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What exactly is biomedical engineering, and what do people in this profession do?

Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a doctor. Now that I have become a high school student, I've done research about what it takes to go to medical school. Helping and interacting with others is what I want to do. Although, I don't think I have what it takes to go into medical school. Recently someone suggested going into biomedical engineering, but I am not sure if I understand what it is. medicine doctor medical healthcare college biomedical biomed bio engineering

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Brittney’s Answer

Hi Athena,


I graduated with my Bachelor's and Master's in Biomedical Engineering not too long ago and now work at a medical device company as a process engineer. Biomedical Engineering (BME) bachelor degrees can be quite broad which allows the opportunity to learn about the different types of engineering specialties you can go into (electrical, mechanical, chemical). In terms of the types of professions people with a BME degree go into, I've found the most common are:

1) Industry - common industries include medical devices (ex: pacemakers, glucose monitors, stents, etc), healthcare, and research. Most common roles for BME's in the industry right out of college are quality and regulatory, but there are other roles that will still hire BME's such as process engineers, sourcing, R&D, product design, etc.
2) Academia
3) Medical School - many people I knew wanted to have an engineering degree backup in case they decided not to go to medical school but still wanted to pursuit something in the healthcare industry. This will require extra courses to ensure you have the pre-requisites needed for medical school.
4) IP law

I would consider thinking about what type of problems you enjoy solving to see if biomedical engineering is something you'd want to pursuit if you decided medical school was not right for you.

I also think it's worth exploring other engineering degrees, even if you want to work in the medical device field! I'm a mechanical engineer (Bachelors and Masters degree) and actually found finding job openings at medical device companies easier than my biomedical engineering friends because my engineering degree was a bit more specialized. Just things to consider. In terms of careers where you're able to make an impact in people's lives, engineering is a fantastic choice! Jess Thayer

I agree with Jess - mechanical engineering and electrical engineering majors can have great success in the medical field as well! The course work for each major should accurately describe the differences between them so pick the one that is most interesting to you. Catherine Andrus

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Brittney’s Answer

Hi Athena,


I graduated with my Bachelor's and Master's in Biomedical Engineering not too long ago and now work at a medical device company as a process engineer. Biomedical Engineering (BME) bachelor degrees can be quite broad which allows the opportunity to learn about the different types of engineering specialties you can go into (electrical, mechanical, chemical). In terms of the types of professions people with a BME degree go into, I've found the most common are:

1) Industry - common industries include medical devices (ex: pacemakers, glucose monitors, stents, etc), healthcare, and research. Most common roles for BME's in the industry right out of college are quality and regulatory, but there are other roles that will still hire BME's such as process engineers, sourcing, R&D, product design, etc.
2) Academia
3) Medical School - many people I knew wanted to have an engineering degree backup in case they decided not to go to medical school but still wanted to pursuit something in the healthcare industry. This will require extra courses to ensure you have the pre-requisites needed for medical school.
4) IP law

I would consider thinking about what type of problems you enjoy solving to see if biomedical engineering is something you'd want to pursuit if you decided medical school was not right for you.

Thank you for your response, it was very helpful! Athena R.

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Casey’s Answer

Hi Athena!

I will only speak to my personal experience in the field which is working in Medical Device. There are many different things you can do in the Medical Device field with a Biomedical Engineering degree, from working in manufacturing on the production floor to working on the front end in R&D, developing new life saving technologies.

From my experience in manufacturing, you will get a lot of hands on experience working with operators, technicians, and other engineers figuring out how to make the product efficiently and with the highest quality possible. This will be fast paced with lots of day to day investigations and issues to solve. I love working in manufacturing because of the variety of people and teams I get to work with. You also get to see the impact of changes you make right away to the process and see how it is helping improve either the quality of the product, the efficiency of the process, or the life of the operator who makes the product. It is a very rewarding career no matter where you choose to dive in - you are always helping improve somebody's life somewhere. :)

Thank you for your response. It was very helpful Athena R.

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Christina’s Answer

Hi Athena,

There are many career paths you can pursue with a biomedical engineering degree, including becoming a doctor. If you pursue biomedical engineering with the intention of going to medical school, it can set you apart because most prospective medical students obtain a degree in biology or chemistry. This could make you more competitive when it comes time to apply for medical school.

If you decide not to get a medical degree, there are other career paths that you can pursue. You can work with a medical device or healthcare company and help design or manufacture technology that will be used by doctors to ultimately help patients. Another example is becoming a researcher and advancing the field of science. You can also work directly with the equipment in the hospital to make sure it is working appropriately before it is used on a patient. These are just a few examples- it depends on what you're interested in and how you want to contribute to healthcare.

Thank you for the advice! Athena R.

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Rose’s Answer

Biomedical engineering is a field of engineering where you work to create products meant to be used on, in or with a human body. These products could be artificial limbs, pace makers, insulin pumps, ventilators, etc. As a biomedical engineer you could work with doctors or healthcare professionals to design, create, or improve medical devices. There are many opportunities to work at different levels of product design, including research, computer modeling, testing, manufacturing, packaging, and quality control. A biomedical engineer's education will include learning about the human body as well as the principles of engineering. It is a very rewarding career as you will be making products that are life saving. Enjoy the journey where ever it may lead you.

