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What Does a Career in Biomedical Engineering Entail?
Biomedical engineering and tissue engineering are newer areas that bring together medical research and product development. What they do is look for new ways to treat diseases, injuries, and other ailments, though engineers might work in a range of fields. In some cases, people with a background in applied biomedical engineering might work with robotics, developing new equipment, or they might work on developing prosthetic limbs or other medical aid devices.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for those with a biomedical engineering specialization is expected to rise by 7% over the next decade. With an aging population, the growing demand for healthcare extends beyond doctors and nurses; there’s also the increasing demand for medical equipment and devices, coupled with advancing smart technology. The path toward becoming a biomedical engineer is paved with many challenges. As you earn an undergraduate degree and enter a master's in biomedical engineering, you’ll learn to apply engineering, biology, math, and biomechanical principles to biological systems and biomedical instrumentation products. Below, we’ll look at what it takes to become a biomedical engineer from skill sets to required degrees.
Components of A Successful Career In Biomedical Engineering
Those considering a career in biomedical engineering should, ideally, start by taking as many math and science classes as possible during high school. This field of study involves a strong command of a combination of STEM subjects. Biomedical engineering falls at the intersection of medicine, technology, and chemistry—and prospective students should be prepared for a demanding academic and professional career ahead.
Students enrolled in advanced placement courses in chemistry, physics, biology, and calculus will be best prepared for the coursework required to complete an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering. They'll also be better prepared for an in-person or online master's in biomedical engineering program.
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How to Become a Biomedical Engineer
When biomedical engineering applicants start researching undergraduate or master's in biomedical engineering programs, both in-person an online students will want to find programs that have ABET accreditation, as well as one that matches up with their career goals. While you don’t necessarily need to have a degree within this specific specialization to begin your career, such as working in biomedical imaging, experience in the biomedical engineering concentration will make things easier when you start looking for work.
After earning your bachelor’s degree, you may want to consider taking on an internship within the field. In some cases, an internship is part of your degree requirement, though either way, interning can help you gain experience and pave the way to a great-paying job. While associate degrees in biomedical engineering are available, prospective students should be aware that this degree will only allow you to work as a technician, not an engineer. Still, an associate degree is an affordable way to take care of your general education requirements before transferring to a four-year school with biomedical engineering programs.
A bachelor’s degree will allow you to work as an entry-level engineer in a range of industries. Medical device companies, hospitals, clinics, and supply manufacturers all employ engineers, and, in general, you can expect to earn a relatively high starting salary. To advance in your career, you can obtain professional certifications or choose to pursue an advanced degree.
Typical Biomedical Engineering Degree Requirements
Biomedical engineering is an interdisciplinary field that combines science, technology, biology, medicine, and more. That’s a lot of ground to cover within four years. Most colleges require around 130 credit hours to earn an online bachelor’s degree—and generally, about 50 of those are courses specific to your major. Most undergrad programs start by offering a broad foundation in math, physics, biology, and other general education courses.
Typical Biomedical Engineering Certifications Needed
In general, a degree should get you in the door for many entry-level positions. But, pursuing certifications in your field can help you get ahead, and ultimately unlock additional opportunities with higher pay or more prestige.
New biomedical engineers should first look into a Fundamentals of Engineering License. This credential allows you to offer your engineering services to the community. The FE exam is a stepping stone to becoming a licensed engineer. To sit for the exam, you must be a recent graduate of an ABET-accredited program. On average, FE holders earn more than engineers without the credential.
After working as an engineer for four years, you’ll be eligible to sit for another exam, the Principles and Practice of Engineering License. PE exams are offered in a range of engineering specialties. It’s worth pointing out that PE specializations do not include biomedical engineering, but if you have experience in another discipline—materials, software, or chemical engineering, this may be an additional way to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
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Academic Standards for an online Biomedical Engineering Degree
Students interested in pursuing biomedical engineering should, ideally, complete higher-level science and math classes including physics, biology, algebra, and calculus. A background in drafting and computer programming is also nice to have, but students can take these courses when they get to the university level.
