Clinical Engineering Degrees: Bachelor's, Master's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a clinical engineering degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's and master's degree and potential careers.
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Study Clinical Engineering: Degrees at a Glance

Clinical engineering functions as a branch of biomedical engineering. Students enrolled in a clinical engineering degree program study anatomy, physiology, biology and chemistry while also mastering engineering and management principles.

Once you've completed your degree you'll be eligible to pursue clinical engineering positions in laboratories, hospitals, manufacturing facilities or engineering firms. Employment prospects for clinical engineers should remain strong over the coming decade as demand for biomedical products and procedures increases with the aging of the baby-boom generation.

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Degree candidates interested in becoming biomedical engineers Individuals interested in leadership positions within the clinical engineering field
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Biomedical engineer ($88,000)*
- Sales engineer (Salary unavailable)
- Medical scientist ($87,000)*
Time to Completion 4 years full-time 2 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Bachelor's thesis or capstone project - Graduate thesis
- Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED Bachelor's degree in appropriate field
Online Availability Hybrid programs available Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Bachelor's Degree in Clinical Engineering

In this type of program you'll learn to design, oversee and implement biomedical devices and procedures. You will study electrical engineering concepts as well as medical topics, such as anatomy, physiology and biology. You'll take both lab and lecture courses. You'll learn how to design and use therapeutic and diagnostic tools and procedures. Some programs feature an original design project as a degree requirement. Other programs may require an internship, in which you'll work in a healthcare engineering environment for course credit.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Career opportunities for clinical engineers are expected to increase by 62% between 2010 and 2020*
  • Upon graduating you'll be poised to pursue a graduate degree in clinical engineering or a related field
  • You can begin your career search after just 4 years of full-time study

Cons

  • Clinical engineers can face irregular working hours
  • This degree program will not prepare you for medical school
  • You may have to compete for jobs with candidates who have graduate degrees

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Your coursework will be comprised of lecture-based classes and engineering labs. The classes will stress both didactic instruction and hands-on learning. You'll have electives and general education courses to take in addition to your clinical engineering courses. Most programs will feature a bachelor's thesis or a capstone project as a degree requirement. Listed below are some sample course topics

  • Engineering mechanics
  • Analog circuits
  • Probability and statistics
  • Applied mathematics

Online Degree Options

If you're interested in an online degree program in clinical or biomedical engineering, you'll have the most luck looking for hybrid programs. A hybrid program is one in which classes are offered in both distance-learning and classroom-based formats. Finding this type of degree program in an all online formats is difficult. This is partly due to the role of lab courses in the curriculum and the difficulty in conducting lab courses in a distance-learning format.

Stand Out with Your Degree

One possible way to separate yourself from your fellow clinical engineering students is through membership in a professional organization. One example of this type of organization would be the American College of Clinical Engineering (ACCE). ACCE is open to students and professional engineers. The group offers training and consultation services. It also allows for networking amongst clinical engineering professionals. Voluntary membership in this type of professional organization could signal to potential employers that you have the skills they are looking for in an employee.

Master's Degree in Clinical Engineering

In this type of graduate degree program, you'll learn how to design and use a range of medical devices and technology. These can include pain management and medicine delivery systems, monitoring and evaluating equipment, imaging systems and more. Most programs will require a graduate thesis as a degree requirement. Programs may also feature an internship requirement, where you'll work in a design capacity in an actual healthcare environment. These programs are generally offered in the Master of Science degree format and usually take 2 years of full-time study to complete.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A graduate degree can open up more vocational choices than a 4-year degree
  • Potential employers are often looking for job candidates who have advanced degrees
  • Upon graduating, you'll be in position to pursue doctoral study in clinical engineering

Cons

  • Graduate school can be expensive and non-loan funding difficult to secure
  • Including your bachelor's degree, you'll be in school for 6 years or longer
  • A master's degree is not strictly necessary for pursuing a career as a clinical engineer

Courses and Requirements

The coursework for this type of degree program is interdisciplinary, with courses offered across a breadth and scope of subjects. Courses will be offered in electrical engineering topics and also traditional healthcare concepts, such as physiology, biotechnology and biomedicine. Your program may feature a graduate thesis or internship as a degree requirement.These are some course examples:

  • Biotechnology membranes
  • Cells and tissues
  • Differential equations
  • Exploring biomaterials

Online Degree Options

Master's degree programs in clinical engineering are available in an entirely online format. Provided that the institution offering the degree program is accredited by a recognized educational outlet, there should be no discernible difference between a distance-learning and a campus-based program. This type of online degree program utilizes electronic blackboards, streaming video, discussion boards and e-mail to convey the relevant educational information.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

When considering how to stand out from the pack with your clinical engineering degree, you may want to consider pursuing voluntary industry certification. Organizations, such as The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), offer certification programs for clinical engineers and related fields. The certification process consists of a proficiency exam. Benefits of this certification process include networking opportunities along with maintaining awareness of the changes in the industry.

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