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What do biomedical engineers do?

Biomedical engineers work behind the scenes in health care, designing and testing specific products and systems that can improve or solve various health-related issues. For example, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes, biomedical engineers often design and build artificial organs and devices that replace human body parts, such as hip and knee joints. They may also design and develop the materials needed to these products, using their background in both engineering and medicine to test for quality and safety. According to the Occupational Information Network (also known as O*Net), some of the most common job functions of biomedical engineers include:

  • Conducting research of the biological systems of humans and animals
  • Designing and developing medical instruments and equipment
  • Researching and developing new materials that might be used in artificial body parts, organs or limbs
  • Monitoring newly created biomedical equipment for quality and safety
  • Creating or developing computer software that can be used to meet the goals of the biomedical community

Biomedical engineering is regarded as a highly specialized discipline within the field of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), because it requires diverse knowledge of medicine, engineering, biology and life sciences. According to the BLS, biomedical engineers must also master certain technologies that are used heavily in their field, such as industry-specific computer software, complicated instruments and 3-D X-ray machines. Many biomedical engineers also learn how to create unique software programs that can help them reach their goals. Others branch off into related fields, such as the development of new drug therapies that treat or lessen certain health problems.

Where do biomedical engineers work?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, jobs in this field are concentrated almost entirely within health care and related industries, and biomedical engineering salaries are higher than the national average. According to the BLS, 25 percent of biomedical engineers worked in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing in 2012. Other leading industries for biomedical engineering include:

  • Scientific research and development services (18 percent)
  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing (15 percent)
  • Colleges, universities and private schools (9 percent)
  • State, local, and private hospitals (7 percent)

Most often, biomedical engineers end up working in whatever environment most suits their specialty in the field. For example, a biomedical engineer who specializes in creating artificial limbs might have to spend many weeks or months in a hospital or long-term care facility in order to monitor and test their products. Likewise, biomedical engineers who develop new drugs might spend their career working in a lab. When it comes to their geographical location, biomedical engineers can typically find work anywhere in the country. However, certain states offer more opportunities than others. Those with the highest number of biomedical engineers employed in 2013 were:

  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania
  • Minnesota

California and Pennsylvania are also on the list (Nos. 4 and 5, respectively) of the five states with the best expected job growth for biomedical engineers between 2010 and 2020, according to Projections Central. The top three states for job growth during that period are Florida, Utah and Colorado. The high growth potential — 27 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022 — helps make biomedical engineering one of the top jobs of the coming decade.

What does it take to become a biomedical engineer?

The BLS reports that biomedical engineers typically need a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from an accredited school as the first step toward gaining employment in this field. However, it is possible for graduates of a related field, such as engineering or biology, to break into this field by pursuing a graduate degree in biomedical engineering or participating in on-the-job training. Beyond earning the right degree, potential biomedical engineers also need to have an in-depth knowledge of specific related subjects, including chemistry, physics and biology. They also need to understand the use of calculus and other forms of advanced math, as well as fluid and solid mechanics, circuit design and computer programming, per the BLS.

In addition to completion of the educational requirements, it is important for biomedical engineers to possess certain soft skills. The most important of these include analytical thinking, critical thinking, listening and problem-solving, as well as the ability to apply advanced math to common problems in biomedical engineering. Aspiring students can find more information about careers in biomedical engineering through the following organizations:

  • Biomedical Engineering Society
  • IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society
  • National Science Foundation

Sources:

Biomedical Engineers, O*NET Online, American JobCenter Network,
http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/17-2031.00

Long Term Occupational Projections for Biomedical Engineers, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Occupational Employment and Wages: Biomedical Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172031.htm

Biomedical Engineers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/biomedical-engineers.htm#tab-1