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UVic to train biomedical engineers

Jul 13 2012

The University of Victoria will soon offer the only undergraduate degree program in biomedical engineering west of Ontario, the school announced Thursday.

Students in the five-year program, to be launched this September, will graduate with a bachelor of biomedical engineering.

"I think it's a really excellent program," said Tom Tiedje, dean of the faculty of engineering.

Biomedical engineering was projected to be the third-fastest growing profession, behind personal care and home health aides, by the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Graduates of biomedical engineering may pursue careers in areas such as medical imaging, rehabilitation engineering and regenerative medicine.

"My interpretation is that the cost of health care is becoming more and more onerous for society. And people continue to expect better and better health care," Tiedje said. "The way to bring the cost down is to bring in more instrumentation in that makes diagnosis and treatment easier, more effective and more automated."

The field is growing along with Canada's aging population, said Scott Phillips, CEO of StarFish Medical, a medical device development company based in Victoria.

But Phillips said he wouldn't typically hire biomedical engineers with only bachelor degrees.

"My concern [is] that you end up producing a watered-down type of ability in design engineering," he said.

He shared his concern during UVic's consultation process and now says he's pleased with the program - especially a class in quantitative physiology, which teaches physiology from the engineering perspective. Tiedje believes it's the only course of its kind in Canada.

"They seem to have addressed what I see as a shortcoming in many BBE programs," Phillips said.

UVic also hopes the program will attract more women to the field of engineering. Only about 10 per cent of current UVic engineering students are women - compared to the relatively even gender split in biomedical engineering classes elsewhere.

In addition to coursework, students must complete four co-operative education work terms.

The inaugural program year is already at capacity, with 25 students enrolled.

UVic previously offered a specialization in the field, which required students to add an extra year to their undergraduate degrees.

Several schools in Western Canada offer biomedical engineering as a graduate degree, specialization or program under science and medicine faculties.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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