Those students who don’t have a strong background in STEM courses may want to catch up while earning an online associate degree. The other option is taking math classes as a prerequisite. Accredited programs typically revolve around training in engineering design. Students will also study computer science, biology, and more throughout a range of lab and lecture-based classes. There may also be a required internship before they graduate, allowing them to gain experience working in the field.
Exam/Experience Needed for an Online Biomedical Engineering Degree
To enroll in a biomedical engineering program, you’ll need to submit a transcript, along with SAT or ACT scores. Many colleges or universities may require students to have a strong background in STEM subjects, often with a minimum test score or GPA for admission. Some students may need to complete some remedial coursework in physics, chemistry, or mathematics to move forward in the degree program. If you’re applying to an associate program, you’ll need to demonstrate proof that you’ve earned a high school diploma or your GED.
To earn an online master’s degree, requirements may be more stringent for applicants. You’ll need to submit letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a personal essay. Different schools have different requirements—some want to see that you’ve gotten some work experience under your belt, while others look more at academic achievements. In any case, you’ll need to have a relatively high GPA to earn an advanced degree, so keep that in mind as you work toward your BS.
Online Associate’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering
Biomedical engineering degrees bring together mathematics, biology, and medicine. At the associate level, biomedical engineering programs are geared primarily toward teaching aspiring technicians how to report and maintain medical equipment. Often these programs are designed to prepare students for a career and include an internship or hands-on training.
We should mention, that an associate in biomedical engineering will not prepare you for a role as an engineer, but you will be able to sit for a few certification exams such as the Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician credential program, along with the Certified Radiology Equipment Specialist and Certified Laboratory Equipment Specialist programs. All of these credentials are offered through the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.
Example courses include:
- Biomedical equipment technician training
- Modern digital and computerized equipment
- Computer applications for technical support
- Overview of biomedical equipment in health care
- Design and maintenance of biomedical equipment
- Fundamentals of electronic devices
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering
Those students who wish to work as an engineer should enroll in an online bachelor’s program, where they’ll have the option to pursue a B.S. in biomedical engineering. Or, they can enroll in a general engineering program and take electives that emphasize biomedical applications.
Example Courses Include:
- Intro to Engineering
- Cell Transplantation
- Engineering physiology
- Medical electronics
- Rehabilitation engineering
- Material Science
- Intro to Biomedical Signals and Electrical Circuits
- Systems Physiology
- Mechanics of Biological Tissues
Online Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering
An online bachelor’s degree is the minimum education requirement for most jobs within the field. However, a large portion of students with a biomedical engineering background pursue an advanced degree.
Online Master’s programs are designed for students with a desire to learn more about biomedical principles and applications.
These programs aim to look closely at specific areas within the field. While undergraduate students can take elective courses in different areas from robotics to biomedical materials, those seeking a career in one particular should consider looking into earning an online master’s degree that allows them to drill down into an area like biomechanical engineering or developing medical devices for a specific purpose.
Example Courses Include:
- Physiological control systems
- Biomedical measurement
- Biomedical imaging
- Biomaterials compatibility
- Medical device design
- Advanced Systems Physiology
- Bio Inspired Surfaces
- Research for Credit
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Fields of Study
Bioinstrumentation: This field involves the development and design of tools and equipment used to diagnose or treat diseases. This specialization focuses primarily on developing electronics or devices with a computing element.
Biomaterials: Biomaterials engineers design materials used within the human body. Their job is to create safe products free from toxins or carcinogens.
Clinical engineering: Clinical engineers work to find uses for medical products in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. They work with doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel to implement new solutions.
Biomechanics: Biomechanical engineers focus on creating products designed to aid with the body’s ability to move. Things like prosthetics and joint replacements fall under the biomechanics umbrella.
