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February 3, 2010 > Keeping a Hospital Running from Behind the Scenes

Keeping a Hospital Running from Behind the Scenes

Hospital Employee Receives Biomedical Engineering Professional Award

Most of us don't think twice about plugging in a coffeepot in the break room at work. At worst, the fuse shorts. But inside an acute care hospital, actions as simple as plugging in a piece of untested equipment could have enormous consequences. And that's not even factoring in the major equipment, such as computed tomography (CT) scanners or an operating microscope for brain surgery.
The question, then, is who makes sure that equipment is researched before it is purchased, tested before it goes into use and functions properly after that?
At Washington Hospital, that person is Paul Kelley, manager of the Biomedical Engineering Department.

Kelley, who has been in the biomedical engineering field - one that combines medicine and technology - for 30-plus years, was recently singled out for the 2010 Welch Allyn/CMIA Professional of the Year award. The California Medical Instrumentation Association (CMIA) is a statewide organization that evolved to promote, education and allow the clinical biomedical engineering and biomed tech community to exchange information.

Despite the recognition from his industry colleagues, Kelley says it's not so much about recognition as it is about working hard in a field he feels passionate about.

"I like to work behind the scenes," he says. "This is not anything I ever expected or worked toward."

What he still loves about the field is that it is always evolving and he must constantly learn new things. Looking back, Kelley remembers spending a lot of time calibrating devices when old vacuum tubes and integrated circuits, still in their infancy, were the norm. Now, he says, everything is computer-based and runs on networks.

"I expect the change will always continue in this field," Kelley foresees. "It's literally a new challenge everyday. I know more about networking today than I ever thought I would want to. It's a necessity."

Kelley says he originally began getting involved in industry organizations like the CMIA as a way of networking - not with computers, but the person-to-person kind.

"One of my main goals is networking, because I don't have all the answers and I never will," he says. "But if I reach out, someone else in my field may have those answers."

For young people looking for a profession that fits their interests, Kelley says that he and many of his colleagues will be retiring at the same time and points out that US News & World Report had ranked biomedical engineering as one of the top 10 growing professions.

But what does it take to become a successful biomedical engineering professional?
"I think you have to be able to assimilate a lot of information and be able to logically troubleshoot problems quickly with a level head," he says.

Health care is fast paced, and oftentimes biomedical engineering professionals find themselves in the middle of it all, according to Kelley.

"In the days when I was more in the trenches, it was not infrequent that you would be in the operating room and responding to calls in the ER, doing your job in the middle of everything else that's going on."

The excitement, the challenge, the constant change and fast pace - Kelley admits that he can't easily pin down one thing he enjoys most about his job at Washington Hospital. And that's not even taking into account his role as committee chairperson of the hospital's Green Team initiative, which focuses on an institution-wide initiative that embraces environmental responsibility as a core value.

To learn about career opportunities at Washington Hospital, visit and click on "Careers."

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