Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical and biological sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare.
Biomedical engineers typically do the following:
- Design biomedical equipment and devices, such as artificial internal organs, replacements for 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 biomedical equipment
- Research the engineering aspects of the biological systems of humans and animals with life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists
- Prepare procedures, write technical reports, publish research papers, and make recommendations based on their research findings
- Present research findings to scientists, nonscientist executives, clinicians, hospital management, engineers, other colleagues, and the public
- Biomedical engineers design instruments, devices, and software used in healthcare; develop new procedures using knowledge from many technical sources; or conduct research needed to solve clinical problems. They frequently work in research and development or quality assurance.
- Biomedical engineers design electrical circuits, software to run medical equipment, or computer simulations to test new drug therapies. In addition, they 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 math and statistics to build models to understand the signals transmitted by the brain or heart. Some may be involved in sales.
The following are examples of specialty areas within the field of biomedical engineering:
- Bioinstrumentation uses electronics, computer science, and measurement principles to develop instruments used in the diagnosis and treatment of medical problems.
- Biomaterials is the study of naturally occurring or laboratory-designed materials that are used in medical devices or as implantation materials.
- Biomechanics involves the study of mechanics, such as thermodynamics, to solve biological or medical problems.
- Clinical engineering applies medical technology to optimize healthcare delivery.
- Rehabilitation engineering is the study of engineering and computer science to develop devices that assist individuals recovering from or adapting to physical and cognitive impairments.
- Systems physiology uses engineering tools to understand how systems within living organisms, from bacteria to humans, function and respond to changes in their environment.
How to Become a Biomedical EngineerAbout this section
Biomedical engineers frequently work in research and development or in quality assurance.
Biomedical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering or bioengineering, or in a related engineering field. Some positions may require a graduate degree.
Biomedical engineering and traditional engineering programs, such as mechanical and electrical, are typically good preparation for entering biomedical engineering jobs. Students who pursue traditional engineering programs at the bachelor’s level may benefit from taking biological science courses.
Students interested in becoming biomedical engineers should take high school science courses, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They should also take math courses, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Courses in drafting or mechanical drawing and in computer programming are also useful.
Bachelor’s degree programs in biomedical engineering and bioengineering focus on engineering and biological sciences. Programs include laboratory- and 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 and medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, to provide students with practical applications as part of their study. Biomedical engineering and bioengineering programs are accredited by ABET.
- Analytical skills. Biomedical engineers must analyze the needs of patients and customers to design appropriate solutions.
- Communication skills. Because biomedical engineers sometimes work with patients and frequently work on teams, they must express themselves clearly. They must seek others’ ideas and incorporate those ideas into the problem-solving process.
- Creativity. Biomedical engineers must be creative to come up with innovative and integrative advances in healthcare equipment and devices.
- Math skills. Biomedical engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math and statistics, for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
- Problem-solving skills. Biomedical engineers typically deal with and solve problems in complex biological systems.
Biomedical engineers typically receive greater responsibility through experience and more education. To lead a research team, a biomedical engineer generally needs a graduate degree. Biomedical engineers who are interested in basic research may become medical scientists.
Biomedical engineers work in laboratory and clinical settings.
In the USA Biomedical engineers held about 21,200 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of biomedical engineers were as follows:
- Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 17%
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 14%
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 9%
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 8%
- Healthcare and social assistance 8%
Biomedical engineers work in teams with scientists, healthcare workers, or other engineers. Where and how they work depends on the project. 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, he or she might have to return to the manufacturer to help alter the manufacturing process to improve the design.
Biomedical engineers usually work full time on a normal schedule. However, as with employees in almost any engineering occupation, biomedical engineers occasionally may have to work additional hours to meet the needs of patients, managers, colleagues, and clients. Some biomedical engineers work more than 40 hours per week.
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