Proud to serve: one of the unsung heroes behind the scenes of COVID-19
30, Apr, 2020
EDMONTON, April 30, 2020 – While healthcare workers continue to heroically sacrifice their own personal safety to treat patients amidst the COVID-19 crisis, biomedical engineering technology professionals are facing similar risks as they work quietly behind the scenes to ensure that vital medical devices function properly when urgently needed.
Caroline Mekodom, an Edmonton-based certified engineering technologist (CET), is one of many biomedical engineering technology professionals on the front lines of the crisis. Having received her designation from the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET), Mekodom installs, maintains and repairs medical equipment, including automated liquid handling systems that handle liquids for different kinds of analysis, such as COVID-19 tests. She also installs, maintains and repairs equipment for genetic screening.
Biomedical engineering technology professionals usually receive their education in a polytechnic setting. They install, maintain and repair medical, biomedical, diagnostics imaging, and electronic equipment and systems. Medical personnel use these to monitor, diagnose and treat medical conditions.
A typical day for Mekodom involves visiting healthcare facilities – hospitals, medical laboratories or research centres – to service the equipment used. It may be a new installation, planned preventative maintenance service call or a troubleshooting session if the medical equipment isn’t working correctly.
The COVID-19 crisis emerged while she was overseas, away on training. When she returned home, she was initially quarantined. After being given the all clear to resume work, she entered a different world.
“Just like doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, we technologists cannot stay home. We need to take care of the equipment that helps take care of people,” said Mekodom.
Because of COVID-19, she now has to wear a face mask and lab coat along with her normal personal protective equipment (PPE) before entering the worksite, and takes extra precautions when she returns home. She keeps spray and gel sanitizer in her car, disinfecting herself and changing her shoes prior to getting out in case her kids touch her before she has a chance to change her clothes.
As soon as she’s in her home, she immediately washes her work clothes and lab coat in hot water, and showers before spending time with her family. She also disinfects all home and car door handles she touched on the way in.
“In the beginning, everyone was scared and, of course, nobody knew what to do because the virus was pretty new. In our workplace, we are very team-oriented, knowing that makes us stronger,” said Mekodom. “Our company is backing us up by implementing policies to control the environments we are working in, and by providing us face masks as none were available locally. We also have to use our personal judgement to determine if the environment we are in is safe and is applying the COVID-19-related health recommendations.”
Regardless of the crisis and the risks her job poses to her own health and safety, she has a passion for her profession and is pleased to be playing a vital role. Having been born, raised and educated in her home country of Cameroon, she relishes the opportunities her job offers her to travel for work within and outside of Canada. And she appreciates the regular hours, which leave her weekends free to spend time with her family.
“I am happy to be part of the essential care in this time of crisis. I take pride in the fact that I am part of the solution,” said Mekodom.
She encourages other young people, women in particular, to explore a career in biomedical engineering technology, which has been advantageous to her in a number of ways, including financial remuneration. Jobs within this profession are well-paid, above the average of many jobs.
“Our 2019 annual salary survey revealed that an intermediate CET working in biomedical engineering technology earns an annual base salary of more than $90,000 a year,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh. “The significant compensation reflects the importance of the work they do.”
According to Cavanaugh, biomedical engineering technologists represent a modest proportion of ASET’s membership but the discipline is increasingly attracting women to what was once a male-dominated profession. Women comprise 12 per cent of ASET’s overall membership roster. Among ASET members within the biomedical engineering technology discipline itself, that figure is closer to 20 per cent. ASET has noted a surge in the number of women entering the discipline over the last decade.
“Biomedical engineering technology is a field that will only continue to grow and demand talented professionals like Caroline, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis,” added Cavanaugh.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 16,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET