Pej Namshirin, Manager, Operations and Regional Initiatives, Lower Mainland Biomedical Engineering Department (LMBME)

When he’s not doing his day job as a member of the Lower Mainland Biomedical Engineering Department (LMBME), Pej Namshirin builds Saturn V rockets and moon landers – out of Lego that is.

“Dad’s Lego” is how Pej describes the large-scale models that adorn a filing cabinet in his office. Back home he started building a Discovery space shuttle, but it’s been taken apart again, waiting for another day of creative inspiration.

For someone whose workdays are often filled with the stress of quickly finding fixes for malfunctioning medical machines at Metro Vancouver hospitals, Pej says Lego modelling is an ideal way to relax.

“I’m still working with my hands and it’s engineering in a way, but it certainly helps me take my mind of work,” he says. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in building something with your hands.”

While his current position as Manager, Operations and Regional Initiatives at LMBME (VGH/UBCH/Richmond) means Pej doesn’t spend as much time working with his hands as he once did, his appreciation of what it takes to be successful on the front lines of health care has not diminished.

In simple terms, Pej describes his job as being responsible for the lifecycle of medical devices.

“That involves everything from understanding the needs of clinical users and what they’re looking to accomplish to assessments to figure out what kind of technology meets that need,” he says. “We are involved with technical assessments, clinical evaluations and procurement to the point where it actually arrives on site. We also take care of the ongoing maintenance, quality assurance and repairs during the equipment’s lifespan.”

Biomedical engineering technologists are also responsible for the decommissioning, disposal and, if possible, the donation of equipment that’s no longer needed to other medical facilities that might be able to utilize it.

“And the cycle repeats constantly because, as we’re replacing something, we will be simultaneously looking to acquire new equipment to take its place,” says Pej. “And that includes everything from handheld thermometers to infusion pumps, MRI machines, CT scanners, X-ray systems, and everything in between.”

It’s a highly technical occupation that requires the right technical training, adds Pej. In his case that was a two-year program in biomedical engineering technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) followed four years later by a degree in technology management from BCIT.

“The degree was in addition to the baseline qualification for technologists and was broader in its scope. All the technologists that work in the department have biomedical engineering technology diplomas, or something equivalent,” he notes.

Ongoing training is also important to keep up with rapid evolution of the medical devices industry, says Pej, pointing out that a growing number of his colleagues are pursuing additional qualifications to bolster their baseline skills.

“There’s so much incentive for improvement across the whole sector, whether it’s new innovations that improve clinical outcomes, or just technology progressing to do the same thing in a more efficient or better way, and we need to keep up with the change,” he says.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an added challenge for Pej’s team – and biomedical engineering technologists everywhere.

“VGH was the hub of the initial deployment of ventilators and respiratory equipment for the province. It has the highest concentration of biomedical engineering technologists, and we have the space to handle large shipments of equipment, so it’s been all hands on deck for a long period of time to meet the needs and the demands of the front lines,” he says.

At the same time, Pej and his colleagues needed to keep all other medical equipment functioning optimally to ensure the best possible patient care at the region’s hospitals while facing an ongoing shortage of qualified candidates to bring onto the team. Maintaining a balance has been a major challenge and hiring new staff is not as simple as it may seem.

Recruitment, also one of Pej’s responsibilities, includes ensuring that potential hires have the right temperament for the job.

“Assessing applicants is a pretty involved process,” he says. “There’s a panel interview, a written test, and a series of technical assessments including troubleshooting a device that we have deliberately disabled.”

Pej points out that replicating stressful situations during candidate assessments is important because they provide insight into how they may react in a real-life situation, such as being called into an operating room to repair or replace a piece of equipment in the middle of surgery where a patient’s life may be at risk.

“There is definitely a potential for exposure to high stress in this job, so it’s essential to have a methodical problem-solving approach to troubleshooting; that’s our key role along with anticipating problems and dealing with them before they occur – preparing for the worst but hoping for the best,” he says.

Supporting one another within the team is also important to talk through challenges, solve problems and deal with stress. And if all else fails there’s always Lego.