Medical imaging: Medical imaging engineers develop technology used to see inside the human body. This specialization requires an in-depth knowledge of the body’s system and a strong command of software programming.
Potential Careers & Salaries for Biomedical Engineering Grads
Pay for biomedical engineers depends on a few factors. One, of course, is education level. Two is experience. Those with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn about $62k, on average if they’ve been in the workforce for five or fewer years. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many opportunities available for biomedical degree holders at the associate level. Most employers require a minimum education level of a bachelor’s degree and often give preference to master’s degree holders.
Biomedical Engineering Salaries by Occupation
Annual Median Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry-Level Salary Range||Mid-Career Salary Range||Late-Career Salary Range|
|Technical Sales Engineer||$63,600||$76,300||$95,800|
Potential Biomechanical Engineer Careers for Graduates
Biomechanical engineers can work in a variety of settings—from medical facilities to sports medicine clinics and rehabilitation centers. Engineers might work with athletes to develop better safety equipment or devices aimed at reducing injuries. Others might focus on soft tissue mechanics or speech and hearing.
This field is a specialty within the biomedical space and working professionals must have a strong command of robotics technologies, as well as experience working with organic materials like cells and tissues.
Clinical engineers work in a hospital or clinic setting and work with medical staff to implement new technologies. Clinical engineers might work with the technology used to manage records and databases, or they may work in medical product development. In this role, engineers play a vital role within a broader medical context and must have the ability to advise medical professionals and assist in device implementation.
Bioengineering research involves observation, lab work, and analysis of how living materials react to medical processes and equipment. Biomedical engineers build medical devices and technology, and in a research setting, you can expect to collaborate with physicians, scientists, and medical personnel.
Some biomedical engineers opt to work on the software side of the profession. Most medical devices require software to function and engineers must develop algorithms that help clinicians with the diagnostic process. Software engineers might work to create imaging systems for CT scans and MRIs. They'll also perform similar duties as a software engineer in any other discipline. Writing code, debugging, and testing are all significant parts of the role.
Technical Sales Engineer:
A technical sales engineer is a position that combines sales savvy with in-depth technical knowledge. In this role, you’ll work with internal teams to understand technical requirements and you’ll relay that information to clients. Often, this role is more involved than your average sales position and may be a good fit for engineers who wish to travel and connect with others.
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Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)
How long does it take to earn a Biomedical Engineering bachelor’s degree online?
A standard online bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete. You should know that, while you may be able to complete some courses online, you will need to complete several courses in person. Lab sections are a big part of the process, as are internships and practical experience.
For those working full-time or juggling family responsibilities, a biomedical engineering degree may take a bit more time. Because programs require in-person courses and lab work, you may need to rearrange your schedule to make this work for you.
How much does an online Biomedical Engineering bachelor’s degree cost?
An online degree in biomedical engineering ranges considerably depending on where you decide to go to school. Private colleges, for example, tend to cost more than public universities. Students attending a school in their home state pay less than those attending school out-of-state. And, location also comes into play. On average, aspiring biomedical engineering students can expect to pay between $25k and $100k earning their degree.
Does the school have the major you’re considering?
Before you start applying to schools, do some research on the programs they offer. Some schools provide general engineering programs, which will allow you to pursue a career in biomedical engineering, but you may need to complete an additional certification to get up to speed.
An online engineering degree is a good option for students unsure of what they want to do after graduating. However, those set on the biomedical specification may be better off in a program focused on developing the skills needed to succeed in the medical space.
Finally, a school with a biomedical engineering major—rather than traditional engineering only—will provide more resources like state-of-the-art lab facilities or the opportunity to learn from experts in the field.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
Graduation rates are considered a good indicator of whether a school provides a quality education or not. A school with a low graduation rate could be a sign that students don’t have access to the resources needed to help them succeed. Or, perhaps required coursework isn’t offered regularly and students can’t complete their online degree on time.
Whether students graduate within four years isn’t the only thing you want to consider. A school that graduates every student on time may have an easy curriculum—thus not providing the best education.
In any case, graduation rates, along with faculty experience, campus resources, and the program itself, all come together to paint a full picture of what your education might look like.
What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
Biomedical degree programs receive accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This organization ensures that programs include classes in calculus, engineering, chemistry, and physiology and that students spend adequate time learning in a hands-on environment.
Software, Technology, Skills Needed
- Strong Science Skills:
Physics, biology, chemistry—all come into play on a regular basis for a biomedical engineer. Students can expect a rigorous curriculum centered around these subjects and must have an aptitude for all three.
Like other types of engineering, biomedical engineers must also be skilled mathematicians. Biomedical engineers will combine advanced math and statistics with calculus to analyze, design, and solve problems.
There’s a lot to keep track of in this field and, in biomedicine missing a detail can spell trouble for the people who depend on medical equipment, devices, and biological materials. Biomedical engineers must have keen attention to detail while using math to solve problems, as well as when conducting quality control analyses. Additionally, you must be able to monitor multiple pieces of equipment and identify operational errors.
- Excellent Problem-Solving Skills:
Of course, the core of engineering is an ability to solve problems and take a failed project and spin it into something new and functional. Engineers should be naturally curious. Instead of getting frustrated easily, a biomedical engineer should relish a good challenge and the opportunity to think on their feet. Problems can get complex, and those working in the role must be able to identify issues and evaluate potential solutions.
Biomedical Engineering Scholarships
BMES Diversity Award in Biomedical Engineering
Amount: $1,000 (trip to organization’s annual meeting paid up to $1,000)
Deadline: May 15
The BMES Diversity Award is given to an individual or organization for their outstanding contributions to improving diversity in the field of biomedical engineering. The award is $1000, plus complimentary registration to the organization’s annual meeting with expenses covered.
R&D; Systems Scholarship Program
This scholarship was set up to support science education. Students must be enrolled in a science-related program at an accredited institution in the US, UK, or Canada. Winners must submit a 500-word statement, plus a 200-word summary of interests and extracurricular activities and will receive a $1,500 award.
Novus Biologicals Scholarship
The Novus Biologicals Scholarship is awarded to students pursuing a degree in a science related field. Students may be enrolled in an accredited program (associate, bachelor’s, or master’s level) but they must have a major declared. To apply students will need to write a 500-word personal statement of interest and submit an official transcript.
Society of Women Engineers
Amount: $1,000-$15,000 (some are renewable)
Deadline: May 1 (Freshman); February 15 (Sophomores-graduate students)
The Society of Women Engineers offers scholarships ranging from $1000 to $15,000 each to female students enrolled in an ABET-accredited engineering program. Annually, the organization awards scholarships to students pursuing the engineering field from the associate level all the way through Ph.D. candidates.
Professional Biomedical Engineering Organizations
The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering
AIMBE is a non-profit organization that provides resources to students and professionals in the medical and biomedical space. Members include a wide range of professionals from academia, government, and industry that have made significant contributions to the medical and biological engineering field, and though the organization emphasizes leaders and innovators, students and entry-level engineers can join as well.
Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation
The AAMI is a non-profit organization that aims to provide personal development opportunities in the clinical engineering field. AAMI keeps their members informed about the latest guidance and technologies in the industry through forums, events, and professional training. Members can take advantage of courses and networking opportunities that expand their understanding of medical device technology.
American College of Clinical Engineering
The ACCE states its mission is to support a standard of competence in the clinical engineering industry. What that means is, the organization offers a blend of educational content, newsletters, and events to clinical engineers of all levels. The organization represents the interests of clinical engineers and provides access to a network of experts, presents access to workshops and a discounted subscription to the Journal of Clinical Engineering.
