Becoming a Biomedical Engineer: Job Description & Salary Info

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A biomedical engineer's median annual salary is around $87,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a biomedical engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineering is a rapidly expanding field that offers job prospects in a variety of settings, including labs, hospitals, universities and manufacturing facilities. Find out more about the pros and cons of a career in biomedical engineering to determine if it's the right path for you.

Pros of Becoming a Biomedical Engineer
Much faster than average job growth (27% between 2012-2022)*
Higher-than-average salary ($87,000 median annual salary)*
Various settings from which to choose (hospitals, universities, research facilities)*
Jobs available in various industries (manufacturing, educational, medical)*
Several specializations to choose from (biomaterials, biomechanics, bioinstrumentation)*

Cons of Becoming a Biomedical Engineer
Additional hours of work may sometimes be necessary*
A graduate degree is typically required for advancement*
Small field means the large employment increase translates into a relatively small number of absolute jobs (5,200 jobs expected to be added between 2012 and 2022)*
Potential hazardous exposure to noxious fumes, communicable diseases and radiation**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

A biomedical engineer is responsible for creating new procedures and devices that effectively address health-related issues. As a biomedical engineer, you'll combine your knowledge of the life sciences with engineering practices. Some of the devices designed by biomedical engineers include MRI equipment, drug delivery equipment and surgical equipment. Bioengineers also have a hand in the development of artificial organs and prosthetic limbs.

In designing products such as artificial organs or prosthetic devices, you'll be putting both your engineering and medical skills to use. Designing and building complicated electrical circuits, computer simulations and the software that powers medical equipment is the engineering aspect, while working with and understanding living biological systems is the medical aspect. Daily duties may include such tasks as installing or repairing biomedical equipment. Additionally, you may collaborate with medical scientists in conducting research on the engineering aspects of biological systems. Some days might find you training others on how to properly use equipment.

Career Prospects and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), biomedical engineers were expected to see rapid growth in employment of 27% between 2012 and 2022, which was much faster than the average for all occupations. However, it was also reported that the number of jobs held in the field in 2012 was 19,400; thus, a 27% increase translates into approximately 5,200 additional jobs, making biomedical engineering a relatively small field. However, with technology advancing quickly, new areas of research and work are expected to develop. The training necessary to become a biomedical engineer confers a diversity of skills that also puts them in high demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of May 2014, biomedical engineers earned a median annual wage of around $87,000. Those in the 90th percentile had an annual wage of about $139,000, while those in the lowest 10% earned around $53,000.

Biomedical Engineering Specializations

According to the BLS, there are a number of subspecialties within the field of biomedical engineering. This includes such areas as bioinstrumentation, biomaterials and biomechanics as well as medical imaging, rehabilitation engineering and orthopedic surgery. A bioengineer specializing in biomechanics works on understanding the underlying mechanisms of human or animal movement. In turn, this information may be used to design a process to minimize the risk of repetitive injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Education Requirements and Skills

The BLS states that a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering is usually necessary to obtain an entry-level position. In addition to engineering, undergraduate degree programs include classes in biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics. As current job postings illustrate, a master's, doctoral (Ph.D.) or even a doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree may be required for positions with substantial responsibilities and supervisory duties. You'll need a sound understanding of the life sciences as they relate to the healthcare field and proficiency in basic engineering principles. For university faculty and chair positions, a doctoral degree is typically required. The BLS mentioned that most biomedical engineering programs are accredited by ABET. According to the BLS, other necessary skills include:

  • An aptitude for mathematics
  • Analytical skills
  • Problem-solving capabilities
  • Excellent communication skills

Current Employer Job Postings

Although a bachelor's degree is typically sufficient for entry-level positions, advancement in the field will require experience and/or a graduate degree. Some positions will require a more advanced degree, such as an M.D. Read on to see a few examples of posted job openings from April 2012:

  • A government department is looking for biomedical engineers to help improve medical practices and healthcare delivery. The position is available nationwide and the post mentions work environments could include outpatient clinics and hospitals.
  • A facility in North Carolina that specializes in minimally invasive medical equipment seeks biomedical engineers for research and development. Significant engineering experience of 5-10 years, either industrial or academic, is required. A bachelor's degree as well as imaging technology experience is also necessary.
  • A university in South Carolina is looking to fill an endowed chair in tissue engineering. This position requires the candidate to possess a Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. in biomedical engineering or a related field. The job includes leading biomedical engineering research within the university and integrating tissue engineering and biofabrication activities statewide for the promotion of economic development.

How to Stand out in the Field

The BLS reported that biomedical engineers often serve in a coordinating capacity due to their engineering and medical backgrounds. Accordingly, you may find it beneficial to supplement your engineering and science background with communications, ethics and legal issues courses. Furthermore, the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) states that in some biomedical degree programs, as many as half the students apply to medical school. Consequently, while a bachelor's degree may be all you'll need to get started, an advanced degree will give you a competitive edge if you're looking to lead a research team or serve in a supervisory or academic capacity.

When engineers offer their services to the public, licensing is required. According to the BMES, this is not currently an important factor for biomedical engineers, but it was noted that this could potentially be an issue in the future. Graduating from an ABET-accredited biomedical engineering program will ensure that you meet the criteria required for licensing should you wish to pursue that avenue.

Possible Alternative Careers

Sales Engineer

Perhaps you'd like a high-paying career working with engineering technology, but aren't interested in biomedical engineering. With a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field, you can enter marketing or sales as a sales engineer. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that sales engineers earned a median annual wage of about $89,000, while those in the 90th percentile earned around $149,000. In sales, you'll combine your technical knowledge with strong communication skills to interest clients in your product. You'll give technical presentations to prospective buyers as well as help solve problems with installed equipment. The sales field can be stressful due to the fact that income security is directly related to your ability to successfully complete sales; however, the field was predicted to be adding another 9,500 jobs from 2010-2020.

Medical Scientist

If medical research is something you'd like to do, but you're not interested in the engineering aspect of biomedical research, you might consider a job as a medical scientist. While biomedical engineers are involved in the hands-on development of medical processes and devices, medical scientists focus on investigative research methods relating to the prevention and treatment of disease. They conduct clinical drug trials and analyze patient data. Medical scientists spend most of their time in laboratories or offices. The education demands are rigorous, typically requiring a Ph.D. in Biology or one of the life sciences. The BLS predicted that job growth in this field would be much faster than the average for all occupations at around 36% from 2010-2020, with about 36,400 jobs being added to the existing 100,000. As of May 2011, medical scientists, with the exception of epidemiologists, earned a median annual wage of approximately $76,000.

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