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What's it like being a biomedical engineer?

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Michael’s Answer

I have been a biomedical engineer for over 15 years and have worked in both academia and industry.

For me, being a biomedical engineer has been a very rewarding career. You get to design/develop/prototype/repair/test/diagnose problems/etc for medical devices, pharmaceuticals or combination devices - and you get a sense of pride knowing your work helps save lives and improve quality of care for people worldwide. I've personally had the opportunity to become even more motivated by seeing direct human benefit of something I have worked on.

I would say a biomedical engineer is part mechanical engineer, part electrical engineer, part manufacturing engineer, part systems engineer and part industrial design. If you think about all the equipment used in a surgery in a hospital - heart rate monitor, autoclave, anesthesia machine, respirator, surgical table, medical gloves - even the lighting in the room and the HVAC system - there is a LOT going on to make sure a patient stays alive, doesn't get infection and has a good outcome. A biomedical engineer is involved in each of those devices; for example, the heart rate monitor may take a team of dozens of biomedical engineers 5 years to develop and get released to the market for a hospital setting. Getting that heart rate monitor involves industrial design to make it look nice and appealing, mechanical & material engineering for the housing, electrical engineering for the circuitry, systems/computer engineering for the algorithms - and another team has to develop the sensors that read inputs to the monitor itself. Then yet another team has to test the monitor + sensor system, conduct clinical trials and release the product for sale in the intended market (FDA or other regulatory approval process). There are biomedical engineer jobs throughout this entire process - on the industry side, the research side and the governmental side.

One of the key things to keep in mind about the biomedical industry is that there is A LOT of paperwork. The industry is heavily regulated by FDA, ISO and other regulatory bodies which means you will spend a lot of your time writing or filling out forms. Technical writing and communication skills are key in this industry. The long road ultimately leads to the reward of seeing the medical device you and your team spent years developing make a very positive impact on someone's life and family.

I hope that helps!

Michael, your experience is a great example of the broad scope of biomedical engineering. This is a great field for people who are interested in many different fields and want to improve lives. Ruth Whalen

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Andrew’s Answer

Biomedical engineers work on medical devices that are being used for diagnosis of disease or for medical research by medical researchers. It is an umbrella term for a range of engineers with different specialties.
- Mechanical engineer: design, build prototype and test mechanical components for the device.
- Electrical engineer: design and test electric compoents
- Systems engineer: Integrate all components to a working device.

This is a great summary of the field. Ruth Whalen