Biomedical Engineering: What is it and what are the career opportunities?

Forbes calls Biomedical Engineering “The High-Paying, Low-Stress STEM Job You Probably Haven’t Considered”. So what is a Biomedical Engineer, and what are the career opportunities? Read on to find out more.

What is Biomedical Engineering?

How do you become a Biomedical Engineer?

Studying Biomedical Engineering

How much can you earn as a Biomedical Engineer?

What is Biomedical Engineering?

Biomedical Engineering, also referred to as Bioengineering, BioMed or BME, is a multidisciplinary STEM field that combines biology and engineering, applying engineering principles and materials to medicine and healthcare.

The increasing demand for Biomedical Engineers is linked to society’s general shift towards everyday utilisation of machinery and technology in all aspects of life. The combination of engineering principles with biological knowledge to address medical needs has contributed to the development of revolutionary and life-saving concepts such as:

  • Artificial organs

  • Surgical robots

  • Advanced prosthetics

  • New pharmaceutical drugs

  • Kidney dialysis

Biomedical Engineering is a broad field with different areas of focus, and the exact nature of the work you can find yourself doing will vary depending on the specifics of your role. A few examples of some of the subdivisions of Biomedical Engineering include:

  • Biomedical Electronics

  • Biomaterials

  • Computational Biology

  • Cellular, Tissue and Genetic Engineering

  • Medical Imaging

  • Orthopaedic Bioengineering

  • Bionanotechnology

How do you become a Biomedical Engineer?

In order to become a Biomedical Engineer, you will need to study an undergraduate degree in a relevant field, such as:

  • Biomedical Science or Engineering

  • Electrical or Electronic Engineering

  • Mechanical Engineering

  • Physics

You could then go on to study a Masters or PhD in Biomedical Engineering, although Jennifer Amos, Bioengineering Lecturer and Chief Academic Advisor at the University of Illinois says “many at her university go straight into the industry through medical or prosthetic design” (as reported on the website of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers).

Studying Biomedical Engineering

To become a Biomedical Engineer you don’t necessarily have to study or major in Biomedical Engineering specifically; you can study a related field such as those listed above, but you should be sure to pursue your interest in Biomedical Engineering where possible, for example selecting relevant modules when given the option.  

If you do opt for a Biomedical Engineering degree, Bachelor’s Portal warns you to “prepare for the whole lot of natural sciences and something extra”. They provide the following list of core subjects:

  • Maths

  • Chemistry

  • Physics

  • Computer Programming

  • Molecular Biology

  • Genetics

If you think Biomedical Engineering is something you may wish to pursue at undergraduate/career level, STEM subjects are the ones you’ll want to focus on. Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology are key - in the UK, for example, universities will be looking for strong A Levels in these subjects, with Maths and Physics typically considered most desirable.

You should also consider opportunities to gain relevant work experience, both prior to starting your degree and during. Your university may offer routes into internships to help you gain industry experience, so be sure to ask / research as necessary. In the US, for example, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering runs a Biomedical Engineering Summer Internship Program (BESIP).

How much can you earn as a Biomedical Engineer?

In the UK, Biomedical Engineers will often find work for the National Health Service and as such will be paid according to the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. Prospects.ac.uk provides the following estimates for Biomedical Engineers in the UK:

  • Medical Engineering Technicians - £21,909 to £28,462 (Band 5)

  • Specialists - £26,302 to £35,225 (Band 6)

  • Significant Experience / Team Managers - £31,383 to £41,373 (Band 7)

  • Head of Department / Consultants - even higher

They estimate salaries in the private sector as comparable to those in the NHS, ranging from £21,000 to £45,000 dependent on experience and level of responsibility.

Bachelor’s Portal give a few career options for Biomedical Engineers with average salaries according to statistics in the US as:

  • Biomedical Engineer - starts at $44,000

  • Rehabilitation Engineer - starts at $37,000

  • Clinical Engineer - starts at $42,000

  • Bioengineering Research - starts at $32,000

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