laughs in the face of the medical equipment that makes weaker mortals tremble then perhaps a career in clinical engineering and physical sciences is the one for you!