Clinical Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Clinical engineers design, develop and maintain medical equipment and instruments. They use engineering to solve patients' problems - ranging from laser applications in surgery to computerised environment controls for people with disabilities in the community.

They design and work on equipment such as:

- Monitors for patients' heart rates and blood pressure
- Scanners and x-ray machines
- Replacement joints
- Active implants, eg pacemakers
- Devices to help rehabilitate patients with injuries
- Equipment for surgery and for treating patients
- Instruments used for medical research

In hospitals or university medical schools, they may design, build and test systems or devices for new medical techniques. They may also be an important part of a team that maintains the institution's valuable medical equipment.

In the rehabilitation field, they could be designing and manufacturing aids such as wheelchairs. They might also help provide a service to assess individual patients' needs, such as for artificial limbs or specialised seating.

They also work for medical equipment manufacturers that make a variety of high technology products and systems. Engineers develop new types of equipment, update existing technology and work closely with hospital staff in the installation and use of the equipment.

Specialists from almost every branch of engineering and science work in this field. Clinical engineers may be physicists, electronic, electrical or mechanical engineers, applied mathematicians, or computer scientists.

The work varies widely. If working for manufacturing companies, clinical engineers may be involved purely in research and scientific investigation. If working in universities, their research work may be combined with teaching. Clinical engineers in hospitals may work solely in managing services, be involved in full-time laboratory research or a combination of service and development.

Clinical engineers work closely with patients, and with technical, scientific, medical and administrative staff.

Clinical engineers usually work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday, but in hospitals they may have extra on-call or standby duties. It is possible to work part time.

Clinical engineers in hospitals normally spend about half their time in clinics and the rest in workshops. In research and industry, the work is usually laboratory based.

Many jobs involve travel, for example to different hospital sites or to meetings and conferences. Overseas travel is common in the medical equipment industry.

In the National Health Service (NHS), trainees starting salaries are around £23,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Clinical engineers are employed by hospitals, universities, research establishments such as the Medical Research Council, and manufacturers of medical equipment. Experienced clinical engineers can also be self-employed or work as consultants.

There are only a few hundred clinical engineers in the UK, and relatively few new posts become available. The usual way into the NHS is through a clinical scientist training place, for which there is fierce competition, with around 50 applicants for each place. It is important to be prepared to move to any area of the country where a vacancy arises.

Job vacancies are advertised on the NHS website, the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) website, in the national press and on certain recruitment internet sites.

Education and Training

Most clinical engineers begin their work in large teaching hospitals. Each year, some NHS trusts recruit graduates for the clinical scientist training schemes.

The four-year structured training programme involves intensive training. In the first two years, this is in each of the three major areas of medical physics or clinical engineering. In the final two years, trainees specialise in one subject area, and may move to work in another hospital to gain this experience.

Subject areas include:

- Physiological measurement
- Biomechanical evaluation and function
- Information and communications technology
- Design of medical electronic instrumentation
- Assistive technology
- Medical engineering design
- Medical equipment management

Training includes a funded MSc, accredited by the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM). Some training centres accept candidates who have (or expect to have) an accredited MSc in Medical Physics or Bioengineering or other postgraduate qualifications. The training period may be reduced under these circumstances.

Candidates who successfully finish the first two years of the training programme are awarded the IPEM Postgraduate Diploma. After at least four years in a training post, they can apply for state registration with the Health Professions Council. At this point they may also work towards chartered engineer status.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Many clinical engineers aim to become chartered engineers (CEng), a qualification that is recognised in the European Union and further afield.

To qualify as a chartered engineer, applicants need:

  • An accredited MEng degree or an acceptable combination of other academic awards.
  • To complete a period of initial professional development which includes training and responsible experience.
  • To pass a professional review.
  • Corporate membership of a professional body licensed by the Engineering Council UK to award CEng, such as the IPEM.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Clinical engineers must:

  • Have strong engineering knowledge and skill.
  • Be good at problem solving.
  • Be prepared to keep up to date with scientific and medical research.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Work well with a wide range of people - from patients to equipment manufacturers.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of others.
  • Have good practical skills.
  • Work well in a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Clinical engineers can progress into senior management or take responsibility for a team of other clinical engineers, incorporated engineers and technicians.

In the NHS, clinical engineers may be promoted to consultant-level grades. Some engineers move from the NHS to jobs with medical equipment manufacturers.

Get Further Information

Association of Clinical Scientists, c/o The Association for Clinical Biochemistry,
130-132 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TU
Tel: 020 7940 8960

Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500

Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM),
Fairmount House, 230 Tadcaster Road, York YO24 1ES
Tel: 01904 610821

Medical Research Council,
20 Park Crescent, London W1B 1AL
Tel: 020 7636 5422

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 60 60 655

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