Millicent Alooh has experience as an engineer, as a Manager of Biomedical Engineers and is now Regional Director at the Rice360 Institute for Global Health Technologies in Houston Texas. Millicent is from Kenya and is pursuing a PhD with the University of Nairobi.
Background and path to Biomedical Engineering
What came first for you – an interest in engineering, or an interest in medical technologies?
My interest in Biomedical Engineering came about as I wanted to work in a hospital and couldn’t get the chance to study Medicine or Nursing.
Were there any childhood interests which were a factor?
Not really to be honest, all I knew was that I wanted to be in a hospital environment. However, at that time I didn’t know Biomedical Engineering existed.
Has there been a particular person who has inspired you?
I have always been inspired by different women working and excelling in male dominated careers.
You work with training biomedical engineers and have also worked teaching children. Has this also been a theme in your life?
The main reason I train Biomedical Engineers and teach children in Sunday school is because I love mentoring. I can only achieve this if I start with a junior team.
Management and Team Leading
How easy was it to move from being an engineer to managing engineers?
It hasn’t been an easy transition.
“Dropping my spanner” for me initially meant I stopped creating the world I dreamt of.
Most often I found myself going back to the actual fixing of the equipment whenever any of my team members experienced a difficult situation. However, over time I have learnt to manage the engineers by mentoring and having technical discussions to get to the solutions.
How important is it to remain hands-on at least for some of the time?
It’s very important as this ensures that you keep abreast of new technology in the market. It’s equally important to train what you are best at.
How do you improve confidence in those who need it?
I believe that most of the time confidence grows with greater
knowledge of what one is talking about. Therefore I encourage everyone to be knowledgeable in their areas of expertise; whether it’s on renal equipment, neonatal equipment, or Radiology equipment, just master the art.
How do you handle a poor work ethic?
I’m a mentor and believe in guidance from senior colleagues and so I leave it all to good guidance.
How do you motivate your team?
In my past jobs I have always encouraged round table discussions coupled with lots of compliments whenever there is an achievement.
I also never reprimand publicly.
As well, I engage in several activities which my team does including, but not limited to, actually performing the task.
How do you support someone in your team when things have gone wrong because of a mistake?
I encourage honesty and I support a culture of safety so that whenever there is a mistake it doesn’t turn punitive but becomes a learning lesson for the person and their peers.
What is your advice to anyone starting their first management role?
It’s an exciting assignment which requires lots of patience and understanding.
You are now a Regional Director, Biomedical of Rice360 Institute for Global Technologies. What does your role involve?
My role entails supporting and overseeing the implementation and integration of health technology management for NEST360 bundle in low resource settings.
What is a typical day like for you?
Every day for me is different.
It’s not like in the hospital facility where I used to have a routine. In this role there are days I have early morning meetings starting from 6 am and there are days I have late night meetings going to 10pm at night.
Of course, since it’s a multi-country role it has lots of virtual meetings, thanks to technology. I’m not sure how this would be possible without virtual links.
So basically, I support the country Biomedical Engineers in their roles and provide guidance on their areas of need.
You cover five countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi, and Ethiopia). Do the programmes differ between the countries? What are the differences?
Yes, there are quite significant differences due to the policies governing each individual country.
What is the most challenging part of your job – technical side, people management, or dealing with other organisations and government departments?
Dealing with government departments is an uphill task for me since I’m from the private sector where a lot of the bureaucracy experienced in government doesn’t exist. For instance, in the private sector, decision making is very fast, and so budgets are allocated and implemented.
Advice for women
What have you learnt about women making careers in Biomedical Engineering?
As the Secretary General (SG) of the Association of Medical Engineering of Kenya (AMEK), one of my roles is advocating for women in Biomedical Engineering to be employed, to have better work environments, and better recognition at work as professional Biomedical Engineers.
One of lessons I have learnt as the Secretary General of AMEK is that in Africa women pursuing male dominated careers can be looked down upon by both their male colleagues and some of their employers.
Therefore, it’s important to offer moral support to women at all levels.