Step by Step: Engineering in the NHS
The job: In the gait lab, Zoe, 28, uses infrared cameras, reflective markers and computers to generate three-dimensional images of how people walk and how their biomechanics function.
"We process the data, do an interpretation session with a consultant and a physiotherapist and an engineer," Zoe says. "For example, we see a lot of children with cerebral palsy who would perhaps be recommended for surgery and we analyse their gait to see what surgery would be necessary."
Zoe’s engineering work also takes her into the field, where she designs, installs and maintain environmental control systems. "Those are systems that are put into the homes of people who have quite severe impairments and that enable them to control things like using the TV and videos, and opening doors. "It allows people to control it all through a single switch, which can be operated with their head, for example," she explains.
Why apply? Zoe, graduated in 2001 from the University of Cardiff with an MEng in integrated engineering; she became interested in rehabilitation engineering during her final year. Gait analysis is a highly competitive field, but Zoe’s final grade – a first – and the fact that she carried out her final project at Cardiff’s bioengineering department gave her the edge to get the job.
What gets her out of bed? "I’m very passionate about engineering, but I also like the fact that my job involves me working with other professionals and doctors and physiotherapists and occupational therapists," she says. "I might have the technical knowledge, but [others bring in] a different factor and you can find a different solution altogether. It’s important to have everyone’s input – especially the patient’s."
The challenges? Learning to apply engineering solutions in ways that suit the patient, for example, when designing environmental control systems. "I now know that it’s important to take it back and take smaller steps – just the telephone or just the television at first," she explains. "Over time the person will get used to that and use everything. Whereas before, I would have put everything on a system at once, now I think how it could be built up gradually."
We say: Research your intended field and find a way to gain experience in it before you graduate, Zoe advises. During her final year at Cardiff, she volunteered with Remap, a charity in which engineers design bespoke equipment for people with various impairments.