Engineer, inventor, award recipient, recognized for medical innovation

Image source: WCENG / CC BY-SA (

What does Dr Jim McEwen, a Winnipeg-born, UBC-schooled biomedical engineer have in common with Alfred Nobel, Hedy Lamarr, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Frank Zamboni, Frederick Banting, and Charles Best? They all are inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, an American not-for-profit organization that honors “people responsible for the great technical advances that make human, social, and economic progress possible.”

In January 2020 it was announced that Dr McEwen—Officer of the Order Canada, PhD in electronic/biomedical engineering, recipient of the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation’s Principal Award, with honorary degrees from UBC and SFU, and head of Vancouver General Hospital’s Biomedical Engineering Department—will be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame this May with his automatic surgical tourniquet. Dr McEwen is named on more than 70 US patents and a number of international patents as well.  

As Dr McEwen explains, a number of years ago he became aware of patients who suffered nerve damage and limb paralysis due to problems with mechanical, pneumatic, surgical tourniquet use during operations. The problems related to unreliable pressure-regulating mechanisms and no automatic fail safe features in previous types of tourniquets. He, along with colleagues, developed a microprocessor-controlled system with automatic timers, audio-visual alarms, an automatic detection systems for air leakage, a backup power source, and various systems for equipment checks. Reportedly, Dr McEwen’s tourniquets are used over 20 000 times daily around the world in limb-related operations.

Dr McEwen says he was born when transistors were invented, became an engineer in the year microprocessors came on the market, and received his PhD around the time personal computers became available. He modestly credits his father with sparking his interest in electronics when his dad contracted polio and became a paraplegic but continued to work and took up electronics as a hobby.

Congratulations, Dr McEwen, and thank you!
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Suggested reading
Thompson S. Winnipeg-born biomedical engineer joins illustrious group of thinkers in Inventors Hall of Fame. Global News. Accessed 12 February 2020.

Wikipedia. National inventors hall of fame. Accessed 12 February 2020.

This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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