Stavroula Mougiakakou, February 2020
The association of the word engineer with men is still widespread: Due to great technical know-how - a characteristic that is commonly attributed to men - HE shapes the world of tomorrow. In the field of biomedical engineering, too, this idea, which has been shaped for decades, is still in many people's minds. Yet women in this and other engineering professions are an absolute necessity! It is impossible to understand, analyze and overcome the challenges that health care, for example, has to overcome over the next 50 years from a purely male perspective. More female biomedical engineers are needed!
This is not about quotas: There is no point in teams being made up of people selected on the basis of their gender. The decisive criterion must always be the qualification and passion for the topic, an understanding and talent for mechanical, informatic and mathematical procedures in this case - and this is true for girls as well as boys, for women as well as for men.
Biomedical engineering is a very dynamic field that rapidly evolves with digital progress and more in-depth knowledge of medical contexts at all levels, from diagnosis and more or less invasive therapy methods to rehabilitation, aftercare and prevention. It is a challenge to keep up with this pace!
This is particularly important in the field of artificial intelligence (AI): there are many developers and commercial providers of technological solutions that use AI. But only a few answer a real need from patient care or for self-management of chronic diseases. Here, a scientifically based development of solutions together with all stakeholders from hospitals, research and industry is crucial for technologies to function in a user-oriented and sustainable way.
Of course, it is vital for the development of these technologies, which must ultimately benefit the health of the weaker, that there are regulations that work entirely in the interests of patient protection. We live in times in which technology is developing much faster than our translation strategies into healthcare. Creative quick shots or a use outside of application can be disadvantageous or even harmful.
A strict medical regulatory framework is required to protect patients or all types of users. To achieve this, regulators should always be at the cutting edge of technology, a point with potential for improvement.
The time of the lonely research heroes is over!
Is research in mixed teams easy? I am convinced that the opportunities for such collaboration far exceed the challenges! Nothing can surpass the impact of teams of different sexes and cultural and professional backgrounds.
In addition, I am convinced that we must move away from strictly multi- or interdisciplinary approaches in research, especially in biomedical engineering, and look for transdisciplinary approaches where researchers have more common academic interfaces. Our medical partners need to understand much more about computers and technology, and we need to learn how doctors think, in addition to a solid understanding of medicine. Only such transdisciplinary approaches ensure successful research collaborations and scientific progress. At ARTORG we have been living this model for 10 years together with the Inselspital, our other clinical partners and since summer also with and in the sitem-insel Translation Centre.
Generally, I don't like discussions based on gender issues. In reality, more and more female students are developing an interest in medical technology because in most countries there is equal access to universities or colleges. In Switzerland we are not yet on par with most Scandinavian countries, but we have recognized the potential. In schools, too, girls do just as well or sometimes even better than boys in technical areas. So why shouldn´t women play an equal part in biomedical engineering?
The time of the lonely research heroes is over! Only highly educated, culturally and academically mature teams, connected not only locally but also internationally, can keep up with the fast pace set by the different stakeholders of our modern society. A new generation of highly qualified biomedical engineers will close the gap and advance research in AI for medicine for the benefit of all.
Stavroula Mougiakakou is Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and heads the research group AI in Health and Nutrition at the ARTORG Center. Her current research interests include artificial intelligence, machine learning, machine vision and advanced data analysis. She is working on health promotion solutions in the areas of improved diagnosis, personalized treatment and nutritional analysis.