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Health is in demand


Excellent prospects for the medical engineering industry. Information for career entrants and up-and-comers.

Health is in demand© Nicolas Loran - iStockphoto.comMedical engineering in Germany invests approximately 9% of its turnover in research and development
Medical engineering is booming - for one thing because the world's population is growing, life expectancy is increasing, and with it the frequency of age-related and often chronic illnesses; for another because more and more people are willing to pay lots of money out of their own pockets for modern treatment methods. According to a Forsa survey from 2010, in no area of life is the advance of technology welcomed more than in medicine. Approximately three quarters of all Germans believe that their chances of a longer life depend significantly on the innovative power of medical engineering. A brief guide for those interested in the industry:

How do I get started?

The industry particularly requires engineers who specialise in disciplines such as medical, electrical or process engineering, mechanical engineering, economics or mechatronics. But physicists and computer scientists, chemists and medical scientists, biologists, pharmacists and business managers are also in demand because almost everyone in the industry works in interdisciplinary teams. In addition to a solid knowledge base and excellent English language skills, prospective applicants particularly require the ability to work in teams because it is always necessary to think and communicate beyond one's own discipline, says Olaf Dössel of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Where can one train directly in medical engineering?

Many universities have responded to the skills shortage and the rapid growth of the industry and established new Bachelor and Master degree courses in recent years: while the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences has been offering a degree in medical engineering since the 1970s, the universities of applied sciences in Lübeck, Gießen, Braunschweig, Jena, Gelsenkirchen and Aachen are today also well known for their degree courses in medical engineering. Degree courses with an even more specific focus have meanwhile appeared: at the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences, for example, students can specialise in sports medical engineering, while HAW Hamburg offers a course in biomedical engineering. What all these degree courses have in common is a strong mathematical orientation; the course plan also includes natural science subjects such as human biology and microbiology. Many companies are demanding that economics skills and marketing strategies play a greater part in future university courses. Qualified engineers from the metalworking or electrical engineering fields can train for two years at a technical university or university of applied sciences to become a »Certified Engineer/Specialist in Medical Technology«.

What areas of employment are there?

There is a wide range of employment fields and career opportunities: medical engineers work not only in laboratories or at universities; they also, for example, install, maintain and repair technical equipment in hospitals and dialysis centres, and serve as points of contact for physicians, patients, care and administrative staff. In the medical industry, they compile expert reports, review regulations and handle the approval process for new products. Salary progression depends very much on an engineer's field of work, training and employer. A product manager will earn on average 45,000 euros in the first two years of employment, as will controllers and field staff in the medical engineering industry. Those who wish to work in research will increase their chances of success and their salaries by first completing a doctorate.

Who offers the best jobs?

Other than the few big players like Siemens Healthcare, Fresenius and Roche Diagnostics, the German medical engineering industry is characterised by medium-sized businesses. 95% of the industry's approximately 1,250 companies employ fewer than 250 people - in all, approximately 98,900 people work there. Added to this are around 10,000 small businesses with a further 75,000 employees in total. Many of them are world market leaders in specific segments; others are so-called hidden champions, that is, successful businesses that are virtually unknown but not to be underestimated. Between 2000 and 2008 the number of employees in German med-tech companies increased by 12%. And the insecurity triggered by the economic and financial crisis has also been replaced by a growing optimism: according to a survey by the industry association Bundesverband Medizintechnologie (BVMed) conducted in the autumn of 2010, companies are continuing to create jobs, and there are vacancies almost everywhere. The survey found that academics were especially sought-after in sales, in marketing and communications, in key account management, and in research and development. In a current Spectaris survey, 82% agreed that skills shortages were already presenting a problem for the medical engineering industry.

How international is the industry?

With a total turnover of 17.8 billion euros, two thirds of medical engineering in Germany is geared towards exports. The situation on the global market therefore has a significant effect on growth and business development. Global thinking is also required of the industry's employees; they should be prepared to work in international cooperations and intercultural teams, and to spend long periods abroad. According to the results of the »MedTech 2020« survey carried out by VDE, the Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies, international experts are observing significant gains for Asia, especially in prosthetics and implants, while in the fields of telemedicine and eHealth Europe is expected to replace the USA as technology leader. In regenerative medicine and surgical tools for minimally invasive operations and endoscopy the importance of the USA is likely to decrease; Europe will maintain its position and Asia will again catch up significantly. Specialists see convoluted approval processes and political obstacles, for example in the shape of decreasing reimbursements for illness-related costs, as innovation hurdles for Germany.

What role does innovation play?

According to VDE, medical engineering in Germany invests approximately 9% of its turnover in research and development; almost 15% of the industry's employees work in this field. With 16,400 patents, the industry also leads the list of all registered inventions. As one of the most research-intensive industries, medical engineering however also depends more than ever on the rapid implementation of new technologies. Approximately half its turnover is generated with products based on technology that is no more than two years old. According to industry association Spectaris, significant advances are currently being made in information and communication technology - for example in creating electronic patient records. Intensive research is also being conducted into imaging systems for early diagnostics, into robotics for surgical interventions and into networking medical equipment with hospital IT infrastructures. A further field of innovation is in-vitro diagnostics for monitoring therapeutic measures. Research into prosthetics and implants is especially interdisciplinary: in this field links to other subjects, particularly to the bio- and materials sciences, have become very close.

What are the long-term prospects?

Until the year 2020, demand for medical technology in the industrialised nations is expected to increase by 3-4% annually; for emerging countries, annual growth of as much as 9 to 16% is predicted.

From DIE ZEIT :: 24.11.2011