Biomedical Engineers

Summary

biomedical engineers image
Biomedical engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine.
Quick Facts: Biomedical Engineers
2012 Median Pay $86,960 per year
$41.81 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 19,400
Job Outlook, 2012-22 27% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 5,200

What Biomedical Engineers Do

Biomedical engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

Work Environment

Biomedical engineers work in manufacturing, universities, hospitals, research facilities of companies and educational and medical institutions, and government regulatory agencies. They usually work full time.

How to Become a Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from an accredited program to enter the occupation. Alternatively, they can get a bachelor’s degree in a different field of engineering and then either get a graduate degree in biomedical engineering or get on-the-job training in biomedical engineering.

Pay

The median annual wage for biomedical engineers was $86,960 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of biomedical engineers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand will be strong because an aging population is likely to need more medical care and because of increased public awareness of biomedical engineering advances and their benefits.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of biomedical engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about biomedical engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Biomedical Engineers Do

Biomedical engineers
Biomedical engineers study possible applications of new materials for use as new body parts.

Biomedical engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

Duties

Biomedical engineers typically do the following:

  • Design systems and products, such as artificial internal organs, artificial devices that replace body parts, and machines for diagnosing medical problems
  • Install, adjust, maintain, repair, or provide technical support for biomedical equipment
  • Evaluate the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of biomedical equipment
  • Train clinicians and other personnel on the proper use of equipment
  • Work with life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists to research the engineering aspects of biological systems of humans and animals

Biomedical engineers may design instruments, devices, and software; bring together knowledge from many technical sources to develop new procedures; or conduct research needed to solve clinical problems.

They often serve a coordinating function, using their background in both engineering and medicine. For example, in industry, they may create products for which an in-depth understanding of living systems and technology is essential. Also, they frequently work in research and development or in quality assurance.

Biomedical engineers design electrical circuits, software to run medical equipment, or computer simulations to test new drug therapies. They also design and build artificial body parts such as hip and knee joints. In some cases, they develop the materials needed to make the replacement body parts. They also design rehabilitative exercise equipment.

The work of these engineers spans many professional fields. For example, although their expertise is based in engineering and biology, they often design computer software to run complicated instruments, such as three-dimensional x-ray machines. Alternatively, many of these engineers use their knowledge of chemistry and biology to develop new drug therapies. Others draw heavily on mathematics and statistics to build models to understand the signals transmitted by the brain or heart.

Some specialty areas within biomedical engineering include bioinstrumentation; biomaterials; biomechanics; cellular, tissue, and genetic engineering; clinical engineering; medical imaging; orthopedic surgery; rehabilitation engineering; and systems physiology. 

Some people with training in biomedical engineering become professors. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment

Biomedical engineers
Biomedical engineers work in laboratory and clinical settings.

Biomedical engineers held about 19,400 jobs in 2012. Biomedical engineers work in a variety of settings, depending on what they do. Some work in hospitals where therapy occurs and others work in laboratories doing research. Still others work in manufacturing settings where they design biomedical engineering products. In addition, some biomedical engineers also work in commercial offices where they make or support business decisions.

The industries that employed the most biomedical engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing25%
Scientific research and development services18
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing15
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private9
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private7

Biomedical engineers work in teams with scientists, healthcare workers, or other engineers. Thus, where and how they work is often determined by others’ specific needs. For example, a biomedical engineer who has developed a new device designed to help a person with a disability to walk again might have to spend hours in a hospital to determine whether the device works as planned. If the engineer finds a way to improve the device, the engineer might have to return to the manufacturer to help alter the manufacturing process to improve the design.

Work Schedules

Biomedical engineers usually work full time on a normal schedule. However, as with employees in almost any engineering occupation, biomedical engineers may occasionally have to work additional hours to meet the needs of patients, managers, colleagues, and clients.

How to Become a Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineers
Biomedical engineers frequently work in research and development or in quality assurance.

