$2.6 million grant partnership creates first online clinical engineer program

March 28, 2022

MRI machine

Story from Missouri Online

Advancing the health care workforce is essential to delivering top patient care in hospital systems. Along with advances in medical technology, an urgent need has arisen for workers with the expertise required to manage complex equipment that helps save lives.

The University of Missouri (Mizzou) has created a first-in-the nation online clinical engineer certification program to train current and future health care workers on modern medical technology and systems. Mizzou researchers partnered with Siemens Healthineers to form the Alliance for Precision Health. The partnership was made possible by a $2.6 million grant from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development (MDHEWD).

The Alliance, which includes Siemens Healthineers, the University of Missouri System and University of Missouri Health Care will provide research and training on the latest health care technology, with a goal of reaching underserved populations like rural communities.

“Siemens Healthineers is excited to participate in this co-development with MU Health Care and the MU College of Engineering as part of our 10-year alliance, providing access to our latest technology, continually updating the curriculum as well as providing mentoring and recruitment opportunities to clinical engineering students,” said Siemens Healthineers Vice President of Education Services, Nanci Wozniak.

The clinical engineering program will be offered through Missouri Online in Fall 2022. It is open to current and future Mizzou students, military veterans, community college graduates and working professionals seeking additional experience.

Heather Hunt, associate professor of biomedical, biological and chemical engineering. said the program is designed to train engineers for work in clinical settings, not only for servicing equipment, but optimizing its value and impact on patient care.

“Students who complete this program are going to be uniquely positioned to find incredible, interesting jobs that actually impact society, improve patient outcomes and improve healthcare,” she said.

A noble profession

Clinical engineers service the increasingly vital equipment used for X-rays, CTs, MRIs and more, from troubleshooting to repairs and maintenance. A passion for applied science and engineering motivates clinical engineers, who are dedicated to helping patients receive accurate and potentially life-changing medical information.

“Our main objective is to improve the lives and health of the people in our communities. And that’s what makes it, for me, the reason I get up in the morning,” said Mizzou Radiology Equipment Specialist Jean-Pierre Wicks.

Mizzou Professor and Chair of Radiology, Talissa Altes said service engineers add tremendous value to her department, because many machines must operate 24/7.

“By having a really good service engineer, we can do things that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise for our patients or for our research. They help us with both of those missions,” Altes said.

Technical and business expertise

The demand for clinical engineers continues growing as imaging technology advances and becomes essential for many medical specialties. But the advanced technology brings more responsibility for health care workers and more stress on the entire health care system, according to John Burkhardt, Mizzou Hospital’s Lead Biomedical Equipment Technician and Support Manager for clinical engineering

It’s also added a lot of issues as far as maintaining. The fancier things get, the more difficult they are to maintain,” he said.

In addition to technical skills, Burkhardt said communication, trust and a calming presence can help people succeed on this challenging, yet rewarding career path.

“If I go in to work on a piece of equipment, the next person that’s on that equipment might be my family member. It’s a very rewarding career. I highly recommend it,” he said.

Wicks estimated that a student can pursue as many as 30 different specialties in this field — from diagnostic to therapeutic systems. He also participates in Health Technology Management Week every year, often coining terms about their profession.

“Last year was, ‘We fix parts so they can fix hearts.’ And that is us in a nutshell. You have the medical staff and the researchers that dive into the patient and find out what’s going on and what needs to be fixed. We do the same thing on the other side of the fence, in the equipment; keeping it ready for them so they can do their job,” Wicks said.

Watch a Missouri Online video for an overview of the program featuring Associate Professor Heather Hunt.

Learn more about the online certificate program.

See original story and learn more about Missouri Online.