Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

Interest Area: 
Thinking
Average Yearly Pay: 
$77400
Education Needed: 
Bachelor's Degree
Employment: 
Growing Much Faster Than Average
Job Growth: 
72%
Job Prospects: 
Very Good

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Job Duties: 

Biomedical engineers typically do the following:

  • Design systems and products, such as artificial organs, artificial devices that replace body parts, and machines for diagnosing medical problems.
  • Install, adjust, maintain, repair, or provide technical support for biomedical equipment
  • Evaluate the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of biomedical equipment
  • Train clinicians and other personnel on the proper use of equipment
  • Work with life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists to research the engineering aspects of biological systems of humans and animals
  • Career Overview: 

    Biomedical engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

    Duties

    Biomedical engineers typically do the following:

    • Design systems and products, such as artificial internal organs, artificial devices that replace body parts, and machines for diagnosing medical problems
    • Install, adjust, maintain, repair, or provide technical support for biomedical equipment
    • Evaluate the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of biomedical equipment
    • Train clinicians and other personnel on the proper use of equipment
    • Work with life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists to research the engineering aspects of biological systems of humans and animals

    Biomedical engineers may design instruments, devices, and software; bring together knowledge from many technical sources to develop new procedures; or conduct research needed to solve clinical problems.

    They often serve a coordinating function, using their background in both engineering and medicine. For example, in industry, they may create products for which an in-depth understanding of living systems and technology is essential. Also, they frequently work in research and development or in quality assurance.

    Biomedical engineers design electrical circuits, software to run medical equipment, or computer simulations to test new drug therapies. They also design and build artificial body parts such as hip and knee joints. In some cases, they develop the materials needed to make the replacement body parts. They also design rehabilitative exercise equipment.

    The work of these engineers spans many professional fields. For example, although their expertise is based in engineering and biology, they often design computer software to run complicated instruments, such as three-dimensional x-ray machines. Alternatively, many of these engineers use their knowledge of chemistry and biology to develop new drug therapies. Others draw heavily on mathematics and statistics to build models to understand the signals transmitted by the brain or heart.

    Some specialty areas within biomedical engineering include bioinstrumentation; biomaterials; biomechanics; cellular, tissue, and genetic engineering; clinical engineering; medical imaging; orthopedic surgery; rehabilitation engineering; and systems physiology. 

    Some people with training in biomedical engineering become professors. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

    Work Environment: 

    Biomedical engineers held about 19,400 jobs in 2012. Biomedical engineers work in a variety of settings, depending on what they do. Some work in hospitals where therapy occurs and others work in laboratories doing research. Still others work in manufacturing settings where they design biomedical engineering products. In addition, some biomedical engineers also work in commercial offices where they make or support business decisions.

    The industries that employed the most biomedical engineers in 2012 were as follows:

    Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 25%
    Scientific research and development services 18
    Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 15
    Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 9
    General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 7

    Biomedical engineers work in teams with scientists, healthcare workers, or other engineers. Thus, where and how they work is often determined by others’ specific needs. For example, a biomedical engineer who has developed a new device designed to help a person with a disability to walk again might have to spend hours in a hospital to determine whether the device works as planned. If the engineer finds a way to improve the device, the engineer might have to return to the manufacturer to help alter the manufacturing process to improve the design.

    Work Schedules

    Biomedical engineers usually work full time on a normal schedule. However, as with employees in almost any engineering occupation, biomedical engineers may occasionally have to work additional hours to meet the needs of patients, managers, colleagues, and clients.

    Education and Training: 

    Biomedical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from an accredited program to enter the occupation. Alternatively, they can get a bachelor’s degree in a different field of engineering and then either get a graduate degree in biomedical engineering or get on-the-job training in biomedical engineering.

    Education

    Prospective biomedical engineering students should take high school science courses, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They should also take math courses, including calculus. Courses in drafting or mechanical drawing and computer programming are also useful.

    Bachelor’s degree programs in biomedical engineering focus on engineering and biological sciences. Programs include laboratory-based courses in addition to classroom-based courses in subjects such as fluid and solid mechanics, computer programming, circuit design, and biomaterials. Other required courses may include biological sciences, such as physiology.

    Accredited programs also include substantial training in engineering design. Many programs include co-ops or internships, often with hospitals, to provide students with practical applications as part of their study. Biomedical engineering programs are accredited by ABET.

    Important Qualities

    Analytical skills. Biomedical engineers must be able to analyze the needs of patients and customers to design appropriate solutions.

    Communication skills. Because biomedical engineers sometimes work with patients and frequently work with medical scientists or other engineers, they must be able to express themselves clearly.

    Listening skills. Biomedical engineers often work in teams and gather input from patients, therapists, physicians, and business professionals. They must seek others’ ideas and incorporate them into the problem-solving process.

    Math skills. Biomedical engineers use the principals of calculus and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

    Problem-solving skills. Biomedical engineers typically deal with and solve problems in complex biological systems.

    Advancement

    To lead a research team, a biomedical engineer typically needs a graduate degree. Some biomedical engineers attend dental or medical school to specialize in applications at the forefront of patient care, such as using electric impulses in new ways to get muscles moving again. Some earn law degrees and work as patent attorneys.

    Pay: 

    The median annual wage for biomedical engineers was $86,960 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,600, and the top 10 percent earned more than $139,450.

    In May 2012, the median annual wages in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

    Scientific research and development services $94,150
    Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 88,850
    Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 87,340
    General medical and surgical hospitals;
    state, local, and private
    69,910
    Colleges, universities, and professional schools;
    state, local, and private
    63,440

    Biomedical engineers usually work full time on a normal schedule. However, as with employees in almost any engineering occupation, biomedical engineers may occasionally have to work additional hours to meet the needs of patients, managers, colleagues, and clients.

    Job Outlook: 

    Employment of biomedical engineers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 5,200 new jobs over the 10-year period.

    Biomedical engineers will likely see more demand for their services because of the breadth of activities they engage in, made possible by the diverse nature of their training.

    As the aging baby-boom generation lives longer and stays active, they are expected to increase the demand for biomedical devices and procedures, such as hip and knee replacements. In addition, as the public has become aware of medical advances, increasing numbers of people are seeking biomedical solutions to health problems for themselves from their physicians.

    Biomedical engineers work with medical scientists, other medical researchers, and manufacturers to address a wide range of injuries and physical disabilities. Their ability to work in different activities with other professionals is enlarging the range of applications for biomedical engineering products and services, particularly in healthcare.

    Job Prospects

    Rapid advances in technology will continue to change what biomedical engineers do and continue to create new areas for them to work in. Thus, the expanding range of activities in which biomedical engineers are engaged should translate into very favorable job prospects. In addition, the aging and retirement of a substantial percentage of biomedical engineers are likely to help create job openings between 2012 and 2022.

    For More Information: 

    For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

    American Society for Engineering Education

    Technology Student Association

    For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

    ABET

    For more information about careers in biomedical engineering, visit

    Biomedical Engineering Society

    IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society

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