How to become a clinical engineer

Clinical engineers commission, calibrate, and monitor medical equipment and surgical instruments to make sure they are working correctly and safely. They also:

  • make, improve, or adapt assistive technology to help people live healthier and more independent lives
  • design and develop bespoke medical devices, including software, to meet the needs of clinical services

Clinical engineers specialise in 4 areas:

  • clinical measurement
  • medical equipment management
  • engineering design and development
  • rehabilitation engineering

Clinical engineering is a diverse workforce. Some clinical engineers are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as clinical scientists. Many clinical engineers also hold Chartered status from a variety of professional bodies.

Starting your career as a clinical engineer

Choosing subjects at school

School subjects that could lead to a career as a clinical engineer include:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Biology
  • Computing Science
  • Design and Manufacture
  • Engineering Science
  • Physics

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some experience working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college, or a new job with NHSScotland.

Apprenticeships

Foundation Apprenticeships

A Foundation Apprenticeship could give you the skills, knowledge, and work experience to start your career journey in healthcare. Find out more about Foundation Apprenticeships in:

Modern Apprenticeships

You could get into this job by starting with a Modern Apprenticeship. It could be the start of a much longer-term career with the NHS. You’ll develop your knowledge and skills on the job while you gain nationally recognised qualifications. Find out more about Modern Apprenticeships in:

College and university

At college or university, you could study:

  • Electronic Engineering
  • Engineering Systems
  • Manufacturing Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Software Engineering

The educational requirements for clinical engineering posts range from college qualifications to master's degrees, and less often doctoral degrees.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

You can search for college or university courses on My World of Work.

Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Training Scheme

The Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Training Scheme is a well-established route to becoming a clinical engineer in the NHS.

The programme lasts 3.5 years and has been reviewed by the National School for Healthcare Science (NSHCS) and the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) which recognised the quality of the Scottish training scheme. You’ll need a minimum of a 2:1 or a 2:2 and a master’s degree to meet the entry criteria.

In your first year, you’ll complete a master’s degree. In the second year, you’ll rotate around different specialisms in clinical engineering. In year 3, you’ll focus on a single area to specialise on for the year or lead an innovation project related to your chosen specialism.

Once you complete your training, you’ll register with the HCPC.

The role

As a clinical engineer, you’ll combine your engineering knowledge with your problem-solving and design and development skills. You’ll work with other healthcare professionals to:

  • help in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases
  • design and develop assistive technology or medical devices to support patients and clinical services

What you’ll do

Clinical measurement

In clinical measurement, you’ll help to provide specialist diagnostic tests in clinical areas such as urology, ophthalmology, and cardiology.

Some typical tasks include:

  • carry out diagnostic tests
  • monitor and assess the effects of treatment interventions
  • report findings back to the patient’s care team
  • implement quality control procedures and ensure all work is carried out in line with national guidelines and relevant legislation

Medical equipment management

In medical equipment management, you’ll maintain equipment used to deliver healthcare services to make sure it is working properly and safe to use.

Some typical tasks include:

  • calibrate and maintain medical equipment, including scanners, imaging machines, and monitoring systems
  • commissioning and acceptance testing of new equipment
  • advise on the procurement of new equipment
  • perform risk assessments to make sure that the highest risk equipment is prioritised
  • advising patients and healthcare professionals on the correct use of equipment

Engineering design and development

Engineering design and development teams design and develop bespoke medical devices to meet the needs of a range of clinical services.

These teams have a range of expertise to include mechanical, electronic, and software devices. Examples include:

  • wearable electronic devices to monitor vital signs
  • 3D printed moulds to help with patient positioning
  • web or mobile applications that perform calculations on clinical data and present this data appropriately to aid clinical decision making

Some typical tasks include:

  • extensive background research to understand the clinical problem the device is trying to solve, the users of the device, and the environment in which the device will be used
  • iterative design and development, including prototyping and evaluating different technologies and approaches to solving the clinical problem
  • comprehensive risk management to ensure the devices produced are safe and effective, and meet the legal requirements for a medical device
  • developing and iteratively improving the processes that guide medical device design and development under a quality management system

Rehabilitation engineering

In rehabilitation engineering, you’ll manufacture or adapt assistive technology, including wheelchairs, artificial limbs, and robotic aids, to meet a person’s needs.

Some typical tasks include:

  • designing custom seating or headrests for posture support, so a patient can sit unaided in their wheelchair
  • assessment, specification, and commissioning of specialist mobility controls for powered wheelchair users
  • developing artificial limbs or joints to help people regain control over their movement and improve their mobility

Top skills

Useful skills for a clinical engineer include:

  • collaboration
  • communication
  • leadership
  • problem-solving
  • teamwork
  • working with technology

You’ll also need excellent engineering knowledge and design skills.

Who you’ll work with

It's likely that you’ll work in a multidisciplinary team, which could include:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • occupational therapists
  • orthotists
  • physiotherapists
  • prosthetists
  • other clinical engineers

Working environment

You may visit patients in their homes or meet them in a clinic. You’ll also be creating or modifying devices in a workshop environment.

Learning and development

As a qualified clinical engineer, you’re expected to undertake continuous professional development activities to:

  • keep your knowledge and skills up to date
  • maintain your registration with the HCPC

The HCPC provides courses, conferences, and seminars where you can update your skills and knowledge.

During your career as a clinical engineer, you can also work towards additional qualifications, such as:

  • higher specialist development
  • PhDs and professional doctorates

Gaining qualifications will help your career prospects, leading to more senior roles or the chance to advance to specialised areas of service.

Professional bodies

Clinical engineers working in the NHS may be affiliated with the following professional bodies:

Clodagh, Clinical Engineer, NHS GGC

Find out about Clodagh's career journey into clinical engineering.

Sarah, Clinical Engineer, NHS GGC

Find out about Sarah's journey to becoming a clinical engineer in software and informatics.