Biomedical Engineering Society
The BMES is a professional association that provides many resources to students, professionals, and academics operating in the field of biomedical engineering. The organization’s website is quite informative, featuring a robust FAQ section, membership breakdowns, and ongoing educational opportunities. The BMES puts on a few meetings each year, promotes job opportunities at all levels, and provides access to industry publications.
Institute of Biological Engineering
The mission of the IBE is to encourage inquiry and interest within the biology and engineering space. Members will gain access to learning opportunities, recruitment services, and educational materials. Compared to other professional organizations, the IBE is relatively affordable; yearly membership costs just $110, with discounts if you pay for a few years up front. The organization also has several university chapters, presenting an opportunity for students to start networking while still attending classes.
Choosing an Accredited College
In general, your best bet is to find an ABET-accredited program with a curriculum that combines engineering skills with the biomedical sciences. Some students choose to focus on a specialization like biomechanics or bioelectricity, while others opt for a biomedical engineering degree, or even a standard engineering degree.
Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid
Some classes you’ll be able to complete online, but biomedical engineering can be a tricky subject for distance learners, mostly because there’s a significant amount of lab time required. Engineering students will spend time looking at data sets and creating hands-on projects, often in a group setting. Those who are working professionals with limited time for in-person coursework may be able to strike a compromise with a hybrid program. However, keep in mind that after your general education classes are out of the way, there will be several in-person obligations you’ll need to meet.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I do with a master’s in biomedical engineering?
At this level, you will be prepared to get into the real work of biomedical engineering. No more technician or assistant work. You can start working with prosthetics, artificial organs and joints (an area seeing a lot of growth), and improved medical imaging tech and drug delivery systems. You may find yourself in charge of research or in practical application of these important medical advancements.
Is there a demand for biomedical engineers?
The job outlook for biomedical engineers calls for 6% growth between 2020 and 2030. While that’s not a supercharged growth rate, it’s about as fast as for all other occupations. It represents a possible growth of the position by around 1,100. While this may not seem like many, there are fewer students going into engineering than most other career paths, and a huge variety of engineering types they may choose. You’re not as likely to see as much competition in this career as you might in many others.
What salary can you expect with a master’s in biomedical engineering?
The average biomedical engineer earns around $68,000/year. However, earning a master’s degree can provide you with skills and experience that can increase your earning power. For example, those who have more experience in the field generally earn more. Ten years of experience can increase your pay up to around $96,00/year. And many employers tend to treat an advanced education similarly to experience on the job. Also, if you choose to earn certain skills in your master’s degree, this can also increase your pay. Regulatory compliance, product development, and data analysis skills could increase your pay by as much as 10%. Machine learning or software development could provide an earnings increase of 13%. And quality assurance or control can increase some workers pay by as much as 32%.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
Colleges that offer job placement assistance may provide more bang for their buck than you’d get if the university sends you into the real world unprepared. Take some time researching schools, specifically asking about how they can help you find work in your area of interest.
Additionally, biomedical engineering students can expect some internship or capstone requirement that sends them into a real-world setting. Looking at this aspect of the curriculum, too, can reveal whether or not a program will prepare you for the work you’d like to do after you complete your studies.
We should also mention that biomedical engineering is a field that depends heavily on networking with other scientists and engineers. With that in mind, prospective students should seek out programs that have distinguished faculty and opportunities to work with professors and fellow students in a hands-on setting.
Why Consider the Rankings of the College
In most cases, you can expect to find work if you’ve completed your studies in an ABET-accredited program and have developed the competencies needed to work in the field. National rankings can give you a boost if you’ve attended a top school, but state schools and smaller colleges can also offer an excellent education.
As far as reputation is concerned, your best bet is to look more at the program than the university. You’ll want to find a school that offers the best possible education for your budget and has a strong biomedical engineering program. Look at the faculty and their accomplishments, see if you can tour the laboratories, and look closely at the curriculum. In all, your degree should provide a well-rounded education; a bachelor’s degree is a stepping stone to your next phase in education or that first job. As such, don’t take this lightly.