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„None of My Graduates Has Searched For More Than Two Months“
MEDICA.de spoke to Olaf Dössel of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Karlsruhe about intercultural competence among engineers and why foreign students need to fill the engineering gap in Germany.
MEDICA.de: Mister Dössel, many young people all over Germany finish school during these months. They face the question how to go on. Would you advice them to start studying medical engineering in autumn?
Olaf Dössel: Absolutely yes. The occupational outlook for engineers is good even in these difficult times, especially for medical technology. The graduates do have to write a number of applications in order to find a job. Yet none of my graduates has searched for more than two months, some only for four weeks, and most of them had their working place at the time when they received their certificate.
MEDICA.de: And the crisis has not changed that?
Dössel: As far as I can see: no. In September, a world medical technology congress will take place in Munich. The companies that will take part were asked in advance which main topic they would like to focus on. Most of them stated recruiting. So a huge workshop was planned to give the companies the opportunity to introduce themselves to the congress visitors. Not long ago, the companies were queried whether they would like to stick to recruiting as main topic, and they all agreed. That shows that, even in the crisis, the companies are interested to hire qualified staff.
MEDICA.de: It is difficult to foresee whether medical technology engineers will be still much in demand in several years, when the freshmen from today will look for a job. There is always the danger to start studying when there are many vacancies and finishing the studies when there are few.
Dössel: This is not a problem in medical technology. The branch is hardly exposed to ups and downs. Instead, it develops continuously uphill. According to a study, the quantity of produced medical technology products in Germany rises for quite some time around six to eight percent per year. That is a considerably stronger and more stable growth rate than in other branches.
MEDICA.de: To puzzle out and invent medical devices later on: does one need to study medical technology or engineering?
Dössel: Technical colleges mostly offer the bachelor medical technology, universities rather teach classical engineering science with a specialisation in medical technology during the last semesters. Technical college graduates tend to work in the field of production whereas students from universities more often go into research and development. Another interesting area for both is sales: the manufacturers of the expensive devices count on competent salesmen. Most important is that the chosen degree programme teaches broad and solid methodological skills of engineering science and does not specialise too early. The tasks of an engineer in medical technology change quickly nowadays and he has to be able to cope with that.
MEDICA.de: What else is a good medical technology degree programme made up of?
Dössel: Soft skills, interest in multidisciplinarity, international experience – and medical knowledge. The physicians are to use and buy what the engineers develop. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss with them what they really need. For that purpose, it is essential to talk their language. The degree programme should include physiology and anatomy, and projects in which the students visit a clinic and watch, for instance, how a catheter is positioned inside the heart. Apart from that, medical technology does not have a lot in common with a medical degree. To build a medical device, mainly physics, mathematics and computer science are needed. Who dropped math and physics in school is wrong in this field.
MEDICA.de: Why are soft skills and international experience important for an engineer?
Dössel: Soft skills are needed for the team work. The image of the engineer, who solders lonely in his room, is fusty. The medical technology engineer works nearly the whole day in a team with which he has to discuss and find solutions. Take the example computer tomograph: electrical engineers, engineers of computer science and machine construction and physicians work together on such a complex device. Or implants: here cell biologists are needed to judge whether the material of the device is biocompatible. The international experience is important because nearly all medical engineering companies act globally. Worldwide, Germany is second in medical technology export, and more devices are produced for abroad than for national use. Also a team with an Indian, a Chinese, a German and an American has to function. English knowledge and intercultural competence are demanded.
MEDICA.de: Some trade associations warn that lacking medical technology engineers will cause another economic crisis. A rather dramatic scenario.
Dössel: In my mind that is exaggerated. There are shortfalls, and companies sometimes do have to search for a while to find an adequate employee. Yet businesses who are not lucky straightaway do not despair for this reason. They look for their employee on the global market. These businesses think globally, the market is the whole world. This is exactly how the universities cope with the problem: in Karlsruhe, 30 percent of the medical technology students are from abroad as not enough Germans are interested in the subject. Many of the foreign graduates stay in Germany and fill the gap.
The interview was conducted by Anke Barth.