Job: Health-care engineer
The role: Help health-care facilities, systems and networks solve complex medical and business challenges, using data and algorithms. Tasks can range from patient intake flow, to optimizing health-care administration and helping clinicians with decisions concerning individual patients.
“We use the data and the algorithms we’ve built so that we can make decisions that make the system more efficient, financially sustainable and enhance patient care,” explains Ali Vahit Esensoy, group manager of strategic analytics for Cancer Care Ontario, a provincial health-care agency.
Health-care engineers can be found in a range of public and private institutions within the health-care system, he says, such as hospitals, clinical research institutions, government agencies, health-care technology companies and management consulting firms.
Depending on the employer, Mr. Esensoy says, the role typically mixes deskwork and field studies, as well as research and implementation. “It’s a very data-driven profession, so a good chunk of your time could be spent hunting for that data, sometimes literally collecting it yourself,” he says. “Part of the time is also spent building algorithms behind a computer and running computer experiments to find solutions to the problems you’re working on.”
Salary: The salary of a health-care engineer ranges based on their location, education, whether they are employed in the private or public sector and the size of their employer. “You’re looking at about $80,000 out of school with a master’s degree, depending on a lot of factors,” Mr. Esensoy says. “I think it’s safe to say that you could earn between $110,000 to $130,000 [per year] once you’re a few years in, depending on whether you go public or private.”
Mr. Esensoy adds that later in their careers, health-care engineers typically move into management or specialize in a single field. “Because you’re so close to business operations and you understand how the business works, a lot of people move into management, and then it’s a typical management salary. Some even become CEOs,” he says.
Education: While some health-care engineers can enter the work force with only a bachelor’s-level engineering degree to get hands-on experience, they are typically required to earn at least a master’s degree to advance beyond an entry-level position.
“I would say the absolute minimum is a bachelor’s degree in either industrial engineering, applied mathematics or applied statistics, followed by a graduate degree in health-care engineering or an applied operations research program with a strong health-care practice,” Mr. Esensoy says.
Job prospects: Job opportunities for health-care engineers are growing in Canada as the health-care industry seeks to utilize data and algorithms to improve its care and cost structure.
“I don’t know any unemployed graduates: You will be snapped up,” Mr. Esensoy says. “If you finish with a graduate degree, you usually finish with a job lined up.”
Challenges: Although the field attracts those who enjoy working with data and algorithms, Mr. Esensoy says many are challenged by the often-chaotic nature of health-care facilities, and the field’s reliance on interpersonal skills.
“Health care is a very high-touch, very human profession, with lots of different professionals working together,” he says. “It’s sometimes hard for technical people like us, we’re attracted to well-functioning systems, and there’s a lot of people and complexity here.”
Why they do it: Health-care engineers enjoy using data to solve a diverse range of problems that have real-world effects on the well-being of patients.
“One day I could be figuring out how many oncologists we’ll need in 10 years, the next day I could be looking at the best way to care for people with dementia in the community,” Mr. Esensoy says.
Misconceptions: Mr. Esensoy says that many people assume the role is very hands-on, when it is in fact more analytical. He explains that unlike most engineering disciplines, health-care engineers don’t actually build things.
“The common misconception is, ‘Oh, you build stuff, come fix my light switch,'" he says. "We don’t do that. I can give you a really good process for fixing that light switch, but I don’t actually fix things. We engineer systems, not things.”
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