Did you know that biomedical engineering got its start during World War II with the advent of kidney dialysis? What followed was truly amazing. The first successful heart valve replacement happened in 1952 and was designed by Dr. Charles Hufnagel and implanted by Dr. John H. Gibbon, Jr a year later. The 1960s saw the birth of biomedical engineering and biotech departments in leading universities across the U.S.
In 2022, biomedical engineering ranked 25 among the top-paying college majors. For those with an interest in STEM, a degree in biomedical engineering opens the door to cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment opportunities. Examples include: medical imaging, stem cell technology, engineered tissue substitutes, robotic-guided surgeries, 3D printed artificial organs, and so much more. In this article, we’ll define the field of biomedical engineering, look at the most highly recommended careers, and hear from two of its stars.
What is Biomedical Engineering?
Think of biomedical engineering as an intersection and melding of elements: engineering design and problem solving as applied to the principles of biology and medicine.
Biomedical engineers can choose from a wealth of disciplines where their skills are in high demand. Biomedical engineering is incredibly unique as it tends to be driven by the interests of the individual to develop their own specific specialties. For those who want to combine science with business, there are opportunities for innovation around new technologies and entrepreneurship. Academia is always on the lookout for researchers to test and develop new diagnostic tools and medical equipment. Finally, the government recruits biomedical engineers to establish safety standards for medical devices. Here are just some of the areas where biomedical engineers are making an impact:
- Tissue and stem cell engineers design artificial human organs for transplant.
- Biomedical engineers design devices that include pacemakers, coronary stents, orthopedic implants, and prosthetic limbs.
- Clinical engineers ensure that new medical devices are safe for use on humans.
The options are limitless for those interested in this STEM-related field. The average wage is above $115K for those with a bachelor’s degree. Let’s look at the many degrees and career paths in biomedical engineering.
Biomedical Engineering Degree Career Paths
According to U.S. News and World Report, the first requirement is that you earn a bachelor’s degree from a biomedical engineering program. Others go on to complete a graduate degree in biomedical engineering after they’ve earned an undergraduate degree in a different type of engineering.
Let’s take a look at one professional’s journey as an example—meet Erin Lavik.
Erin Lavik earned her undergraduate and doctoral degrees from MIT in materials science and engineering before moving on to biomedical engineering. Today, Lavik is a professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland. Lavik has been working on developing intravenously administered nanoparticles to stop internal bleeding, among other notable accomplishments.
Lavik has this advice: “Co-ops and internships in industry and research experiences in labs at the undergraduate level make a huge difference in understanding the work, finding jobs, and deciding whether to pursue graduate work.”
Before considering a career in biomedical engineering, you need to first ask yourself these questions:
- Do my skills line up with a future in biomedical engineering?
- What do I want to do after college?
- Where do your passions lie?
Best Industries to Work in as a Biomedical Engineer?
With a degree in biomedical engineering, you can contribute to health and safety in a variety of ways, such as designing robots that perform eye surgery, making prosthetics easier to use, or designing the latest in bicycle helmets. Biomedical engineers have a lot of industries to choose from; here’s just a few:
- Software and hardware engineering
- Medical device industry
- Research and development
- Clinical patient evaluation / testing
World class businesses that routinely recruit biomedical engineers include top names such as:
- Baxter Healthcare
- Boston Scientific Corp.
- Epic Systems Corporation
- GE Healthcare
- Siemens Medical Systems
The field of biomedical engineering is growing dramatically. As our population ages, the demand for high-tech medical solutions will continue to be in high demand. In the U.S. alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment rate to grow by a whopping 72 percent over the next 5 years.
The Future Opportunities for Biomedical Engineers
According to a leading source, biomedical engineers are paving the future with revolutionary medical diagnostics, imaging, and how medicine is practiced the world over. The future of this dynamic business is collaborative in nature; as achievements in fields like chemistry, materials science, and biology advance, so will biomedical engineering.
As biomedical engineering continues to advance, the future for those in the profession is evolving in more and more interesting ways. A few examples include:
Robotic Surgery: Robots allow physicians to make precise incisions and perform minimally invasive procedures resulting in shorter recovery times. But experts are just scratching the surface. Researchers and biotech designers are designing methods to enable telesurgery, allowing surgeons who are across continents to control robotic surgery remotely. Think of what this can mean for people in countries where advanced surgical procedures are not available.
Tissue Engineering: Today, 3D printers can produce working organs and transplantable tissues. Biomedical engineers are designing tissues that impact certain diseases, health treatments, and lifestyle changes. And, as you’ll see in the story below, one scientist is experimenting with kangaroo tissue for replacement heart valves.
Medical Virtual Reality: Medical VR and artificial intelligence are already being used to identify and highlight areas of concern in chest x-rays. And VR is playing a huge role in teaching at top universities where students can strap on a VR headset and work through medical procedures.
The future for biomedical engineering is breathtaking.
Heart Valves from Kangaroo Tissue—One Biomedical Engineer’s Path
Kiran Dellimore heads up research on medical equipment at University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa. His team’s latest project includes engineering replacement heart valves made from kangaroo tissue.
Kirin’s first career choice was rocket science. After getting a degree in mechanical engineering, he decided to specialize in aerospace engineering. But a dream of moving to South Africa led him to take a postdoctoral job there.
“It seems like a huge leap from rocket engines to human bodies,” he said, “but the questions that come up on both areas of engineering can be similar, and so are the mathematical techniques used to solve them.”
Today, Kirin and his team are excited about kangaroo tissue. He said, “They kill kangaroos in Australia because there are too many of them. We collaborate with professors to obtain tissue from the sac that surrounds a kangaroo’s heart, which is resistant to gathering calcium deposits. This solves a common problem for artificial heart valves.”
They’ve already implanted the valve into a sheep named Dolly who is alive and well on a farm near Cape Town. Sound interesting? You might read his entire story and see if this is enough to get you started on an introductory course in biomedical engineering.
Biomedical Engineering Programs/Courses
University courses that will prepare you for a future in biomedical engineering start with a foundation in design. To design groundbreaking solutions, you’ll need to take courses in:
Beyond the basics, most programs also require courses in subjects such as:
- Inorganic and organic signals & systems
- General physics
- Electronic circuits and instrumentation design
- Statics and dynamics design
FInally, students take advanced science and engineering courses that relate to a specialty in biomedical engineering. These can include:
- Physiologic systems
- Rehabilitation engineering
- Robotic aided surgery
- Clinical engineering
High School Courses to Prepare for Biomedical Engineering
Why wait until college to test your passion for biomedical engineering? Many universities now offer pre-college online programs in a host of subjects. For motivated students, you can sign up for STEM-related courses such as:
Wake Forest University Pre-College Online Program offers:
- Cancer medicine
- Sports medicine
- Women’s medicine
Case Western Reserve University Pre-College Program offers:
- Astrophysics and evolutionary biology
- Computer science
- Neuroscience & medicine
University of Rochester Pre-College Online Program offers:
- Biomedical engineering
- Orthopedic medicine
Rice University offers:
- Genome engineering