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Graduate profile: Medical Systems Engineer

Technology benefiting patients

Ursina Hofer studied Systems Engineering at the ZHAW School of Engineering. Today, she works as a medical sys-tems engineer at the Kantonsspital St. Gallen hospital. Among other things, she ensures that the commissioning of new medical devices runs smoothly and that they can be put to use benefiting patients.

From blood-pressure monitor to computer tomography, there are over 10,000 medical devices in use at the Kantonsspital St. Gallen. Their average working life is eight years, which makes their replacement and ongoing optimisation of the device inventory a never-ending task. One of the people responsible for this work is Ursina Hofer. As a medical systems engineer, she advises the hospital’s medical clinics and departments before and during the purchase of new devices, coordinates new investments and ensures that the com-missioning of new systems runs smoothly. It is not always a straightforward task, as she explains: “Networking is not something we have been able to ignore. The devices must not only fulfil their primary functions but also be configured so that they can carry out their role as part of the entire hospital’s networked system.”

“Systems Engineering does not deal with mechanical components or computer science or electronics only, but also with the interaction of all three of these disciplines.”

An overview of the entire system

The things that Ursina enjoys about project management are also what she appreciated during her Systems Engineering studies: diversity and an overview of the entire system – all of which prepared her for her current responsibilities. “Systems Engineering does not deal with mechanical components or computer science or electronics only, but also with the interaction of all three of these disciplines.” This interaction was already fascinating to the graduate when she was training as an automation technician. She spent her apprenticeship in a company that manufactured conveyance systems and medical-technological equipment. “I have always been very attracted to medical technology because dedicating myself to this area seemed to make more sense. Conveyance sys-tems and automation equipment, on the other hand, are used time and again to ‘rationalise away’ jobs.”

Wide-ranging study programme, individualised special-isations

Ursina studied for her “Berufsmatura”, a secondary school diploma enabling her to attend university, while completing her apprenticeship. Immediately afterwards, she decided to study at the School of Engineering. “What I especially liked about my programme was that it enabled me to gain a wide-ranging education but it also offered me many opportunities to specialise and individualise my skills.” When she looks back on her time at the School of Engineering, she describes it as a kind of ‘school of life’. “I learned how to work in a solution-oriented and long-term manner and also how to achieve optimum results even under time constraints. In particular, the project and Bachelor’s thesis also taught me important management and planning skills.” She has gone on to further hone these skills with a continuing education programme in Project Management at the School of Engineering.

“What I especially liked about my programme was that it enabled me to gain a wide-ranging education but it also offered me many opportunities to specialise and individualise my skills.”

Further education using the ‘building block’ principle

Ursina Hofer remained loyal to the School of Engineering after graduating by working there for a period of time before she began her current position at the Kantonsspital St. Gallen hospital. “There, I had the good luck of helping to form our current team and being able to restructure the entire Medical Technology department. Thanks to the new structure, our work is expeditious, goal-oriented and cutting-edge – and that is precisely what makes it fun for me.” Ursina can well imagine continuing her education using the ‘build-ing block’ principle, for example in the field of Medical Computer Science. However, apart from her keen fascina-tion with the technological aspects of her profession, the human element is very important to her. “In the end, medical technology should not be an end in itself but rather a tool used in the service of patients.”