Education and Training: Master's degree
Salary: Median—$67,690 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Biomedical engineers combine their knowledge of biology and medicine with engineering principles and practices to develop devices and procedures that solve medical and health-related problems. That is, biomedical engineers try to answer medical challenges by helping design and develop new equipment or methods.
Biomedical engineers help develop a wide variety of medical instruments and devices. For example, the heart-lung machine takes over the body's job of pumping and oxygenating the blood during surgery. Special lasers are used in delicate eye surgery. Sonar, or sound waves, can be used to measure diseased organs and detect tumors. Tiny radio transmitters that send out signals about changes in body temperature, internal bleeding, and digestion can be worn or swallowed.
Biomedical engineers also work to improve equipment, such as artificial limbs, heart valves, and kidney machines. They contribute to the development of such devices as heart pacemakers, which can be implanted in a patient's body to improve the heart's functioning.
Many biomedical engineers do research along with physicians, chemists, and other scientists in hospitals and universities. They are involved in the search for answers to questions such as how drugs affect muscle fibers and how the brain thinks, remembers, and sleeps. Engineers with advanced degrees or experience may teach in addition to doing research.
Some biomedical engineers work in hospitals where they help maintain and monitor complex medical systems. For example, they work with systems that can inform a hospital physician of the pulse rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs of a heart attack victim in an ambulance miles away.
Other biomedical engineers work for companies that make biomedical equipment. Government agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), also employ biomedical engineers.
Education and Training Requirements
You need at least a bachelor's degree in engineering to become a biomedical engineer. It usually takes four or five years to earn this degree. Most biomedical engineers get their degrees in such fields as industrial, electrical, mechanical, or chemical engineering. You will also need specialized biomedical training; a master's degree is suggested. You can take courses in biology, physiology, medical instrumentation, biochemistry, or biophysics. Or you can sometimes get on-the-job training. A few colleges and universities offer courses and degrees in biomedical engineering. You may want to go on to get an advanced degree in biomedical engineering or a related science. Since biomedical engineering draws on a wide variety of disciplines, a broad background is an asset in this field. You will need to continue studying throughout your career to keep up with new developments.
You may also need to be licensed by the state in which you work. You generally need a degree from an approved engineering college, about four years of experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before you can be licensed as a professional engineer.
Getting the Job
Your college placement office may be able to give you information about getting internships or jobs as a biomedical engineer. Professional journals, Internet job banks, and newspaper classifieds sometimes list openings in this field. You can also contact manufacturers of biomedical equipment as well as hospitals, universities, and government agencies that employ biomedical engineers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement usually depends on education and experience. Biomedical engineers who work in research can become project leaders or administrators of entire research programs. They can also become managers in hospitals or manufacturing companies. Some form their own companies. Biomedical engineers who have a doctoral degree can teach in universities and medical schools.
The opportunities in biomedical engineering are expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. The aging population and a focus on health issues will increase demand for better medical devices and equipment designed by biomedical engineers. However, the number of degrees granted in biomedical engineering has increased greatly and those with only a bachelor's degree may face stiff competition for jobs. Therefore a graduate degree is suggested in this field.
Biomedical engineers work in modern, well-equipped hospitals, research centers, and manufacturing plants. Their basic workweek is generally forty hours, but in many cases they work longer to complete special projects.
Biomedical engineers usually work as part of a team. Since their field is so broad, they must be able to cooperate and communicate with specialists in other fields. Biomedical engineers should be interested in science and mathematics as well as medicine. They should enjoy solving problems and meeting challenges.
Where to Go for More Information
Biomedical Engineering Society
8401 Corporate Dr., Ste. 140
Landover, MD 20785-2224
National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-279
Earnings and Benefits
In 2004 the median annual salary for biomedical engineers was $67,690. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.