Job Title: Senior Engineer
Type of Company: My company is developing and now marketing a system to map the location of plaque in the coronary arteries. This is a new diagnostic tool for cardiologists that gives them an unprecedented view of the disease that is the number one cause of death.
Education: BA Physics/Astronomy Boston University MS Biomedical Engineering Boston University
Previous Experience: After my BA, I worked as a technician for a laser manufacturer. I then worked in laser research at BU in cardiology applications. I then worked for a medical center on lasers in cardiology. I then returned to grad school and simultaneously worked for a start up company on various applications of lasers and spectroscopy. I then worked for a large commercial spectrometer company. Finally I moved to a startup making a cardiology product that maps plaque in the coronary arteries via fiber optics and a laser based spectrometer. And that has been my career over the last 25 years or so.
Job Tasks: My background includes experience in a wide variety of science and engineering applications. My day to day work calls on a variety of skills to solve problems in our research and development of a relatively complex system for mapping plaque in the coronary arteries. This system is based on a custom laser delivering light through a custom fiber optic catheter. This allows us to direct laser light at the inside wall of the coronary arteries and to measure the intensity of light that is reflected off of that surface. Analysis of this light lets us distinguish healthy artery tissue from arterial plaque and to map the location of those types of tissue.
My work includes a lot of hands-on building of these systems with various new experimental features to be evaluated. I also do a lot of repairs on existing experimental systems. I also do repairs on systems that are already in use at various hospitals. I also design and perform experiments using this equipment to gain insight into various problems reported by users or to develop new features. This work involves a lot of work with electronics, such as building new electronic boards for testing, diagnosing and repairing existing electronics that have failed, and optimizing the performance of new equipment designs.
Because this is a heavily regulated industry, there is always an element of documenting what work is done, which takes various forms from making notes in an official lab notebook, to developing, performing, and recording the results of all kinds of tests meant to verify the safety and efficacy of every aspect of our systems.
I also get to work with cutting edge developments in several areas of optics, including tunable lasers and fiber optics. So, this job is very enjoyable to me because it makes use of my broad experience to create a new and very useful medical device and to continue to develop new features for it.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of this job is that I get to use my experience and skills to develop a new medical diagnostic that we expect to be very important in improving the outcome of patients with heart disease. It is a fun job because of the variety of tasks and the variety of skills needed to complete them.
The down side of this job is that medical device development requires an enormous amount of documentation in order to comply with the various regulatory bodies, such as the FDA. This is a mountain of paperwork and keeping up with it can be a real drag.
1. This kind of work needs good computer skills. I use Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc) every day. We also make a lot of use of Matlab and Solid Works.
2. I would strongly advise any engineering student to become familiar with Matlab as it is the premier data manipulation package in use. Solid Works is used to actually design our mechanical parts and is one of the standard tools of the industry.
3. Beyond those, real hands on experience with making, troubleshooting, and repairing electronics is central to my job, so anyone interested in this work needs to develop those skills. This work assumes expertise in the use of standard test equipment like volt ohm meters, oscilloscopes, function generators, and digital data acquisition systems, so learning to use those is a must. Labview is another piece of software that we have used frequently, allowing rapid development of prototype systems.
Additional Thoughts: I have worked in startup companies for a long time, but it was not until my most recent job that I ever got to develop a real product that made it to market. It has been a real surprise to me what the burden of documentation has turned out to be. I would suggest that anyone interested in biomedical engineering should seek contact with real biomedical engineers to see what this burden is like. It can be very offputting for someone more interested in the science and research aspects of the job to suddenly be saddled with writing endless test reports.
I am also surprised over and over by how important communication is and how often people overlook that in science and engineering jobs. I have repeatedly found myself making very small efforts toward improving openness and communications among my co-workers which then lead to very big benefits in terms of shared information and skills that lead to very fast resolution of problems. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively with co-workers has been a surprisingly important skill in my career.
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