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Insights What does a biomedical engineer do? And how to become one.

Meet Tonje Bay-Eriksson, Health and Public ICT lead at Atkins

Based in Norway, Tonje's role is to engineer better for large healthcare clients and government entities across Norway. She combines project management with a deep understanding of how technology can benefit people and organizations. She's shaping a better world for people by creating more efficient future hospitals and improving drug and patient safety.

I've always been a realist, enjoying writing and STEM.

In my years at high school in Moss, we talked a lot about the future. I loved science and was always interested in anatomy and physiology. So, I decided early on that I wanted to work in healthcare and wear a lab coat. But my path from high school became very uncertain.

"I remember being a teenager, with all the choices in the world, yet finding it difficult to decide what to study.”

I realized interacting with patients wasn't for me, and I was terrified of having to do monotonous tasks. It became clear that attending Medical school in Tromsø was not an option. And I was certainly not going to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)—I couldn't see how that would lead me into the health sector. So, I ended up doing both!

image of Tonje and colleges smiling at the camera
What career is right for me?

I acted impulsively and made a decision I thought I absolutely should not make. I moved to Tromsø! However, this is perhaps one of the smartest things I did regarding education. Instead of committing myself to a long degree that I was unsure of, I did one year at the medical faculty of the University of Tromsø, taking basic subjects in the direction I wanted to go.

I loved it from day one, and I had confirmation that this was the right route for me. During this academic year, I heard about the master's degree in biophysics and medical technology at NTNU. So, after doing the basic subject of medicine, I went on to do five additional years in Trondheim.

My lab coat career!

I worked as a medical physicist solving medical problems at Oslo University Hospital Ullevål in X-ray diagnostics. I lectured to doctors, radiographers, medical students and nursing students. I also worked on a research project, calculating radiation doses and doing quality control of the equipment. I fulfilled my desire to wear a white coat and worked on the subject I loved without direct patient contact!

"As my mom always said—you don't need to know everything, but you can achieve anything. Just be curious and willing to learn."

I later moved to Stockholm to work with X-ray equipment in mammography. It was an exciting project where we developed the system for screening in Europe, and I worked with national physicist groups in different countries.

Hanging up my lab coat

The advantage of a master's in technology is that you can work in many different fields. So, I returned to my hometown of Moss and settled into a new role in a company that produced prefabricated concrete and steel products. There, I progressed through my roles and became a Quality and HSE manager. I worked in quality management and organizational development for seven years, but I wanted to focus more on project management.

"I've had three children during my professional career and taken three career breaks. I'm glad I live in a country where I can combine having children with enjoying a fulfilling career."

Using my transferable skills to change careers

Again, I made a decision that I see, in retrospect, was important personally and professionally. One thing I learned during my studies was to ask, "What do I enjoy the most?" I am analytical, organizational, solution-oriented and very fond of communicating. Leadership roles have always been natural to me—I was captain of the football team and head of the student council. Project management also comes naturally to me. After all, I coordinate family life with three children! "Could I combine these skills with my passion for healthcare?"

"For me, my role inside Atkins is my dream job. I can combine my background in medicine and health with my interest in project management."

Thriving in biomedical engineering at Atkins

The day I started mapping out what I enjoy most in a work context became a turning point in my career. I joined Atkins in 2015 and went from having a job I was good at to having a job I love. My work day has taken on new meaning. I'm motivated by being able to contribute with my technical focus and facilitate the future of health care. The fact that I can spend my working day on projects that make a difference means a lot to me!

What type of projects do biomedical engineers do?

In the years I've worked at Atkins, I've enjoyed many exciting opportunities and a varied working day. The advantage of working as a consultant is that it opens up opportunities to work with many different people and organizations and has strengthened me professionally and personally.

I've worked on drug cancer treatments for Helse Sør-Øst, the Core Journal hospital partnership, transforming Oslo's Emergency Room call centre, and programme code and terminology for Norway's Directorate of eHealth.

These inspiring projects have given me varied opportunities that have progressed me from project worker to project manager. Working with different professional groups and environments has meant that I have also grown personally. As a consultant, you also gain the ability to familiarize yourself with new tasks quickly. The sum of new tasks and new human relationships makes you highly adaptable.

What's it like working at Atkins?

The best thing is that no two days are the same. There are always opportunities to enjoy new challenges and organizational cultures. I'm motivated by discovering what issues organizations face and mapping out how I can contribute.

"Atkins is a work environment where I'm respected and never feel at the back of the queue because I'm a woman."

To thrive as a consultant, you must have someone to lean on. At Atkins, I've felt confident from day one. When I faced challenges, I received support and advice from other managers and colleagues. Atkins also has professional networks where employees share stories from different work situations. It provides experience that is especially important for those who've just started their careers.

How to choose the right career path

In Norway, many young people choose their education path very early. If I give you one piece of advice, it's to spend one year trying your hand at a career direction before you commit to it. At 16, my biggest wish was to get a job with a white coat. Throughout my professional life, I've learnt that I prefer to work on the technical side of medicine, and the result is that I'm very happy without that white coat.

It's also important to remember that you do not need to know everything. Your path will evolve as your walk. I urge everyone to dare to grab opportunities when they present themselves. It's better to fall flat on your face once or twice than to sit around regretting what you didn't do that could have been amazing!

What happens when you trust yourself?

When I was a graduate, I once gave a lecture on X-ray physics to the Norwegian Medical Association on behalf of my boss. I was 25, had long blonde hair and probably didn't look like an authority figure. But I knew the subject, was enthusiastic and used language many people were able to follow. The feedback was unreservedly positive. At a young age, the lecture gave me confidence that you should trust your own knowledge and that it should not be related to your age or gender.

Find out more about starting your career inside Atkins.