Biomedical engineers create solutions to various medical and health-related problems by designing devices and procedures. They may work alongside life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists in order to develop products such as artificial organs, prostheses, instrumentation, medical information systems, and health management and care delivery systems. Biomedical engineers design many different types of devices used in medical procedures, such as the computers used to analyze blood or the laser systems used in corrective eye surgery. They design specialized devices like artificial organs, imaging systems such as magnetic resonance, ultrasound, and x-ray, and devices for automating insulin injections or controlling body functions.
Biomedical engineers need to be able to work effectively as part of a team. They should have the ability to communicate in writing and orally. These communication skills are vital in the field of biomedical engineering because biomedical engineers interact so often with many non-engineering specialists in a wide variety of fields. Biomedical engineers should be analytical, creative, detail-oriented, and inquisitive.
In 2002, biomedical engineers earned a median annual salary of $60,410. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $48,450, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $107,520. According to a 2003 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor's degree candidates in biomedical engineering received starting offers averaging $39,126 a year, and master's degree candidates averaged $61,000 a year.
Training and Education
Most biomedical engineers have specialized biomedical training, as well as a background in mechanical or electronics engineering. Many specialize in fields such as biomaterials, biomechanics, medical imaging, rehabilitation engineering, and orthopedic engineering. In contrast to many other engineering positions, a graduate degree is usually either recommended or required for entry-level positions.
A bachelor's degree is required for all entry-level biomedical engineering positions. Most programs include study in the biomedical specialty, as well as courses in mathematics and science. Many programs include a design course, along with a computer or laboratory class. Many colleges offer students the option of earning a 2- or 4-year degree in engineering technology, which include hands-on laboratory courses that prepare students for practical design and production work, as opposed to more theory-based jobs. While graduates of these programs may obtain the same kinds of jobs as graduates with a bachelor's degree in engineering, they are not qualified to register as professional engineers.
Faculty positions and many research and development programs in biomedical engineering require graduate training. Some engineers earn degrees in business administration to enhance their education and give themselves more career options. In fact, many high-level executives in government and business started their careers as engineers. Engineers in the United States are required to be licensed if they offer their services directly to the public. When engineers become licensed, they are designated Professional Engineers (PE). PE requirements include a degree from an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), 4 years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a State examination. Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers, and may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff of engineers and technicians.
In 2002, biomedical engineers held about 7,600 jobs.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of biomedical engineers is expected to increase faster than the average. This will mainly be due to an aging population and a focus on health issues that will increase the demand for better medical devices and equipment.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Computer Training and Technology Education directory.