I was in sixth grade when I decided I wanted to be a biomedical engineer. Before then I thought I would pursue medical school, but once I learned about the biomedical engineering profession, how it fuses both modern medicine and modern technology, I was captivated.
The biomedical world I originally envisioned was one of research and development. But once I graduated from university, I realized I wanted a job where my work in the morning would have a direct impact on people in the afternoon. I found it in the best-kept secret in healthcare: the role of the hospital biomedical engineer.
Ingredients for Success
I started my biomedical career in the city of Temple, Tex. The Veterans Affairs hospital there provided an ideal training ground for me. The habits and skills I brought to the hospital were similar to those of other young biomeds just beginning their careers. The first is studiousness, which helps when you need to educate yourself about various projects at the hospital. Next is curiosity, which enables you to explore the possibilities of innovation at work. After that comes facility with writing and speaking (I minored in English…please don’t tell anyone). Another key trait is understanding and empathy for others’ experiences, which for many of us is a result of growing up with social media. Last but not least is energy, fueled by lots of sleep and plenty of single-brew coffee drinks.
However, I soon learned there were plenty of other capabilities that I and other young biomeds still had to develop on the job. To begin with, in an era when dial-up internet is a distant memory, and cell phones can access a huge library of information almost instantly, we need to learn patience: We have to train ourselves, for instance, to wait good-naturedly for someone to formulate a response to our ideas for a project’s progression. I also learned the value of judicious skepticism when interacting with vendors and staff members. When working on a project, the ability to separate fact from fiction in the perspectives of clinical users, biomed technicians, and vendors can be an extremely helpful skill.
The Millennial Mindset
What sets younger biomeds apart from their more senior colleagues? My generation’s approach is more open and more focused on coordination, and not just on sheer knowledge of devices and systems. More than older generations, we concentrate on how to integrate and how to discover: We need to constantly learn in order to keep up with the growing mass of technology that we manage. Younger biomeds can sometimes be more comfortable with technology, but we like it to be organized and easy to interpret. We depend on technology to help inform our decisions, whether it be from a brief market research examination or a deeper dredge of customer reviews for a product.
These qualities also influence how we perform our job duties and will continue to do so, both now and in the future. Our comfort with technology is helpful in dealing with major IT-related challenges in the hospital setting. Being able to ask the right questions, to discern pertinent information from the specs of a piece of equipment (especially compatibility and communication needs) will help young biomeds tremendously. A willingness to keep learning in order to better understand how systems link together and operate is key to our generation’s success. As more and more equipment interconnects, being able to constantly add to our repertoire of skills in the IT arena will be indispensable.
What drives younger biomeds? We want to innovate. We have a collective competitive nature, a drive to succeed, and a desire for collaboration. We think in patterns. We look at how things were done before, and then decide whether we should replicate the method used, change it slightly, or completely abandon it. We are not resistant to change—at least, not that much, not yet. We hope to bring new, sustaining characteristics to the field, and encourage growth in the biomedical engineering profession. We hope to give it fresh energy, helping to invigorate and revitalize it.
And so while we appreciate the wonderful secret that is our profession (working in hospitals is not the most well-known engineering track), we want to spread the word to get acknowledgment for ourselves, and validation from the world that the calling we have chosen matters. We want to encourage new folks to take up the torch. We recently went through college, we understand how grueling the job search can be post-graduation, we know how hard you have to work to find a good fit with an employer, and we can speak as peers to fresh college graduates.
I consider myself very fortunate to now have employment at the West Los Angeles campus of the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System. I still continue to develop my skills, but I am only at the beginning of what I know will be a full and rewarding career. All I have to do to confirm this is ask colleagues from the experienced generations that preceded mine.
Clarice M. Balconi-Lamica is a biomedical engineer with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.