What Is a Biomedical Engineer? (And Other Common Questions)

biomedical engineering students in lab

Biomedical engineering is a specialized field where engineering and medicine intersect. A biomedical engineer is a professional problem-solver who looks for ways to apply technological solutions to medical challenges. It’s an exciting and innovative field that allows individuals to think both scientifically and creatively while they work toward making the world a better place for patients. If you’re passionate about this career field, consider earning your biomedical engineering degree.

What Is Biomedical Engineering?

In order to fully understand biomedical engineering, or bioengineering, it’s necessary to have a working knowledge of the field of engineering as a whole. Engineering is the application of mathematics and scientific principles to real-world issues and problems. Scientists are credited with groundbreaking discoveries, but it is the engineers who find a way to apply the new knowledge to practical, real-world applications.

For example, engineers build dams, design power plants and create computer hardware components. Some engineers find ways to prevent or reduce pollution, while others create new processes for compounding chemicals. As famed writer Isaac Asimov once said, “Science can amuse and fascinate us all, but it is engineering that changes the world.”1

Biomedical engineering is a subfield within the engineering field. Bioengineers first identify a problem that patients, doctors or other healthcare professionals are experiencing. Then, they brainstorm solutions and design new devices or other products intended to solve that problem.

What Do Biomedical Engineers Do?

You might be surprised by just how much biomedical engineers influence the modern healthcare system. Bioengineers can work on a diverse array of medical devices and systems, such as the following:

  • Prosthetic limbs
  • Artificial tissues and organs
  • Implantable devices, including pacemakers
  • Medical imaging technology
  • Orthopedic implants

Some biomedical engineers work on creating new devices or improving existing medical tools and equipment, while others focus on biocompatible materials that are implanted in the human body. A bioengineer may work in dental science or veterinary medicine as well.

The landscape of modern life continually evolves and presents new challenges. Biomedical engineers are skilled at adapting to change, meeting new problems head-on and developing innovative solutions. The job of a biomedical engineer is ultimately to improve wellness and quality of life. Bioengineers can focus on innovations that directly help patients or devices that allow healthcare providers to deliver better care.

What Are Some Specific Duties of a Biomedical Engineer?

Specific job responsibilities vary depending on the engineer’s employer and the particular project they are currently working on. In general, a biomedical engineer’s job duties can include any of the following:

  • Design, develop and test medical devices, instruments and components for safety and effectiveness
  • Develop and test prototypes collaboratively with healthcare providers and patients
  • Demonstrate the proper operation of medical equipment to healthcare providers
  • Install, calibrate, maintain and repair biomedical equipment
  • Analyze patient complaints and device failures, and develop corrective actions
  • Write and publish scientific findings in professional journals and present at industry conferences

In addition, some biomedical engineers may be responsible for developing grant proposals in order to acquire funding for their work.

Where Do Biomedical Engineers Work?

A biomedical engineer will typically find work in a laboratory or clinical setting. Many work for medical equipment and supply manufacturers. Some bioengineers work for manufacturers that produce navigational, measurement, electromedical and control instruments.

It’s common for these professionals to work in teams with other experts, including other bioengineers, scientists and healthcare professionals. While the majority of their work is typically performed in research and development labs, engineers may need to travel to healthcare sites to view their devices in action.

Biomedical engineers not only create a new biocompatible device, they also look for ways to refine and manufacture its design. That makes this career field a great choice for individuals who appreciate the value of continual improvement. Remember that engineering is a field born from the necessity of solving problems. Although biomedical engineers primarily work in laboratory settings, they must consider how their devices will fit into real-world environments.

What Are the Important Skills and Characteristics of a Biomedical Engineer?

If you decide to study biomedical engineering in college, your coursework will teach you everything you need to know to get started in this field. Along the way, you can work on actively cultivating the important skills and characteristics you’ll need to improve quality of life for patients.

  • Problem-solving skills: All engineers are professional problem-solvers. Know that being an effective problem-solver doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with the right solution on the first try. Rather, it’s a process that involves a great deal of trial and error. Perseverance is an essential precursor to problem-solving.
  • Analytical reasoning: Biomedical engineers must be able to accurately analyze the issues that patients and healthcare workers are experiencing in order to develop possible solutions.
  • Creativity: It’s often thought that a scientific profession doesn’t provide much room for creativity. Fortunately, this isn’t the case. Biomedical engineers tend to be highly creative thinkers who routinely explore out-of-the-box solutions to everyday problems.
  • Communication skills: It’s common for these professionals to work collaboratively on teams that include other engineers, scientists and healthcare providers. Furthermore, engineers must often explain highly complex concepts to their non-engineer counterparts. Because of this, strong written and verbal communication skills are a must-have.
  • Critical thinking skills: Critical thinking is the ability to conceptualize, synthesize, analyze and assess information. Biomedical engineers must be able to compare and contrast possible solutions, and objectively choose the one most likely to work.

In addition, biomedical engineers are typically curious individuals who aren’t afraid to ask questions. It is their curiosity of how the world works that leads these professionals toward solutions that make life better for patients.

Do I Need a Biomedical Engineering Degree?

It’s commonly thought that a highly specialized field like bioengineering would require an advanced degree—perhaps even a doctorate. The good news is that many people successfully enter the field with a bachelor's in biomedical engineering. If you do decide to return to school later to earn your master’s degree, you’re likely to find that higher-level positions are within your reach.

A biomedical engineering degree program will feature a broad, multidisciplinary curriculum that allows students to develop a strong framework of skills and knowledge. This program will enable them use their skills in the areas of research, development and quality assurance. Expect to take a heavy course load of mathematics and science classes, such as chemistry, medical physiology, biology and electrical engineering.

Are There Subfields Within Bioengineering?

Biomedical engineering is itself a subfield within the broader field of engineering. There are also specialty areas within the biomedical engineering subfield that professionals may choose to focus on. These include the following:

  • Bioinstrumentation: This specialty area is a relatively new one, with significant innovations being made during the past couple of decades. It brings together the disciplines of computer science, electronic engineering and biomedical engineering. This subfield focuses on the development of medical instruments, including medical measuring devices. Today, bioinstrumentation is integrated directly into daily life. Consider fitness tracking smartwatches as an example.  
  • Biomaterials: Biomaterial engineering merges chemistry, medicine, biology, tissue engineering and materials science. It explores the use of materials within medical devices or the human body. These materials include both naturally occurring ones and those produced artificially in labs. Consider, for example, hip implants coated with hydroxyapatite, which enables the implant to form a strong bond with the remaining natural bone.
  • Rehabilitation engineering: Rehabilitation engineers dedicate their careers to helping individuals who have physical and cognitive disabilities. The ultimate goal is to help individuals with disabilities live more independently. A rehabilitation engineer might design a new prosthetic limb, for instance, or develop a brain-computer interface that allows a person to use devices simply by thinking about the desired function.

These are just a few common examples. Other specialty areas include tissue engineering and medical imaging.

If you’re passionate about making a positive contribution to the lives of patients, consider earning your biomedical engineering degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering degree program guides students through rigorous coursework blended with real-world, hands-on learning experiences to instill skills that employers value. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore your future at GCU.

1 Retrieved from: IEEE Transmitter, 10 Quotes to Spark Engineering Inspiration, in March 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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