Clinical engineers apply science and engineering principles to help people with medical problems. They design and develop technology including artificial limbs and joints, robotic surgery, cardiovascular devices such as artificial arteries, as well as equipment like ultrasound and X-rays.
Video: - Gordon: Prosthetist/Clinical Engineer
Clinical engineers use their knowledge of engineering and medical problems to design, develop, test and maintain equipment for the medical profession.
Their work is crucial to modern medical practice, which relies on highly sophisticated equipment such as X-ray machines, anaesthetic equipment, automated blood testing machines, and machines that can take over the function of the heart, lungs and kidneys.
Clinical engineers may be involved in healthcare delivery, working with patients alongside their clinical colleagues. Some clinical engineers work in large departments that cover a range of medical physics activities, while others are part of small rehabilitation teams that include doctors, nurses and therapists.
Research is essential to clinical engineering. For example, clinical engineers may work on prosthetic devices, which are artificial limbs, joints and implants.
Clinical engineers have an understanding of the human anatomy, so they know how limbs work and what makes them move. They also research the materials used to make the prosthetic devices, looking for the most durable and comfortable materials.
Research and development may take place in hospitals, while production takes place in manufacturing companies.
Clinical engineers in the commercial sector design, develop and market medical equipment. They may specialise in one of a wide range of areas:
- Artificial limbs and joints.
- Cardiovascular devices such as artificial arteries. Clinical engineers also develop equipment to diagnose heart problems and repair damage to arteries. Some clinical engineers develop and maintain the highly complex equipment used for open-heart surgery.
- Diagnostic equipment such as X-ray machines and ultrasound equipment.
- Robotic surgery.
- Minimally invasive (keyhole) surgery.
- Rehabilitation and living aids to help patients communicate, and maintain their mobility and independence.
Some of the equipment clinical engineers work on is standardised, and produced on a large scale, like X-ray machines.
Other types of technology, like motorised chairs with special controls, are tailor-made by clinical engineers to meet individual needs. With this type of equipment, they work directly with their clinical colleagues and the patient.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
As a clinical engineer, you need:
- Strong engineering skills as well as an interest in science and medicine.
- To enjoy solving problems, using a combination of logic and creativity.
- Commitment and the willingness to keep at the forefront of advancing technology and scientific developments.
- Good practical skills.
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills to work as part of a team, for example, with doctors, nurses and therapists.
- Strong organisational skills to plan work and co-ordinate resources.
Pay and Opportunities
Salaries for clinical engineers vary.
The pay rates given below are approximate.
Clinical engineers in the private sector earn in the range of £23,500 - £28,500 a year, rising to £34,000 - £41,500 a year, with experience. Senior positions can earn over £50,000 per year.
NHS clinical engineers earn in the range of £18,000 - £21,000 a year, rising to £27,500 - £34,000 a year, with experience. Senior NHS positions can earn up to £40,000 per year.
Hours of work
Most clinical engineers work around 35-40 hours a week, Monday to Friday, with occasional late finishes.
Where could I work?
Clinical engineers work in hospitals, universities, medical schools and research establishments such as the Medical Research Council, or for manufacturers of medical equipment.
Opportunities for clinical engineers occur with employers in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on internet job boards, in local/national newspapers and scientific journals, at Jobcentre Plus and on the Universal Jobmatch website.
The NHS website also advertises vacancies.
Entry Routes and Training
Clinical engineers usually complete a relevant, accredited engineering degree, foundation degree or HND.
There are a number of specialist degrees, with titles such as biomedical engineering and medical engineering.
Graduates also come from backgrounds in mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering, materials science and physics.
It's essential to check prospectuses carefully to make sure the course you choose is relevant to the branch of engineering you want to follow.
Some graduates join graduate training schemes, which offer structured training and learning.
Depending on their level of entry, clinical engineers can gain Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng) professional status. Both are highly regarded by employers throughout industry.
To register as a CEng or an IEng, you must join a relevant, professional engineering institution licensed by the Engineering Council, such as the IPEM.
To become a CEng or an IEng, you need to demonstrate the appropriate competence and commitment. The standards for this are set out in the Engineering Council's UK-SPEC document, which can be downloaded from their website.
UK-SPEC and the engineering institution you've joined can tell you which qualifications are accredited or approved towards CEng or IEng status. Your engineering institution will also advise you on, and process, your application.
Routes to CEng status include completing:
- An accredited honours degree in engineering or technology, plus either an appropriate Masters degree or Engineering Doctorate (EngD) accredited by a professional engineering institution, or appropriate further learning to Masters level.
- Or, an accredited integrated MEng degree.
Routes to IEng status include completing:
- An accredited Bachelors or honours degree in engineering or technology.
- Or, an HNC, HND or foundation degree in engineering or technology, plus appropriate further learning to degree level.
- Or, an NVQ level 4, which has been approved by a licensed engineering institution.
However, you can still become a CEng or an IEng if you don't have these academic qualifications. Further information about the assessment process can be found in UK-SPEC.
Depending on their qualification, clinical engineers can progress by specialising or by taking on more management responsibility.
To enter a degree course in biomedical engineering, the usual requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels, usually in Maths and Physics
- GCSEs in your A level subjects at grade C or above
- A further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C or above
- English, Maths and a science subject are usually required at GCSE at grade C or above.
Other qualifications, such as a relevant Edexcel (BTEC) level 3 National or the International Baccalaureate Diploma are often accepted. Check prospectuses carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A-level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter your chosen degree or HND course, a college or university Access course (eg, Access to Engineering) could be the way in.
These courses are designed for people who have not followed the usual routes into higher education. No formal qualifications are usually needed, but you should check this with individual colleges.
Cardiff University offers an MSc in Clinical Engineering, by distance learning.
The Open University offers undergraduate degrees and postgraduate qualifications in Engineering and Physics.
Information on pathways to registration as a Chartered (CEng) or Incorporated (IEng) Engineer can be found on the Engineering Council's website.
Funding for postgraduate courses is available through universities from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
- 16% of people in occupations such as clinical engineer are self-employed.
- 6% work part-time.
- 17% have flexible hours.
- 3% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Professional institutionsProfessional institutions have the following roles:
- To support their members.
- To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.
For more information on the institution(s) relevant to this career, check out the contacts below.
Skills for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies
Address: 14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0845 6439001
Engineering technology news
Publisher: EngineeringUK and Royal Academy of Engineering
Open University (OU)
Tel: 0845 3006090
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1UH
Tel: 01793 413200
Medical Research Council (MRC)
Address: 14th Floor, One Kemble Street, London WC2B 4AN
Tel: 01793 416200
Publisher: Venture Marketing Group
Getting into Engineering Courses
Author: James Burnett Publisher: Trotman
Address: 105 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1QL
Tel: 0141 2213181
Address: 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500
Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland (ETC NI)
Northern Ireland Enquiries
Address: Sketrick House, Ards Business Park, Jubilee Road, Newtownards BT23 4YH
Tel: 028 9182 2377
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1ET
Tel: 01793 444000
Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)
Address: Fairmount House, 230 Tadcaster Road, York YO24 1ES
Tel: 01904 610821