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HEALTH CONNECTION

Women can make their mark in biomedical field

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun


The biomedical engineering technology program at Durham College has turned a long-standing stereotype on its head: 95 per cent of the students in the course are female.
Pravin Patel, co-ordinator of the Biomedical Engineering Technology program at Durham College, says there are two personal qualities applicants should bring to his biomedical program: A desire to care for the sick, and an interest in electronic technology and how it benefits them.


Pravin Patel, co-ordinator of the program and a professor in the college's technology department, thinks the reason for the inversion is the attraction of the word "biomedical."

Michele Tucker, one of Patel's students, thinks similarly. Tucker, who took engineering courses at Queen's University as part of a Life Sciences degree, says the field is new so women feel it offers them opportunities they might not get elsewhere.

"Women can make a mark (here) and can push forward," says Tucker.

The three-year, full-time program is the only one of its kind in Canada, and it accepts just 25 students a year, although Patel says that number drops to 20 or so by graduation. Tuition is about $1,800 a year.

To enter the program applicants must have a high school diploma -- although some have degrees -- and a background in mathematics, physics and chemistry. "A strong aptitude in math is a requirement," says Patel, who mentions the subject at least twice in a short interview.

Tucker, who studied anatomy and cell biology at Queen's, says the academics at Durham aren't as demanding as those at Queen's, but Michelle Mathurin, who's just completed her second year at Durham, cautions that the program isn't a breeze.

"You've got to be focused, really focused. This isn't a course you can just take and drop."

Typical first-year subjects at Durham include basic electronics, biology and chemistry, computer applications and mathematics, Patel says. In the last semester of their third year, students must spend two days a week in an unpaid practicum in a hospital, clinic or medical equipment sales company.
QUICK FACTS
  • The Biomedical Engineering Technology program at Durham College is the only three-year, full-time program in Canada.
  • Almost all of the students are female.
  • A strong aptitude in math is essential.
  • Job prospects are good but starting salaries are modest to fair.
  • Graduates can work in hospitals, clinics, R&D, regulatory agencies and medical equipment sales.


  • Once graduated, they will buy, maintain and ensure the safety of biomedical equipment such as dialysis machines, ventilators, defibrillators and ultrasound apparatus.

    Patel says there are two personal qualities applicants should bring to his biomedical program. The first is a desire to care for the sick, and the second, an interest in electronic technology and how it benefits them.

    Tucker, who had considered medicine as a career, but now leans towards biotechnology research and development, suggests an open mind is also a definite asset.

    "You have to think for yourself and not just repeat what you read in a book," she says.

    Given the boom in health care over the last decade or so, it's small wonder graduates of the Durham program are in high demand. Patel says more than 90 per cent -- if not 100 per cent of his students will be working in their chosen field within six months of graduation. There's been a major push to improve health care, he points out, and medical machinery is moving towards computer control.

    "We feel that job prospects are good," he says. "(Graduates) will be in high demand."

    Most of the employment will be found in hospitals and medical clinics, of course, but there are also opportunities in R&D, regulatory agencies and medical equipment sales firms.

    Given the important, sometimes vital nature of their work, pay for the new graduates isn't lavish. Patel says average starting salaries are in the low $30s. Mathurin, who wanted to work in health care but didn't want to follow family tradition and become a nurse, is a bit more hopeful about salaries. She says she's heard starting pay in hospitals is in the $40,000 to $45,000 range.



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