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April 2, 2015
4 Min Read
It turns out that even academic superstars can be bewildered once they start engineering medical devices. Here are some potential answers.
Josh Simon, PhD
Newly graduated engineers entering the medical device industry should have practical experience, observes Josh Simon, director of business development at Sinclair Research Center.
How can a medical device engineer's education be complete if it only contains academic information?
The following story happens to most newly minted engineers sometime during their first month of employment at a medical device company: With some trepidation, the engineer accepts the job and begins working on a project. For many, this involves CAD and a little bit of manual labor in the testing lab, until one day the engineer's boss declares that it is time to begin the design controls process and the engineer must now firm up the design inputs and start devising verification protocols. Immediately this sends the poor freshly-minted engineer into a panic. Even with five semesters of calculus, several semesters of physiology, and thermodynamics, this "properly prepared" engineer is hearing a string of indecipherable orders and has no clue how to begin the work.
Such occurrences are not the engineer's fault. For the most part, academic institutions give a solid foundation of science, mathematics, and communication skills, but, in reality, this is not enough. What usually follows acceptance of a job offer is a long period of on-the-job training and the cultivation of experience that lasts the entire career. This is how it has always been done, and it has worked for the most part. But today's job environment is much more competitive, and engineers who can hit the ground running have a much better chance at winning one of the few entry-level positions out there. Reducing the time to train an engineer also saves the medtech company money.
Expanding academic education to include real-world training for tasks associated with engineering jobs can alleviate the chicken-and-egg conundrum of experience requirements for employment. In many universities, such programs already exist. Co-ops and internships are becoming more common in engineering schools where students can spend several months of the academic year working for a corporation as a trainee. To date, however, most engineering schools do not have such programs. Design courses seem to do the leg-work in these schools for simulating real world activities, except these are often led by academics who have no real-world experience outside of the university.
Improving this situation and enabling engineers to hit the ground running at their first jobs means teaching additional subjects. Even in schools where co-ops are plentiful, the work outside of the university may not cover the whole range of possibilities. If a student gains a co-op position performing validation tasks, for example, there may be limited opportunity to experience prototyping and vice versa. There are quite a few schools catching onto this notion, such as Drexel University, Harvard, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where courses on medical device development activities are offered.
The more this trend continues, the easier it will be for graduating students to obtain employment, and the more productivity the business will get out of its new worker. For those who have already left school, it is never too late. Courses online are offered by sites like Medical Device Courses and other professional societies. For students who still have time before graduation, or those who are entering the field of medical device development through some other accident of employment or promotion, these courses can also serve the same purpose. As time goes on, this trend in educational program development will hopefully produce a new generation of engineers with better training for what lies out there in the commercial setting.
Josh Simon is an adjunct professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and is the director of business development at Sinclair Research Center where he helps clients design preclinical studies for medical devices..
Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at BIOMEDevice Boston, May 6-7, 2015.
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