We are excited – and exceedingly proud – to announce that our friend and colleague Robert Dickinson has just been awarded the Robert L. Morris Humanitarian Award presented by the American College of Clinical Engineering (ACCE) and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) Foundation. Created to recognize individuals and organizations that have applied healthcare technology to improving global human conditions, the Humanitarian Award is an honor of tremendous esteem in the world of biomedical engineering, and it could not have been bestowed upon a more deserving candidate.

Rob leading a training session in Uganda

Rob has built a career as a leader in health technology management on the continent of Africa. Based in Durban, Rob has spent the past 30 years providing technical service and training support around medical devices in more than two dozen countries, working with the likes of the WHO, International Federation of Medical and Biological Engineering, Engineering World Health, Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, Operation Smile, and, most recently, Gradian Health Systems. Through this work, he has been at the forefront of the nascent field of biomedical engineering in Africa, where he has helped cultivate the next generation of African biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) responsible for installing, maintaining, repairing, and replacing vital medical equipment across all levels of the health system.

“Rob has represented his profession with dignity and eloquence, and leaves a community of engineers with pride and determination,” said Steve Rudy, Gradian’s CEO. “Thanks to his expertise and counsel, BMETs across Africa have a better understanding of their essential role in the complicated workings of a resource-constrained hospital. He truly represents the ideals of the Robert Morris Humanitarian Award.”

As noted in the ACCE/AAMI press release, Rob has worked closely with “local and international universities to teach and support their biomedical engineering and HTM students, international medical equipment companies to provide training and technical support for their products, and multilateral organizations and NGOs to undertake healthcare technology-related assignments within low-resource countries.” Colleagues acknowledge him as a “pillar of professionalism and commitment” and “a true role model.”

Steve recounts one of his first projects with Rob:

Rob giving an overview of the UAM

We were set to install anesthesia equipment in 14 rural hospitals in East Africa, and Rob was tasked with training the BMETs in these hospitals to maintain and service the machines, which in some cases were the first brand new medical devices ever delivered. Like most biomedical support in low-income countries, the team of BMETs was under-trained, under-equipped, and overlooked – expected to service equipment without proper tools, manuals, spare parts and factory training; not rewarded when they are successful; and often blamed when old and donated equipment fails.

But Rob made it clear from the start that this work was central to the ability of doctors and nurses to provide quality care. He told the techs:

“You are a critical and indispensable member of the surgical team. The lives saved in this hospital depend on a broad and complicated technical environment where any single point of failure can break the surgeon’s ability to operate, or the anesthetist’s means of controlling awareness and pain, or the ICU nurse’s means of ventilating a paralyzed patient. As the biomedical staff, you do not represent an ancillary service; you are at the heart of patient care, especially in an environment where the very infrastructure is challenged.”

Over the next two days, I saw the transformation that came over a class of BMETs that had rarely been treated as professional colleagues. Their newfound pride in their work and contribution was clear in their expressions – as was the Rob’s effectiveness as a BMET training and a true leader in global health.

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