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.
In This Article:
- Understanding Biomedical Engineering
- What Do Biomedical Engineers Do?
- What Are Some Specific Duties of a Biomedical Engineer?
- Where Do Biomedical Engineers Work?
- What Are the Important Skills and Characteristics of a Biomedical Engineer?
- Do I Need a Degree To Become a Biomedical Engineer?
- Are There Subfields Within Bioengineering?
- Biomedical Engineering: Description of Job Growth and Median Salary
- Get Started on Your Path To Becoming a Biomedical Engineer
Understanding 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 uses.
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?
Biomedical engineers work on diverse problems to optimize solutions to 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 is continually evolving and presenting 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 of a biomedical engineer depend on the engineer’s employer and the particular project they are currently working on. In general, however, 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. Now that you’re familiar with a biomedical engineering description of job duties, you may be interested in knowing what types of settings biomedical engineers work in.
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. Although the majority of their work is typically performed in research and development labs, engineers may need to travel to healthcare sites to see their devices in action.
Biomedical engineers not only create a new biocompatible device — they also look for ways to refine and manufacture its design. This makes bioengineering a great career field 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 work primarily 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?
Important skills and characteristics for a biomedical engineer include problem-solving, creative skills, math skills and analytical skills. If you decide to study biomedical engineering in college, the coursework will provide you with the necessary teachings for you to learn and get started in the field. Along the way, you can work on actively cultivating important skills and characteristics you’ll need to improve quality of life for patients. These include:
- 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 select the one that is most likely to work.
In addition, biomedical engineers are typically curious individuals who aren’t afraid to ask questions. It is their curiosity about how the world works that leads these professionals toward solutions that make life better for patients.
Do I Need a Degree To Become a Biomedical Engineer?
Many people successfully enter the field with a bachelor's in biomedical engineering. A university program in the biomedical engineering field should feature a broad, multidisciplinary curriculum that allows students to develop a strong framework of skills and knowledge. This program will enable you to 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?
Another way in which the question, “What is a bio engineer?” can be answered is by exploring the opportunities to specialize within a particular subfield. 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, including:
- 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. (For example, a rehabilitation engineer might design a new prosthetic limb 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.
Biomedical Engineering: Description of Job Growth and Median Salary
Now that you have a better understanding of the answers to the questions, What is a bio engineer? and What do biomedical engineers do? you may be curious about the opportunities for this job and how much qualified biomedical engineers can expect to earn. There are no guarantees, of course, but the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers some statistics for consideration.
The BLS estimates job growth for bioengineers and biomedical engineers to be 10% from 2021 to 2031 — faster than the average for all professions — accounting for an estimated increase of 1,700 jobs in the field.1
As of May 2021, bioengineers and biomedical engineers have a median annual salary of $97,410, according to the BLS.2
Get Started on Your Path To Becoming a Biomedical Engineer
If you’re passionate about making a positive contribution to the lives of patients, consider earning your biomedical engineering degree at Grand Canyon University (GCU). The Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering degree program guides students through rigorous coursework blended with hands-on learning experiences. Fill out the form on your page to explore your future at GCU.
1 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 and 2021 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2022, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bioengineers and Biomedical Engineers, retrieved on April 5, 2023.
2 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), Bioengineers and Biomedical Engineers as of March 2023, retrieved on April 5, 2023. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 and 2021 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may also impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the BLS. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers from across the country with varying levels of education and experience and does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as bioengineers and biomedical engineers. It does not reflect earnings of workers in one city or region of the country. It also does not reflect a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. You may also wish to compare median salaries if you are considering more than one career path. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, and accept employment from, determines salary not only based on education, but also individual characteristics and skills and fit to that organization (among other categories) against a pool of candidates.
Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on May 12th, 2023.
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.