Thank you for your response, and going into detail. It was very helpful. Athena R.

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Catherine’s Answer

The best way I can describe biomedical engineering in a simple yet broad way would be the following 3 step process:

1. The study of biological systems and how they interact together. (ex: circulatory system)
2. The understanding of signals and indicators from these biological systems that give information about the body. (ex: heart rate)
3. The application of this information into technology that solves a problem or improves a known solution. (ex: devices or medication that monitor/maintain a healthy heart rate)

Step 1 is your foundation of learning in your undergraduate degree. This is where the overlap to medical school mostly occurs. It's all of your main biology, chemistry, and physics courses. They also may include physiological systems and anatomy to give you a complete overview of how the body behaves. As you pick a concentration or interest, your courses will become more detailed in your area which will be different from any of your previous exposure in high school.

Step 2 is where you research and learn new ways to obtain information from the body. Depending on the undergraduate program, you may perform simulated testing in laboratories or conduct research theses in a formal paper. Those who choose to stay in research as a career will stay in Step 2 and continue to push the boundaries of what information we can discover from the human body. (As a relevant example to current times, all of the research in discovering tests and vaccines for COVID-19 is currently occurring in this step).

Step 3 is where technology applies what we learn through research into a form that can be used in healthcare practices or general public life. This can be in the form of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, or medical software (think about the heart rate monitor in smartwatches). Those who choose to create technology will stay in Step 3 and typically go into industry, where you can specialize in various functions of a company. (Back to the COVID-19 example, once we discover a vaccine, companies in industry will need to figure out how to dose, package, and dispense the vaccine to patients).

No step is more important than the other; however, learning about all three will give you a full understanding of how each set of knowledge affects the others and allow you to apply your background to whatever career you choose.

Catherine

Thank you for your response and advice! Athena R.

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Richard’s Answer

A biomedical engineer will typically do the following:
- Design systems and products
- 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
- Research the engineering aspects within the biological systems of humans and animals
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Derek’s Answer

Hi Athena,

I work as a pre-concept engineer, and I have a BS in Biomedical Engineering. My team's role is to find the junction of clinical need, market opportunity, and technical feasibility, with my role having an emphasis on technical feasibility. Most engineers can probably engineer better than me, but I'm differentiated by the clinical empathy I (try to) bring to design.

I would just add that biomedical as an undergrad can be a tenuous path if you're mostly interested in the technical side of design. It can be difficult to differentiate yourself technically if the end goal is to compete with mechanical, software, or electrical engineers. I like the concept of T shaped people for this...an ideal teammate has a wide range of capabilities, but one subject in which they are an expert (https://medium.com/@jchyip/why-t-shaped-people-e8706198e437).

Biomedical engineering school is great at developing the top of the T, but it takes a deliberate effort to develop an area of expertise. This makes the degree incredibly flexible...with a few extra classes pre-med reqs can be fulfilled, many continue to do great research in academia, and one can find a role as up or downstream in product development as desired. But there is a decent risk of becoming a "master of none," and I really wish someone told me that before I did an undergrad in BME.
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Denise’s Answer

If you are interested in biology and engineering, the medical device industry is an amazing place to work. You can use your educational background to make a difference for thousands of people by creating new products for surgeons.

Thank you for your response ! Athena R.

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Denise’s Answer

If you are interested in biology and engineering, the medical device industry is an amazing place to work. You can use your educational background to make a difference for thousands of people by creating new products for surgeons.
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Rebecca’s Answer

It could be helpful to interview other biomedical engineers. Know that the first couple of years of biomedical engineering are the same as biology or other science majors, so if you find you don't like the engineering aspect you can possibly switch without loosing too much. As a science major, you could consider assisting surgeons though medical device sales or biomed support/technician. There are also a lot of other professions that help and assist others, things like nursing, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. These ideas aren't meant to direct you away from biomedical engineering, but just to give you more options to explore, there is a lot you can do with a degree in biomedical engineering.
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Stephanie’s Answer

When it comes to Biomedical, what exactly do you want to do? Is it work in tissue, biologics, medical devices, etc. I would focus on what you find interesting and research that segment of the industry. I am in medical devices and worked with surgical helmets, knees, hips, and spinal implants. For me, the manufacturing experience was more important than understanding tissue and biology. I did co-op rotation for design engineer and hated it. I realized it was not a good fit for me. I was always focused on medical devices, so all my decisions were geared towards getting me to orthopedics.

I also know of two colleagues that worked in the orthopedic field and then went on to medical school to become doctors. I also know we work with doctors and some have helped design new devices and techniques. For medical school, it's required for an undergrad, not necessarily a pre-med degree. Just something to keep in mind.

Stephanie recommends the following next steps:

Looking into what field you want to work in
Find a co-op or internship
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