One of the fastest growing areas within the engineering field is that of biomedical engineering. It now encompasses the diagnosis and treatment of disease, rehabilitation techniques and the promotion of general health. In doing this, it makes full use of advanced biomaterials, medical devices and the very latest technology.
These developments in medicine and engineering have gone hand in hand with the need for more professionals with comprehensive training to take up positions in the sector.
Therefore, the founding of the Department of Health and Technology and Informatics (HTI) at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has come at just the right time. Bringing together three key disciplines, the new department will teach biomedical engineering, medical laboratory science and radiography. This should create a level of synergy which will give a significant boost to the research and development of new products and allow staff to prepare a well-rounded curriculum and devise the most appropriate teaching materials.
"Students will be able to synthesise their knowledge of life science and engineering to the practice of biomedical engineering and the development of medical devices," says department head Professor Arthur F.T. Mak. With the inter-disciplinary approach, there are already numerous electives to choose from. "Even so, we will seek further collaboration with other departments and continue to strengthen the curriculum in future," Professor Mak adds.
Among the subjects currently included in the programme are biomechanics, human movement, bioinstrumentation and assistive technology. There are also modules on the cost effectiveness of health technology, prosthetics and orthotics, molecular biology, and electronic and information engineering.
The programmes currently on offer are a BSc in biomedical engineering, a double BSc in biomedical engineering and applied biology with biotechnology, and a major/minor combination which includes biomedical engineering. The programmes are recognised by relevant professional bodies in the US and other countries under the Washington Accord, of which the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) is a signatory. Graduates are also eligible to join the HKIE and to sit for the certification examination of the Hong Kong Society of Certified Prosthetist-Orthotists.
"Our emphasis is on academic excellence in a professional context, and we are devoted to providing education that will open up a variety of career paths for our students," Professor Mak explains. Graduates can expect to find opportunities in anything from clinical engineering to manufacturing and technical sales. Positions might be with government departments, public orw private hospitals, R & D laboratories, suppliers of medical and healthcare devices, or manufacturers.
According to Professor Mak, there will definitely be ongoing demand in the area of product development, since manufacturers in Hong Kong are responsible for providing a substantial percentage of some of the medical devices used around the world. The government is actively encouraging this and new regulations enhancing standards for the sector will be enforced in the near future.
In Professor Mak's view, adherence to the highest quality is what gives Hong Kong manufacturers a major advantage in the face of increasing competition from their mainland counterparts. "Biomedical engineering is the fastest growing discipline within engineering worldwide, and we aim to consolidate our status as a supplier with a commitment to tolerating zero defects," he says.