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How to become a clinical engineer

You’ll need to complete a postgraduate-level work-based training programme to become a clinical engineer in the NHS.

What is a clinical engineer?

Clinical engineers combine their design and development, problem-solving, and curiosity skills with their engineering knowledge to:

  • Help other healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat diseases.
  • Design, build, and adapt assistive technology or medical devices to support both patients and clinical services.

They specialise in one of four areas:

  • Clinical measurement – carrying out specialist diagnostic tests to monitor and assess the effectiveness of treatment interventions.
  • Medical equipment management – maintaining equipment used to deliver healthcare services, making sure it is ready and safe to use.
  • Engineering design and development – designing and developing medical devices and building technology to meet the needs of a range of clinical services.
  • Rehabilitation engineering – manufacturing or adapting assistive technology to meet a person’s needs, including wheelchairs, artificial limbs, and robotic aids.

Some clinical engineers train in industry before bringing their skills and knowledge to the NHS.

Starting your career as a clinical engineer

Choosing subjects at school

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

  • EnglishMaths
  • Biology
  • Computing Science
  • Design and Manufacture
  • Engineering Science
  • Physics

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to college, university, or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

Becoming a clinical engineer in the NHS is an exciting career! As a trainee, you'll complete a work-based training programme at postgraduate level.

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.

As a trainee clinical engineer, you’ll complete a master’s degree at SCQF level 11 in your first year. In the second year, you’ll get experience working in different clinical engineering specialisms. In year 3, you’ll focus on a single area to specialise in or lead an innovation project related to your chosen specialism.

Once you complete your training, you’ll register as a clinical scientist with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

You can apply for training opportunities on our recruitment website. You'll need an undergraduate honours degree at SCQF level 10 in one of the following subjects:

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

Search for university degree programmes on My World of Work.

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.

Get to know the role

Clinical engineers commission, calibrate and monitor medical equipment and surgical instruments to make sure they are safe for use. They make, improve, or adapt assistive technology to help people live healthier and more independent lives. Also, they design and develop bespoke medical devices and software to meet the needs of clinical services.

The day-to-day tasks you'll do will depend on the specialist area you're working in.

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 and make sure 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
  • 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, and 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

Useful skills for a clinical engineer include:

  • collaborating
  • communicating
  • leadership
  • problem-solving
  • curiosity
  • working with technology

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

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

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 clinical scientist in clinical engineering, you’re expected to undertake continuous professional development (CPD) activities to:

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

Clinical scientists must meet the HCPC’s standards for CPD. Learn more about the HCPC’s guidance on CPD activities.

Career progression

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 scientists in clinical engineering must be registered with the HCPC to work in the NHS. They may also be affiliated with the following professional bodies:

  • Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS)
  • Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS)
  • Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)
  • The Register of Clinical Technologists (RCT)
  • Other chartered professional bodies 

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