Biomedical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from an accredited program to enter the occupation. Alternatively, they can get a bachelor’s degree in a different field of engineering and then either get a graduate degree in biomedical engineering or get on-the-job training in biomedical engineering.

Education

Prospective biomedical engineering students should take high school science courses, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They should also take math courses, including calculus. Courses in drafting or mechanical drawing and computer programming are also useful.

Bachelor’s degree programs in biomedical engineering focus on engineering and biological sciences. Programs include laboratory-based courses in addition to classroom-based courses in subjects such as fluid and solid mechanics, computer programming, circuit design, and biomaterials. Other required courses may include biological sciences, such as physiology.

Accredited programs also include substantial training in engineering design. Many programs include co-ops or internships, often with hospitals, to provide students with practical applications as part of their study. Biomedical engineering programs are accredited by ABET.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Biomedical engineers must be able to analyze the needs of patients and customers to design appropriate solutions.

Communication skills. Because biomedical engineers sometimes work with patients and frequently work with medical scientists or other engineers, they must be able to express themselves clearly.

Listening skills. Biomedical engineers often work in teams and gather input from patients, therapists, physicians, and business professionals. They must seek others’ ideas and incorporate them into the problem-solving process.

Math skills. Biomedical engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Biomedical engineers typically deal with and solve problems in complex biological systems.

Advancement

To lead a research team, a biomedical engineer typically needs a graduate degree. Some biomedical engineers attend dental or medical school to specialize in applications at the forefront of patient care, such as using electric impulses in new ways to get muscles moving again. Some earn law degrees and work as patent attorneys.

Pay

Biomedical Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Biomedical engineers

$86,960

Engineers

$86,200

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for biomedical engineers was $86,960 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,600, and the top 10 percent earned more than $139,450.

In May 2012, the median annual wages in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

Scientific research and development services$94,150
Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing88,850
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing87,340
General medical and surgical hospitals;
state, local, and private
69,910
Colleges, universities, and professional schools;
state, local, and private
63,440

Biomedical engineers usually work full time on a normal schedule. However, as with employees in almost any engineering occupation, biomedical engineers may occasionally have to work additional hours to meet the needs of patients, managers, colleagues, and clients.

Job Outlook

Biomedical Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Biomedical engineers

27%

Total, all occupations

11%

Engineers

9%

 

Employment of biomedical engineers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 5,200 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Biomedical engineers will likely see more demand for their services because of the breadth of activities they engage in, made possible by the diverse nature of their training.

As the aging baby-boom generation lives longer and stays active, they are expected to increase the demand for biomedical devices and procedures, such as hip and knee replacements. In addition, as the public has become aware of medical advances, increasing numbers of people are seeking biomedical solutions to health problems for themselves from their physicians.

Biomedical engineers work with medical scientists, other medical researchers, and manufacturers to address a wide range of injuries and physical disabilities. Their ability to work in different activities with other professionals is enlarging the range of applications for biomedical engineering products and services, particularly in healthcare.

Job Prospects

Rapid advances in technology will continue to change what biomedical engineers do and continue to create new areas for them to work in. Thus, the expanding range of activities in which biomedical engineers are engaged should translate into very favorable job prospects. In addition, the aging and retirement of a substantial percentage of biomedical engineers are likely to help create job openings between 2012 and 2022.

Employment projections data for Biomedical Engineers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Biomedical engineers

17-2031 19,400 24,600 27 5,200 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of biomedical engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Architectural and engineering managers

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, coordinate, and direct activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor’s degree $124,870
Biochemists and biophysicists

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, and heredity.

Doctoral or professional degree $81,480
Chemical engineers

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale safe and sustainable manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production.

Bachelor’s degree $94,350
Electrical and electronics engineers

Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, and power generation equipment. Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems—from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPS).

Bachelor’s degree $89,630
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor’s degree $80,580
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.
Sales engineers

Sales Engineers

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Bachelor’s degree $91,830
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Biomedical Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/biomedical-engineers.htm (visited September 16, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014