Is Biomedical Engineering Right For Me?

Is Biomedical Engineering Right For Me?

When you enter any engineering discipline, you must have a strong interest in science and mathematics in a way that allows you to solve problems of a highly technical nature. For biomedical engineering, you must be willing to add the life sciences and medical knowledge necessary to understand the frame work of the problems on which you will work.

This is not part of the traditional engineering education and requires not only an above average ability in math and science but also a willingness to embrace these other areas due to the interdisciplinary nature of biomedical engineering. The modern life sciences have become more analytical and computer based in their approach to fundamental knowledge, and the biomedical industry in now considered one of the leading edge industries whose benefits we are just beginning to reap.

The output of these industries directly benefits the health and well being of people. Therefore the biomedical engineer is often attracted to this humanistic component as well as the advanced technology. Examples are bountiful and include devices such as implantable cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators, joint replacement implants, biomedical imaging, novel drug delivery systems, and tissue engineered skin used for grafting. If these topics and applications interest you and you enjoy the challenge of working on such people oriented problems, then Biomedical Engineering is for you.

Biomedical engineers work with a broad range of professionals ranging from other engineering specialties, to basic laboratory scientists, to physicians and nurses. Strong communications skills are essential as the biomedical engineer often becomes the general interpreter for such widely educated individuals; the biomedical engineer who knows the language of both engineering and medicine.

High school preparation for biomedical engineering would include four years of math (through pre-calculus), one year each of physics, chemistry and biology. Most universities also expect the prospective Biomedical Engineer to have 4 years of English and a mix of social studies and language courses which comprise a strong pre-college curriculum.

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What kind of jobs can I get after college?

Biomedical engineers have a wide range of job opportunities that can include a hospital based practice as a clinical engineer, an industrially based engineer designing medical devices, a technical sales engineer, or a staff engineer in a medical research laboratory. Biomedical Engineers find themselves in a wide variety of specialties which may organize around various diseases, such as cancer, or organ systems such as the cardiovascular system, or technology, such as biomaterials or imaging. A biomedical engineer may have jobs which involve the following skills and applications:

  • Develop software to detect abnormal heart rhythms for use in a cardiac pacemaker.
  • Design the next generation of hip implants using modern materials and mechanical design considerations.
  • Investigate and perfect a novel drug delivery method to treat a chronic disease which requires constant blood levels of the particular medicine.
  • Bring a product to market through the Food and Drug Administration's very involved pre-market approval process which requires extensive clinical testing.
  • Manage a large hospital based group of biomedical equipment technicians and provide the hospital with engineering expertise in the evaluation of new and expensive technologies.
  • Design and build a unique research device as part of a multidisciplinary research team to enable scientific discovery.
  • Advance the state of the art one of the many modern imaging modalities (PET, MRI, CAT scans) either in the progression of current technology or the development of new ones.
  • Develop an advanced coding/stimulation scheme for a cochlear implant which provides auditory inputs to people with significant hearing deficits.
  • Analyze a special communications or mobility need of a handicapped patient and develop the appropriate enabling technology.

Should I obtain a BS in Biomedical Engineering or pursue a traditional engineering degree followed by a MS in Biomedical Engineering?

This is a commonly asked question since Biomedical Engineering is a relatively new degree program and is not offered by a large number of universities. There is no simple answer as both approaches are quite common and every student has a different set of needs. The undergraduate Biomedical Engineering degree is often a stepping stone for professional studies (Medicine, Law, Dentistry, etc) or graduate work (Biomedical Engineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, etc) but many students also go directly into industries where biomedical products are designed and manufactured. Biomedical Engineering graduates bring a unique knowledge of modern life sciences and engineering design and analysis skills to an employer.

Evidence of the newness and growing interest in Biomedical Engineering is the fact that over 40 new Departments and Programs (double the previous number) have been started in the past 5 years and this number is expected to continue to increase.

Key Words and Core Skills

One must recognize that BME incorporates a wide range of engineering sub-disciplines such as heat transfer, circuit theory and electromagnetics, fluid dynamics, statics and dynamics, materials, etc. In addition, the range of biological/life sciences and medicine is also very broad. BME students may take courses in molecular biology, physiology, anatomy, or pharmacology. Most biomedical engineering programs have courses which combine these basic core areas so that the integration of these diverse knowledge bases provides a very interesting and challenging curriculum for the students. With this understanding, no individual can be expected to have or develop such broad expertise when compared to BME. Therefore, biomedical engineering students commonly focus on a single engineering discipline with a significant area of application in the biology/life sciences or a specific field of medicine. Below are some primary areas which comprise contemporary biomedical engineering:
  • Biomechanics
  • Bioelectricity
  • Drug Delivery
  • Functional Genomics: Microarray Technology, Integrated Systems, and Analysis Tools
  • Imaging
  • Instrumentation and Patient Monitoring
  • Nanotechnology
  • Informatics and Computational Methods
  • Medical Implants: Sensors and Devices
  • Rehabilitation and Prostheses
  • Cell and Tissue Engineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Integrative Physiology and Biophysical Modeling