What Is Clinical Engineering? (Definition and Key Roles)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 16, 2022

Published January 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Clinical engineering requires a combination of relevant education and adequate work experience. This career focuses on designing medical equipment and providing technical support for biomedical equipment. Learning the answer to, "What is clinical engineering?", can help you learn more about clinical engineering and decide if this career is right for you. In this article, we define clinical engineering, discuss where clinical engineers work, highlight their duties, discuss their areas of specialization, list the steps to become one and highlight some general engineering skills.

What is clinical engineering?

If you're interested in a career in health care, you may have encountered the question, "What is clinical engineering?". Clinical engineering is the application of engineering concepts and principles to enhance health care. It employs principles of physics, chemistry, mathematics, mechanical, computer, medicine, and biology. The same principles and methods involved in developing and producing a machine go into creating medical devices and diagnostic equipment and monitoring systems and software. Clinical engineering sometimes refers to biomedical engineering. Examples of medical instruments and technology that have evolved from clinical engineering include:

  • Lab diagnostic systems

  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation devices and equipment

  • Vital sign and blood chemistry monitoring systems

  • Surgical techniques, such as laser and robotic surgery

  • Radiation therapy

Innovative ideas in biomedical engineering include stem cell and tissue engineering, along with 3-D bioprinting, enabling the creation of artificial organs for transplantation. Unlike other branches of engineering, it's necessary for clinical engineers to have a strong grasp of both engineering and biological concepts. They enhance health care by combining their chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering expertise with chemistry and human biology.

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Where do clinical engineers work?

Clinical engineers contribute to developing medical equipment, tools, and technology. They use their expertise to develop the technology and methods necessary to address issues in the health care business. They often collaborate with medical experts, researchers, and other engineers throughout the design process. Clinical engineers may operate in a range of situations and have a variety of employment tasks and objectives, including:

  • Pharmaceutical firms: Research and develop novel therapies and methods of medication delivery

  • Medical equipment manufacturers: Develop machinery and tools for the health care sector

  • Technology companies: Develop software required to operate medical equipment to support patients and hospital personnel

  • Government agencies: Conduct effectiveness testing and set safety rules for medical items

  • Hospitals: Assist in the acquisition, monitoring, and maintenance of medical equipment and gadgets

  • Colleges: Research, design, and test new tools and equipment here

  • Research institutions: Examine and test the technology in the laboratory

What do clinical engineers do?

Typical work tasks of a clinical engineer include:

  • Collaborating with specialists to demonstrate the application of engineering concepts to specific biological processes

  • Collaborating with specialists to demonstrate the application of engineering concepts to specific biological processes

  • Creating technical documents and conducting research

  • Developing equipment, software, and gadgets design, such as diagnostic machines, health care delivery systems, and body part replacements

  • Providing clinical education and technical assistance for biomedical devices

  • Ongoing maintenance of equipment and systems

  • Making site visits to health care institutions to install, repair, and maintain equipment

  • Resolving manufacturer-related safety and effectiveness concerns

Areas of specialization in clinical engineering

Most clinical engineers often prefer to specialize in only one sector. Some specialties in clinical engineering include:

  • Systems physiology: The study of living organisms and their bodily processes via computer modelling

  • Tissue, cell, and genetic engineering: Developing methods for the microscopic and cellular level treatment and prevention of illness

  • Micro and nanotechnology: Developing tiny devices (a fraction of the diameter of a human hair) for incorporation into medical devices or for use during operations

  • Robotics: Developing robotic systems to assist surgeons in training for and performing surgery

  • Biosignal processing: Developing diagnostic and therapeutic alternatives based on physiological signals such as heart rate or brain waves

  • Neurological systems: The study of the brain and nerve system to regain lost senses or capabilities

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How to become a clinical engineer

Becoming one takes dedication, hard effort, education, and experience. Here is a summary of the fundamental processes required to become a clinical engineer:

1. Complete high school

Beginning right is an excellent way to commence your career as a clinical engineer. Take advanced placement courses in relevant disciplines if available in your high school. This covers biology and chemistry subjects and technology courses such as computer programming and engineering. These give an excellent foundation of knowledge prior to enrolling in a college or institution. Extracurricular activities in the STEM, engineering, or medical sectors can assist you in advancing your education in courses related to your professional objectives.

2. Pursue higher education

A bachelor's degree may be necessary to work as a clinical engineer. Though comparable scientific and math professions are available, having a degree in biomedical engineering provides the best overall understanding and expertise in the industry. Certain engineering schools may require you to enrol in a pre-engineering program as a prerequisite. You may choose to get a master's or doctoral degree in clinical engineering for some advanced professions.

3. Gain some work experience as a volunteer or intern

Most organizations want candidates who have real-world experience via an internship or volunteer program. Many schools and institutions either provide credit-bearing internships or partner with businesses that offer internship or volunteering opportunities. Different societies also offer internships to assist you in gaining experience, expanding your knowledge, and developing your talents.

4. Get a FE or PE license

Most companies prefer to recruit licensed clinical engineers, particularly for government positions. To get one of the two licenses accessible to engineers in this sector, it's vital to clear some tests.

  • The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) administers the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination. It assesses your understanding of the mathematics and physics required to execute most engineering tasks.

  • For a Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) license, it is necessary for you to work at least four years under the supervision of an engineer who has this license. The PE exam assesses your engineering competence.

Both licenses enable you to apply for higher-level employment in clinical engineering.

6. Network

Try to establish contacts with other engineers. If you're unfamiliar with individuals in the field, join a meet-up group or professional organization and attend their events. Through networking, you may connect with hiring managers or others who are aware of employment vacancies. You may introduce yourself as a potential clinical engineer to them. Not only is networking a means of obtaining employment, but it's also a means of advancing your knowledge via exposure to new techniques, discoveries, and best practices.

General engineering skills

Here are examples of some of the most common skills for engineers that employers look for:

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving abilities enable you to identify the cause of a problem and devise a workable solution. A significant portion of an engineer's work is analyzing a situation, identifying issues, and then providing solutions. Employers may want to see that you can deal with workplace challenges.

Computer science knowledge

Computer science skills are a combination of hard skills such as technical knowledge and mathematical abilities and the soft skills required to work in teams and accomplish goals creatively. Coding, software development, and technical writing are only a few hard skills, while communication and collaboration are two critical soft skills. Whatever branch of engineering you work in, you may utilize computers to do your job efficiently. Programming skills are essential in various engineering areas and are attractive to potential employers.

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Attention to detail

Attention to detail refers to your capacity to effectively deploy your mental skills to complete tasks thoroughly and accurately, regardless of their volume. Your ability to pay attention to detail enables you to increase your workplace productivity, efficiency, and performance. When working in a sector that requires accuracy, such as engineering, it's crucial for a person to exhibit a high level of attention to detail. Employers may prefer applicants who can demonstrate an aptitude to pay attention to small but critical details.

Teamwork

Teamwork skills are the characteristics and talents that enable you to collaborate well with others in talks, projects, meetings, and other situations. Teamwork abilities are contingent upon your capacity to communicate effectively, actively listen, and behave responsibly and honestly. Few engineering tasks require an engineer to work alone, without the assistance of teammates or other experts. Teamwork abilities are critical for ensuring that you can work together to achieve success as a unit and perform to your combined maximum capacity.

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