Hospital ships give people who need it access to safe, affordable, timely surgery. As well as providing care on the ship, they also train local healthcare providers. This article looks at the life of a hospital ship biomedical engineer.
Meet Deborah Nutsugah a Hospital Ship Biomedical Engineer
The ship is completely self-contained and so needs a variety of staff including biomedical technicians.
After starting her career in Ghana, Deborah Nutsugah is currently volunteering as a Biomedical Technician on Mercy Ships.
Her path from land to sea and getting a job on a ship as a biomedical engineer
Could you give a brief description of your background and what led you to study and work in engineering?
I studied general science in high school. I always wanted to challenge myself, so I was happy to do challenging things. That is how I get happy, when I can solve a problem.
Were there any childhood interests which were a factor?
My uncle was a mechanical technician while I was growing up. I used to disturb him a lot when he fixed his car or my dad’s car, or the generator or the blender. When he did anything at all, I would ask him to explain, and I would burst in excitement when he gave me the pliers or the screwdriver to use.
I became comfortable with machines and tools and so engineering came naturally to me.
So, my interest in engineering is credited to my uncle who was happy to have me around him when he worked as a mechanical technician.
Why did biomedical engineering attract you rather than another type of engineering?
Even though I had a huge interest in engineering, I also wanted to do something which can have the ability to help save people’s lives.
I wanted something to do with healthcare or hospitals, because I wanted to see my talent directly impacting lives positively. I discovered that biomedical engineering was the perfect combination of engineering and healthcare for me, and I feel satisfaction doing it.
Has there been a particular person who has inspired you?
I have been blessed all along my journey by many people I meet, my family and the people I work with. My bosses whom I have worked with always make me see the importance of the work I do, and it keeps me wanting to continue challenging myself.
But my mother believes in me so much and she encourages me every time. She is always praying with me and praying for me even for the simplest things. This makes me also not want to give up and to make both my parents proud.
How important was it to you to gain the edX certificate?
The edX course is very practical. I learned many things from the course and could even start to apply them to my work whilst still taking the course. The course is self-paced, and it was easy for me to follow it while combining it with my work. Taking the verified track with certification helped not only to gain the certificate but to also continue to have access to the course modules for my reference.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about gaining this qualification and studying in this way?
The edX certificate is not only an asset but also the course is very helpful to gain practical knowledge in repairing equipment. The manual at your disposal is valuable when you need it too.
Typical Day as a hospital ship biomedical engineer
What’s your typical day like?
I often perform preventive maintenance on medical equipment. In the morning after my boss and I start our day with prayer, we go ahead to discuss what our tasks will be during the day. I focus on preventive maintenance. In between, if users report a fault with a piece of equipment, I join my boss to fix it.
How much of your time is spent ‘hands on’ and how much on admin or other tasks?
I spend a greater part of my time ‘hands on’. When I make progress with the equipment, I document my findings in our computerised maintenance management system (CMMS). And when new equipment or parts arrive, I also spend a short time registering them in the CMMS.
Which other people in the workplace give you support?
My boss gives me the greatest support in the workplace. He is always happy to explain things to me and very passionate about my personal development.
Most challenging part of the job as a hospital ship biomedical engineer
What do you find most challenging when you are working – technical side or people?
Personally, I love challenges. I am happy chasing after what will challenge me to help me grow in any aspect. I am happy when I can solve challenging technical problems or when I win with people.
Have you ever arrived and found that it’s been much easier than you expected? For example, have you just needed to switch on a machine.
Yes, quite a few times!
For example, the customer could not operate the manual bed with the foot pedal. I was called and found that it was because a foot stool was placed beneath the foot pedal on the other side of the bed. This was obstructing the foot pedal movement.
I just had to remove the foot stool.
Hospitals can be places where there is a lot of pressure on staff. How do you handle things when people are very stressed?
If it is to do with broken equipment which the user needs soon, I keep them updated with its status by:
Giving them an estimate, if possible, of when they can have it working.
Assuring them I am doing everything I can to get it working.
Never giving false hope.
Explaining the situation as it is and helping with suggestions or alternatives if necessary.
Working in engineering as a woman
You are working in an industry which has more men than women. How do you find this?
For me, working in a male dominated industry like this, I am quite happy. It can be challenging though.
The physical or technical aspect is not the challenge. The challenge is that some male customers don’t immediately trust you to be able to fix their huge equipment. Sometimes it takes some effort to get them to believe you can fix it especially if you have male colleagues, they know they can use instead.
But when you get to fix their equipment once, they are so amazed that they are happy to call you again.
New biomedical engineers
What sort of personality traits and skills are ideal to be a biomedical engineer?
For a biomedical engineer, you need to continue learning to remain valuable no matter how much experience you already have.
We have many manufacturers with multiple models of equipment. You cannot know all of them. New important technologies keep emerging. You need to keep teaching yourself and be available to be taught.
Apart from a strong technical background, what are the three most important skills to have?
Research, team worker, attention to detail
How do you think biomedical engineers differ from other engineers?
Biomedical engineers are solving problems just like other engineers, but they are also, and most importantly ensuring patient safely.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of a career as a biomedical engineer?
Biomedical engineering is a wide field with many opportunities and specialties. It is satisfying work and job security is great. Do not stop learning and adapting to new technologies.