Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare.
Biomedical engineers frequently work in research and development to help solve clinical problems, as well as design software to run medical equipment and devices, electrical circuits, or computer simulations to test new therapies.
They might also specialize in the design and building of hip and knee joints and other artificial body parts, or even the materials needed to make the replacement body parts.
Dr. Stefan Judex, chair of the department of biomedical engineering at the Renaissance School of Medicine and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University, explained that the school’s biomedical engineering graduates embark on many different career paths, reflective of the broad range of opportunities in biomedical engineering.
“Some graduates continue onto medical school, graduate school, law school, or directly enter the workforce in industry, finance or government agencies,” he said.
There are also specialized education and training programs to provide a comprehensive overview of the bioscience industries, from medical devices to diagnostics, and therapeutics, where students can learn about product development cycles, intellectual property, regulatory affairs, financial modeling, and competitive market assessment.
“This gives budding biomedical engineers and opportunity to work in teams to develop commercialization strategies around real intellectual property, and then pitch those strategies to a panel of business development professionals and investors,” he explained.
Dr. Judex added that type of experience can be transformative for the students, increasing their competitiveness in the job market, and opens a whole new set of career options. Students have pursued intellectual property law, business development, finance and investment, and a host of other paths.
Biomedical Engineer Working Environments
Biomedical engineers generally work in teams with scientists, healthcare workers, or other engineers. Where and how they work depends on the project. 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, he or she might have to return to the manufacturer to help alter the manufacturing process to improve the design.
Dr. Ashnil Kumar, chief investigator at the ARC Training Centre for Innovative BioEngineering at the University of Sydney, said another major role for biomedical engineers occurs in hospital environments, where they may be responsible for installing, calibrating, and maintaining critical hospital infrastructure and equipment.
“If the hospital conducts research as well, then the biomedical engineer may also be responsible for modifying, prototyping, reconfiguring, or building devices/software to support the research activities of the hospital as well,” he said.
Within a hospital, a biomedical engineer may be tasked with using technology to optimize the clinical workflow and enhance healthcare delivery (sometimes called clinical engineering). Or they could also work in rehabilitation, providing tools and devices to assist people who are recovering from (or adjusting to) impairments.
Typical Biomedical Engineer Job Posting
Due to the varied roles in the broad field of biomedical engineering, there may not be a typical job posting—some employers may require experience working in a clinical environment, while others may want certain formal qualifications such as a PhD or certifications for clinical engineering.
“These are critical, as several roles may have regulatory or other policy based restrictions on those who can be employed in that role,” Dr. Kumar said. “It is essential to pick out the environment the engineer will be working in, whether it is patient/clinician facing, engaged in clinical trials, or internal R&D.”
Biomedical Engineer Education/Training/Certification
An engineering degree is the most common qualification, and while this could be an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering or bioengineering, it could also be an engineering degree in a related field such as electronics, computing or chemical, often followed by a Masters degree in biomedical engineering.
A biomedical engineer requires in-depth engineering knowhow in a particular disciplinary area (mechanics, fluids, computing, electronics). Also necessary: analytical skills to help them understand the problems of the clinical area they work in.
“They will also be engaging with teams, clinicians, patients, and other stakeholders, so communication skills are essential,” Dr. Kumal noted. “In all roles, a biomedical engineer will be tasked with solving a variety of problems, so the ability to think creatively and methodically is essential.”
In the current day, data literacy and computing skills—especially as machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies emerge—are highly favored, he added.
Faber explained that a biomedical engineer receives a broad educational foundation, ranging from math, physics, chemistry, and engineering to biology and medicine: “A biomedical engineer speaks the languages of many disciplines, and this unique ability is often harnessed by employers by having biomedical engineers serve as managers and providing the ‘glue’ for interdisciplinary teams.”
Dr. Kumar, said another key skill is being able to quickly learn new computer programs and applications.
He pointed to SolidWorks or equivalent computer-assisted design tools as being “very valuable” to know, as well as programs like Matlab/Octave for signal processing.
“Knowing how to program is rapidly becoming more important, whether it is the ability program embedded systems, microcontrollers, or develop artificial intelligence systems,” he explained. “For the latter, C++ and Python with common machine learning frameworks like TensorFlow, Keras and Torch, for example, are quite handy.”
Dr. Judex also noted that computer and math skills are critical for biomedical engineers, pointing out the ability to program in C++ or Python is an “important asset” of biomedical engineers and a prerequisite for many jobs in biomedical engineering.
“A strong scientific background within biomedical engineering is critical, and to the extent a student can have a basic understanding across engineering disciplines as they apply to medicine, all the better,” Dr. Judex added. “It is also important to gain real experience through internships, industry projects, clinical immersions, and others that can give a student perspective on the goals and objectives of the commercial sector.”
Typical Biomedical Engineer Job Interview
While the technical questions asked in an interview will depend on the exact role, Dr. Kumar noted other questions might include:
- Why they want to work for that organization.
- Stories that relate to teamwork abilities.
- What value they’ll bring to the organization.
- Approaching and overcoming challenges.
In addition, expect questions about working with external stakeholders, along with open-ended questions to assess creativity and analytical skills (such as how they would approach designing a new product).
What to Include on a Résumé/Cover Letter
For employers on the hunt for biomedical engineering candidates, the following count as things to definitely highlight on a résumé and cover letter:
- Communication skills
Although some professionals dislike having to write cover letters, they’re vital, as they give the applicant an opportunity to present their unique mix of experience and knowledge.
“They help distinguish the student from other applicants and should include experiences outside the classroom,” Dr. Judex explained. “Public speaking is one of the most important skills to develop early, as well as leadership skills and the ability to work well in a team environment.”
According to Dr. Kumar, its important to highlight expertise in a specific engineering subfield related to the role—for instance, if the job involves mechatronics and the applicant has those skills, they should “absolutely” be highlighted.
It’s also important to list any experience working with patients, clinicians, or in biomedical engineering companies; for research and development roles, it’s a good idea to highlight skills and experiences in laboratory and research settings. Go into as much detail as possible about projects you've worked on, especially if those projects had positive results.
“If there are previous roles, awards or other things that demonstrate analytics, problem solving, and communication skills, then these can also be highlighted, because of how critical these are to a biomedical engineer,” Dr. Kumar added.