How I spent my first internship saving lives
Looking for internship opportunities that I was interested in was a struggle for me. I had not really been in the workplace before attempting to complete an internship so I was hesitant to decide between medical research or medical devices and their maintenance. However, since Covid-19 started, my selection became narrower. I decided to lean towards the maintenance of medical devices as they were the most common Biomedical Engineering job opportunities during the pandemic.
I initially applied to do my first Biomedical Engineering internship at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) between July 2019 and January 2020. However, due to other biomedical engineering students who were in their 4th year and had still not completed their first internship, I was put on the waiting list as I was only a second year student at the time.
In November of 2019, after seeing an internship job for RPAH on UTS CareerHub, I immediately emailed my updated resume, transcript and cover letter to the employer. A face to face job interview followed and I was privileged enough to be accepted as one of the three 2020 January to July RPA student interns during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I make sure to look for internship opportunities that I know I will benefit from and learn the most out of. Hence why I chose to do my first internship at a hospital: I would be introduced to the most reliable, used, updated and improved medical devices in Australia.
A different kind of internship
As an intern at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital during the peak of the Covid-19 Pandemic, my experience was fairly different to past interns’ experiences. My internship spanned 6 months, Monday to Friday, 8:00am till 4:30pm. I had the opportunity of designing and constructing an intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients as shown in Figure 1.
I also commissioned over $10 million worth of medical devices (Figure 2a), liaised with stakeholders, assembled various medical devices, performed preventive and routine maintenance (Figure 2b), sent out faulty medical equipment/devices to manufacturers and vendors (Figure 2c), and disposed old medical equipment (Figure 3).
Making an internship work for you
My favourite part of the internship would definitely have to be when I got dressed into hospital scrubs before entering hospital theatre rooms, or when testing and troubleshooting suction units and flowmeters. As shown in Figure 4, I was very excited to be chosen by my supervisor to complete a yearly service on medical equipment in the theatres.
Since my internship was during the Covid-19 pandemic, I did not expect to be allowed to attend wards and hospital departments. However, when this opportunity arose, I was determined to show my supervisor my full ability and potential as a professional Biomedical Engineer. The scrubs not only completed the physical appearance of working within a hospital environment, but also put me in the mindset and practice of a Biomedical Engineer.
As a student that is studying Biomedical Engineering, it is important that I gain specific, technical and soft/interpersonal skills prior to getting a full time job and completing my entire degree. My internship at RPA definitely helped me gain new skills that enable me to be a practicing, reliable Engineer.
Completing my internship during the pandemic definitely taught me the importance of hygiene, collaboration and teamwork in the workplace. The Engineering department was constantly under pressure with meeting deadlines and prioritising specific tasks because of the important role we play in ensuring all medical devices are working to their optimum level in the healthcare industry.
Many healthcare professionals and patients rely on us biomedical engineers to amalgamate our various skills to produce solutions to the ever-evolving world of medical health issues, therefore helping to enhance and change the lives of patients and how they are being treated for their condition. I strongly believe that working in one of Australia’s biggest hospitals, during a world pandemic allowed me to develop and learn technical skills such as being familiar with utilising the AS3551 Australian Standards on medical equipment, soldering and desoldering skills and testing medical equipment with Fluke Biomedical’s testing gear.
Expectations vs reality
I did expect the Covid-19 pandemic to affect my learning abilities when doing my internship at RPA. However, it only increased my learning experience and capabilities as an engineer.
Before I started, I was nervous because this internship was going to be my first workplace industry experience. However, one thing i was excited about was learning how one of Australia’s biggest hospitals operates during a world pandemic.
My expectations involved learning how to work to a schedule, how to professionally communicate as an engineer and how to challenge myself to try new skills and get out of my comfort zone.
One thing I was worried about was that my internship was either going to be cut short or I was going to be prevented from attempting specific tasks such as attending site visits or training sessions.
The reality of my internship did involve being restricted from attending various departments such as surgery wards during specific times and attending the robotics department and various other hospitals which I was keen to be involved in. However, RPAH made it clear that my safety came first. There was also the constant worry of actually contracting the virus.
Connecting an internship to your studies
Part of my Biomedical Engineering Degree includes two 6 month internships to complete my university course. The role I played as an engineer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital involved what most Biomedical Engineers would do in the clinical team of a workplace. As a Biomedical Engineering student at UTS, I am taught to be professional, stay organised and be familiar with various medical devices. The machines I worked on at RPA allowed me to revise the medical devices I used and was taught within my Engineering subjects at UTS.
One main tip I have for every student is to never give up in applying for a job you desire to work in or a workplace you aspire to be a part of. As a student that went through many rejections along with job interviews after job interviews that failed, I think they only made me stronger and made my resume and cover letters more applicable for job positions I ended up receiving that I wanted. I think a major success to my internship was my LinkedIn page where I would and still post various accomplishments and repost content I agree with where employers are easily able to approach me regarding my engineering desires.
Cover image courtesy of author
Mariah Taleb is a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Diploma in Professional Engineering Practice student.