Biomedical engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care. They work in manufacturing, universities, hospitals, research facilities of companies and educational and medical institutions, teaching, and government regulatory agencies.
Biomedical engineers typically do the following:
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. In industry, they may create products where an in-depth understanding of living systems and technology is essential. They frequently work in research and development or in quality assurance.
Some biomedical engineers design electrical circuits, software to run medical equipment, or computer simulations to test new drug therapies. Some also design and build artificial body parts to replace injured limbs. 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.
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.
Prospective biomedical engineering students should take high school science courses, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They should also take mathematics, 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 classes in subjects such as fluid and solid mechanics, computer programming, circuit design, and biomaterials. Other required courses include in-depth training in biological sciences, including physiology.
Biomedical engineers must be able to analyze the needs of patients and customers to design appropriate solutions. Because biomedical engineers sometimes work with patients and frequently work with other professionals, such as medical scientists or other engineers, they must be able to express themselves clearly. 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. Biomedical engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Some biomedical engineers attend dental or medical school to specialize in applications at the front lines 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.
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. Additionally, these engineers also work in commercial offices where they make or support business decisions. Biomedical engineers work with patients and in teams with other professionals. Thus, where and how they work are 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 then return to the manufacturer to help alter the manufacturing process to improve the design.