Behind the Scenes at the Brigham: Biomedical Engineering
Chris Nelson, an inventory clerk in Biomedical Engineering, is quick to greet anyone he encounters as he travels about the Brigham’s main campus and Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital to deliver packages and equipment and maintain his department’s stock of engineering parts and other materials.
“I love talking to people,” said Nelson, a member of the Brigham community for 20 years and a Pike celebrity, given the nature of his work. “I’m a very friendly person, so it just comes naturally to me to see someone and say, ‘Hey, how are you?’”
In addition to taking inventory and inspecting machinery, Nelson leads many special projects, including work to ensure that warm water runs through eyewash stations and that automated external defibrillator (AED) units are functioning each week.
“I especially take pride in making sure the AEDs are working correctly because that’s a lifesaving machine, so I know that machine is working and can hopefully save a person,” Nelson said.
That level of dedication is emblematic of the Biomedical Engineering team — known informally as Biomed — whose technicians, engineers and administrators work to maintain and implement clinical technology across the Brigham.
“I am fortunate to work with a very well-rounded team that is both technically sound and human,” said Michael Fraai, MS, CCE, executive director of Biomedical Engineering. “We take care of each other. Nobody lets each other fall.”
From scales to IV pumps and everything in between, the team is responsible for inspecting, testing, installing, maintaining, repairing and replacing approximately 32,000 devices used in patient care throughout the Brigham and its regional ambulatory locations.
Dylan Wright, who was recently promoted from technician to clinical engineer, also finds his work rewarding because he knows it is helping patients receive high-quality care. As an engineer, he now manages projects for updating technology used in patient care.
“I think the most rewarding part of the job is being able to walk around on the floor and see the new technology in use, knowing that a lot of effort and work went into getting the equipment on site and in the hands of the nursing and clinical staff,” Wright said.
Powered by Collaboration
The Biomed team also collaborates with colleagues in other departments to lend their expertise to larger-scale projects at the Brigham. In December 2019, for example, the team oversaw efforts to replace more than 800 mattresses in less than one week. While mattress conversion was seemingly outside the usual scope of Biomed’s work, the team’s vast experience and expertise in transporting, implementing and managing large volumes of equipment guided the project to success as they collaborated with more than 21 departments.
Kerrie-Ann Jack, senior business director of Biomedical Engineering, led the project and recalled navigating the logistical challenges of managing the timely shipment of mattresses from California while also ensuring they could be installed quickly upon arrival to minimize any disruptions to patient care.
Among the many collaborations that emerged during that project, Jack said, it was rewarding to work with colleagues in Interpreter Services to translate patient communications about the mattress conversion and with Shipping and Receiving to manage the delivery of the shipping containers.
“I think it’s fascinating for people to know the interaction we have with so many different departments,” said Jack. “They might not recognize how long our tentacles run. We manage a huge clinical technology footprint, but we also always end up working with a multidisciplinary group to roll out a project.”
Valuing Diversity, Elevating Opportunities
According to Fraai, the work of the Biomedical team is informed by its members’ varied expertise and diverse life experiences. Many cultures and identities are represented on the team, and even in the largely male-dominated discipline of engineering, women make up the majority of Brigham Biomed.
Within the department, staff are encouraged to become certified in their fields as technicians, engineers or administrators. In 2021, Jack passed an exam to become a certified Healthcare Technology Manager. The title certifies that she has studied the use of technology in clinical settings, and Jack participates in many engineering projects as an administrator.
The department also seeks to inspire future generations. Jack leads efforts to partner closely with the Brigham’s Student Success Jobs Program (SSJP), which matches high school students from under-resourced areas of Boston with paid internships at the Brigham. Some SSJP interns have returned to the Biomedical Engineering team as full-time staff.
In line with its goal to elevate opportunities for women in the field, the team has also partnered with Dana School for Girls through the school’s science, technology, engineering and math program to share the experiences of women engineers at the Brigham.
In addition to this work to engage with their local community, Biomedical Engineering staff lead international efforts to share retired Brigham equipment with medical facilities in other countries that have less access to medical funds and resources.
At the Brigham and beyond, the Biomedical team remains committed to improving and enhancing health care through technology, all while continuing to create pathways for professional growth.
“I get to learn a lot at the Brigham. There are always a lot of projects going on,” Wright said.
“Behind the Scenes at the Brigham” is a recurring series in Brigham Bulletin that provides a glimpse of the people whose everyday contributions help make the Brigham a world-class institution. Is there an individual or team you’d like to see featured? Send your ideas to email@example.com
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