PROFESSIONAL STATUS OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING

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.”

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