Hospitals use an increasingly wide range of medical equipment in order to deliver healthcare services; this ranges from simple devices such as nebulisers to deliver treatment for respiratory patients through to sophisticated radiotherapy linear accelerators for cancer treatments and other cutting edge technologies.
All medical equipment needs to be checked to ensure it is working correctly and safe for patients and it is the role of healthcare science staff working in medical engineering to do this as part of their role.
It isn’t just safety checks and maintenance though. Medical engineers also get involved with the entire equipment lifecycle, including the acceptance testing of new equipment, introducing it into service, advising on the correct use of equipment, addressing patient safety issues and safely disposing of old devices.
Medical engineering is a really exciting and varied role where you will use your expertise in electronic or mechanical engineering to undertake these activities and perhaps become involved in modifying or constructing equipment as well.
As a practitioner you’ll be undertaking a hands on role with medical devices, working with a wide range of equipment commonly encountered in the hospital environment, or perhaps specialising in renal or radiotherapy equipment.
As a scientist you can specialise in device risk management and governance where the role will be more focussed on the effective management of equipment, ensuring equipment is replaced in a timely fashion for example and that risks associated with the use of equipment are minimised. Both roles complement each other and collectively contribute to patient health and well being.
Clinicians increasingly rely on the skills of healthcare science staff in medical engineering and so you will regularly liaise with other scientists, nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals as part of a multi-disciplinary team, all working for the benefit of the patient.
Healthcare science staff often work at the forefront of research and innovation, so that patients are continually receiving the very best healthcare. For example, in medical engineering, healthcare science staff are developing new breast screening technology which could be safer than traditional mammogram x-rays.
To work in medical engineering, there is a requirement for you to pay great attention to detail and understand how equipment is used in the clinical setting.
You will need effective communication and team working skills as well as being confident with technology and systems/processes.
You may also have direct contact with patients who may, for example, be uncomfortable near complex equipment, so you'll therefore need the ability to advise and reassure patients.
As your career develops you may work in a role with responsibility for resources (such as staff, budgets or equipment) so you must have good leadership skills and be able to use your initiative to ensure effective service design and delivery.
Entry points and requirements
There are three entry points into this area of work:
- As a healthcare science practitioner through the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) by taking an accredited BSc degree in Healthcare Science (Medical Engineering). You will typically need at least 2 if not three A2/A’ levels including science subjects and a good spread of GCSEs at A-C grade. Alternative/equivalent qualifications may be accepted by some universities, but you are advised to check with each university (or visit their website) before making an application.
- As a healthcare scientist, after a relevant degree, by applying for a place on the graduate-entry NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), by initially taking a training place in clinical engineering and then specialising in Medical Device Risk Management and Governance.
- Into clinical biomedical engineering as a consultant healthcare scientist, after gaining postgraduate qualifications and/or considerable relevant experience through Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST).
Training and education programmes
The education and training you will take, will depend upon the level at which you are working.
- To enter via the NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) you will need to take a full-time (usually 3-year) accredited integrated BSc degree in Healthcare Science (Medical Engineering) at university. At least 50 weeks of work-place based training in the NHS is included in these programmes. For the most up to date list of accredited BSc Healthcare Science degrees, please use our coursefinder or visit the NHS Networks website. Applications for full-time courses are made through UCAS.
- Graduates entering the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) will be employed in a fixed-term, salaried training post and will study towards a masters degree qualification in Clinical Science (Clinical Engineering) before specialising in Medical Device Risk Management and Governance.
- Those entering Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) will study towards doctoral level qualifications.
Programmes are often supported by the development of workplace-based assessment tools, assessment of equivalent learning and the development of academic careers.
No matter what level you are working at, as part of your development you will be expected to do 'Continuing Professional Development' (CPD) to show that you are keeping yourself up to date with the policies and procedures in your area of work.
It can be advantageous to have gained some experience of working in a relevant environment before applying for a place on a course or job vacancy.