PROFESSIONAL STATUS OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING
Biomedical engineers are professionals. Professionals have been defined as an aggre- gate of people finding identity in sharing values and skills absorbed during a common course of intensive training. Whether individuals are professionals is determined by examining whether or not they have internalized certain given professional values. Furthermore, a professional is someone who has internalized professional values and is licensed on the basis of his or her technical competence. Professionals generally accept scientific standards in their work, restrict their work activities to areas in which they are technically competent, avoid emotional involvement, cultivate objectivity in their work, and put their clients’ interests before their own.
The concept of a profession that is involved in the design, development, and management of medical technology encompasses three primary occupational models: science, business, and profession. Consider initially the contrast between science and profession. Science is seen as the pursuit of knowledge, its value hinging on providing evidence and communicating with colleagues. Profession, on the other hand, is viewed as providing a service to clients who have problems they cannot handle themselves. Scientists and professionals have in common the exercise of some knowl- edge, skill, or expertise. However, while scientists practice their skills and report their results to knowledgeable colleagues, professionals such as lawyers, physicians, and engineers serve lay clients. To protect both the professional and the client from the consequences of the layperson’s lack of knowledge, the practice of the profession is often regulated through such formal institutions as state licensing. Both professionals and scientists must persuade their clients to accept their findings. Professionals endorse and follow a specific code of ethics to serve society. On the other hand, scientists move their colleagues to accept their findings through persuasion.
Consider, for example, the medical profession. Its members are trained in caring for the sick, with the primary goal of healing them. These professionals not only have a responsibility for the creation, development, and implementation of that tradition, but they are also expected to provide a service to the public, within limits, without regard to self-interest. To ensure proper service, the profession closely monitors the licensing and certification process. Thus, medical professionals themselves may be regarded as a mechanism of social control. However, this does not mean that other facets of society are not involved in exercising oversight and control of physicians in their practice of medicine.
A final attribute of professionals is that of integrity. Physicians tend to be both permissive and supportive in relationships with patients and yet are often confronted with moral dilemmas involving the desires of their patients and social interest. For example, how to honor the wishes of terminally ill patients while not facilitating the patients’ deaths is a moral question that health professionals are forced to confront. A detailed discussion of the moral issues posed by medical technology is presented in Chapter 2.
One can determine the status of professionalization by noting the occurrence of six crucial events:
(1) the first training school;
(2) the first university school;
(3) the first local professional association;
(4) the first national professional association;
(5) the first state license law; and
(6) the first formal code of ethics.
The early appearances of the training school and the university affiliation under- score the importance of the cultivation of a knowledge base. The strategic innovative role of the universities and early teachers lies in linking knowledge to practice and creating a rationale for exclusive jurisdiction. Those practitioners pushing for pre- scribed training then form a professional association. The association defines the tasks of the profession: raising the quality of recruits; redefining their function to permit the use of less technically skilled people to perform the more routine, less involved tasks; and managing internal and external conflicts. In the process, internal conflict may arise between those committed to previously established procedures and new- comers committed to change and innovation. At this stage, some form of professional regulation, such as licensing or certification, surfaces because of a belief that it will ensure minimum standards for the profession, enhance status, and protect the layper- son in the process.
The last area of professional development is the establishment of a formal code of ethics, which usually includes rules to exclude unqualified and unscrupulous practi- tioners, rules to reduce internal competition, and rules to protect clients and empha- size the ideal service to society. A code of ethics usually comes at the end of the professionalization process.
In biomedical engineering, all six of these critical steps have been taken. The field of biomedical engineering, which originated as a professional group interested pri- marily in medical electronics in the late 1950s, has grown from a few scattered individuals to a very well-established organization. There are approximately 48 international societies throughout the world serving an increasingly expanding com- munity of biomedical engineers. Today, the scope of biomedical engineering is enor- mously diverse. Over the years, many new disciplines such as tissue engineering and artificial intelligence, which were once considered alien to the field, are now an integral part of the profession.
Professional societies play a major role in bringing together members of this diverse community to share their knowledge and experience in pursuit of new technological applications that will improve the health and quality of life of human beings. Inter- societal cooperation and collaborations, both at national and international levels, are more actively fostered today through professional organizations such as the Biomed- ical Engineering Society (BMES), the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers (AIMBE), and the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).
Source: “Introduction to Biomedical Engineering.”,”John D.Enderle et al.”