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Engineered to cure

Biomedical engineers create and maintain the equipment that drive modern medical treatment. Syed Amir Ali Hashmi focuses the spotlight on the profession

education Updated: Jan 27, 2010 13:55 IST
Syed Amir Ali Hashmi

As a student, Sarang Deshmukh had five engineering options to choose from: civil, electrical, mechanical, production and biomedical. He picked the last option because he felt this field dealt not only with engineering technology but also medical operations, human anatomy and physiology and was thus likely to prove more interesting than the other choices.

The fact that the healthcare sector was growing in India also made this decision easy for Deshmukh, now a biomedical engineer at Fortis Hospital in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.

Biomedical engineering brings engineering principles and techniques to medical science. Practitioners of medical science use equipment designed to diagnose and treat ailments; engineers create and maintain these.

In the course of his day, an engineer will also look after medical equipment, surgical instruments and medical furniture from a sphygmomanometer (BP apparatus) to a CT-MRI machine. He will also resolve breakdown and maintenance issues.

The coolest part of his job, says Deshmukh, is the feeling of satisfaction he gets after the successful completion of his job. “Most of the time, we face application-related problems such as improper plug-ins, sensor disconnections, wrong switch selection, and improper accessories installation. Here, biomedical engineers play a major role and provide training to the user for continual improvement,” he says. But what is disappointing for him is the fact that in healthcare, “we are still 30 years behind the Western countries. Most government healthcare institutions are not aware of the importance of biomedical engineers and their roles.”

Before his engineering studies, Deshmukh was under the impression that a biomedical engineer was just meant to carry around a toolkit and rectify problems. “But it is not like that. Biomedical engineering is the strongest beam of the healthcare industry, with an engineer playing a major role in quality improvement, patient care, safety, hospital organisation and management. These things surprised me,” he says.

Deshmukh’s advice to budding professionals is, “Every field has got its own beauty and growth. Apply theoretical knowledge to the practical; pay more attention to the practicals; always attend seminars, conferences and exhibitions. Visit, at least once a month, hospitals or manufacturing units. And stay updated on the new technology being launched.”

Industry indicates that biomedical engineering has a bright future in India and abroad. With the opening up of state-of-the art hospitals and advent of medical tourism, lots of opportunities exist for engineers in hospitals, with manufacturers, laboratories, research and development centres and quality forums.

Job opportunities are available in diverse spheres like medical equipment manufacturing, orthopaedic and rehabilitation engineering, molecular, cellular and tissue engineering in public as well as in corporate sectors. Opportunities also exist for orthopaedic engineers who develop prosthetics, artificial limbs, hips and other organs.

Writing skills also play a part in the success story, “as it will help maintain relationships, communications, co-ordination and evidences with vendors, internal departments and all other sources,” says Deshmukh.

What’s it about?
Biomedical engineering is the study and application of engineering principles and techniques to the medical field. It is concerned with the development and manufacture of prostheses, medical devices, diagnostic devices, drugs and other therapies. This field encompasses bio-instrumentation, bio-materials, bio-mechanics, medical imaging, genetic engineering, orthopaedic surgery, cellular and tissue engineering. Biomedical engineers have to be experts in engineering sciences, biological sciences and medical sciences. They can also design and develop devices and systems ranging from cardiac monitors to clinical computers, artificial hearts to contact lenses, wheelchairs to artificial tendons

Clock Work
7 am: Wake up
8 am: Breakfast
9 am: Report for work
9.30 am: Check MRI scanner for glitches
10.30 am: Call manufacturer to discuss the problem
11 am: Do the rounds of the hospital labs
1 pm: Lunch
1.30 pm: Discuss MRI scanner problem with the technician sent by manufacturer
3.30 pm: Meeting senior doctors to discuss new equipment
4 pm: Visit factory on the city outskirts to check new equipment
8 pm: Leave for home

The payoff
The world if your oyster if you prove yourself fit for the job. Promotions depend on your experience, your skill improvement, quality improvement, and capability to manage assets.

The Indian healthcare sector offers job options from the technician level to the managerial level. The salary structure depends on the designation, but in general, a biomedical engineer’s annual income starts from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh

Skills
. In the initial part of his career, good diagnostic and analytical skills to identify and rectify the problem in a system / equipment
. Patience and good public relations skills to cater to customer needs (both internal and external)
. Proper techno-commercial acumen and people management skills to run/control a business

How do i get there?
Eligibility for a Bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering (BE/ BTech in BME) is Plus Two in the science stream. One can directly do BE in biomedical engineering, or do a BE in any other branch of engineering and then become a bio-medical professional by doing a PG course in biomedical engineering.

Alternatively, one can do BE in any branch of engineering and go in for a postgraduate course in medical technology, which is considered equivalent to a PG course in biomedical engineering.

One could also take up this career after getting an MBBS degree and then opting for a PG degree in biomedical engineering/medical engineering/ and medical technology

Institutes & urls
. All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
www.aiims.ac.in
. Banaras Hindu University Institute of Technology
www.itbhu.ac.in
. Jadavpur University, Kolkata
www.jadavpur.edu
. University Institute of Engineering & Technology, Panjab University, Chandigarh
www.puchd.ac.in.

Pros & cons
. The work is interesting — you have both engineering and medical sciences to deal with
. One works with path-breaking technologies
. Further studies can help you invent something, which can make you rich and famous
. Your invention/works help treat painful ailments
. It can be very hard work
. When it comes to hospitals etc, you will be normally relegated to the background as doctors and surgeons rule here


Encouraging scope

An industry expert talks about this engineering field

If a student is interested in biomedical engineering, where should s/he go for information?
There are recognised engineering institutes in the country where biomedical engineering is offered as a specialisation.

What do biomechanical engineers do?
Biomedical engineers are essential for maintenance, troubleshooting and servicing of sophisticated medical, diagnostic, analytical /bioanalytical equipment and devices.

Some of the analytical equipment is used in the research and development centres of pharma companies, and for quality control analysis in process industries like (steel, minerals and metallurgy, oil refineries, etc).

Does a biomechanical engineer have to go out in the field and assess how well the products perform?
Yes, they need to make field visits and inspection to assess the performance of the systems at customer locations, which are usually under maintenance / service contract.

How has your work profile changed over time?
You may start your career as a service engineer and, over time, you may go on to head the service department, and then move on to become a business unit head in the organisation.

What kind of people does a biomechanical engineer come in contact with in course of work?
That depends on the industry. It varies from a lab technician to a physician, from a fellow biomedical engineer in a hospital to an R&D manager in a pharma company.

What is the future for biomedical engineers?
Today, the healthcare industry in India is in the growth phase and it is expected to touch about $40 billion by 2012. So, the potential opportunities for a biomechanical engineer in this sector are immense and very encouraging.

Partho Banerjee, business development manager, Johnson & Johnson Medical, Cordis (Biosense Webster) Interviewed by Syed Amir Ali Hashmi