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Exploring Biomedical Engineering Careers: From Research to Medical Devices

Exploring Biomedical Engineering Careers: From Research to Medical Devices

Team of Bioengineers Working On Computer, Analyzing Genetic Material Samples with Special Machines in the Modern Laboratory.

The future of engineering careers is promising, from traditional spheres of engineering such as mechanical and electrical to emerging ones such as systems and software. Among the various fields, however, biomedical engineering stands out as uniquely interdisciplinary.

As one of the fastest-growing engineering sectors, there's a reason why biomedical engineering has become the third best engineering job in the country.1 The profession is poised for even more growth, with employment rates projected to increase by five percent from 2022 to 2032.2

Preparing for a career in biomedical engineering is nuanced, requiring a proper understanding of the different branches and career opportunities within the field. This article will explore the different career paths you can take as a biomedical engineer, from research and development to designing innovative medical devices.

Introduction to Biomedical Engineering Careers

Biomedical engineering is one of the most diverse and interdisciplinary professions, incorporating the fields of engineering science, medicine, biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics under its umbrella.3 That doesn't mean every biomedical engineer studies all of these disciplines. Most specialize in one area and collaborate with experts in others. At the intersection of science, medicine and mathematics, the field incorporates teams of physicians, scientists, engineers, patent attorneys, physical therapists, business professionals, teachers and technical writers, all working together to achieve common goals.4

Biomedical engineers are problem-solvers at the core, using medical knowledge, engineering principles and technology to improve the ways in which we approach healthcare.

The Role of Biomedical Engineers in Healthcare

The overarching role of biomedical engineers is to bridge the gap between technology and patient care by researching, designing and developing medical devices, diagnostic equipment and therapeutic strategies. Within that context, the individual roles and responsibilities of biomedical engineers may include any of the following:5

  • Designing medical devices, machines and computer simulation software
  • Training others in the proper use of medical devices and equipment
  • Installing, testing and maintaining medical equipment
  • Studying human biology to inform engineering design
  • Researching and writing reports and technical manuals
  • Teaching and presenting research findings to students and colleagues
  • Creating business models for incorporating new medical devices

We can divide biomedical engineering careers into two broad categories: performing research and designing medical devices.

Biomedical Research and Development

Those involved in the R&D side of biomedical engineering contribute to cutting-edge medical research by designing experiments, collecting data and analyzing the results. Biomedical researchers, prosthetists and manufacturing engineers are typical jobs for those interested in the problem-solving work that goes into the design and development of medical devices.

Biomedical engineering research and development is currently focused in two main areas:

Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine

This area of biomedical science helps refine the development of artificial organs, tissues and biomaterials. People who conduct research in this field operate in diverse environments, ranging from university laboratories and biotech companies to specialized research institutes.

Going beyond traditional methodologies, tissue engineering merges innovative fabrication with biological sciences to address critical gaps in organ transplantation and tissue repair. Recent advancements, such as the development of so-called 'organ-on-a-chip' technologies, have seen remarkable progress, holding promise for personalized medicine.6

Biomechanics and Bioinstrumentation

Integral to biomedical engineering, biomechanics and bioinstrumentation focus on analyzing human movement and physiological processes, such as breathing, to inform the design and innovation of healthcare technology.

Examples include researching prosthetics that mimic natural limb movements and wearable technology for real-time monitoring of vital signs. Currently, a focus of biomechanics is enhancing sports performance and injury prevention, while examples of ongoing bioinstrumentation projects include refining imaging technology and developing miniaturized health-monitoring devices.7

Medical Device Design and Innovation

The research arm of biomedical engineering lays the groundwork for those motivated to design and develop medical devices or improve the equipment already in use. People in these roles also ensure equipment safety, efficacy and regulatory compliance.8

Most biomedical engineers work in one of two branches of device innovation and design:

Imaging and Diagnostic Equipment

Innovative imaging and diagnostic equipment help with accurate disease detection, allowing physicians to intervene early and effectively. This may include:

  • Conventional X-ray
  • Computed tomography scanner (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

The design and development of these devices offer diverse professional opportunities. Possible career paths for biomedical engineers in this field can include jobs in hospitals, clinics and diagnostic laboratories. GE Healthcare, Carestream Health, Inc. and Hologic, Inc. are all companies that specialize in this type of equipment.9

Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology

This branch of devices is designed to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities. It’s specifically focused on customized mobility, communication and independence solutions. Implantable devices and other equipment in this category may include:

  • Pacemakers
  • Dental implants
  • Cochlear implants
  • Drug infusion pumps
  • Artificial limbs, knees, hips and heart valves

Biomedical engineers working in this realm have career prospects with prosthetics manufacturers, biomedical companies and healthcare facilities. The U.S. Veterans Health Administration, the country’s largest health network, is also an excellent place to look for biomedical engineering careers in rehabilitation and assistive technology.10

Education and Skill Requirements

Biomedical engineers are creative, diligent and detail-oriented. Due to the many overlapping fields involved and the constant need for collaboration, biomedical engineering also requires excellent communication skills.

It’s a highly specialized field that spans multiple disciplines, so anyone preparing for a career in the world of biomedical engineering can begin as early as high school. Advanced math, physics, anatomy and microbiology are foundational courses for this career path.11

Beyond high school, a bachelor's degree in biomedical or general engineering and an internship or work experience are typical for those looking to gain a better understanding of, and to enter, the field. At the undergraduate level, students begin to focus on skills in specialty areas of engineering, biology or medical sciences, further refining their educational focus.

A master of science (MS) in biomedical engineering is the next step for those looking to improve their job prospects, further refine their skills and develop new ones. The many benefits of a graduate engineering degree range from advanced research, technical, communication and problem-solving skills to an expanded network and collaboration with other engineers. As a result, skilled professionals with this level of education are indispensable to the future of biomedical science.

Entrepreneurship and Startups in Biomedical Engineering

The biomedical engineering workforce also has a robust entrepreneurial sector. Whether launching new ventures or joining a startup, new biomedical engineers are actively helping address pressing healthcare challenges. These startups aren’t just businesses. They’re hubs of innovation from which solutions and cutting-edge technologies emerge.11

Advance Your Biomedical Engineering Career

Case Western Reserve University's online MS in Biomedical Engineering program is specifically designed to teach interdisciplinary skills that are immediately relevant and applicable, helping you stand out in the job market and expand your earning potential.

Our fully online program allows you to tailor your education to fit your schedule while learning from experienced faculty who are engaged in cutting-edge biomedical research. By supporting students in job placement, sponsored research and industrial training, we help our graduates decide how best to use their biomedical engineering education.

To explore how CWRU can advance your technical skills, strengthen your critical thinking and redefine your career journey, schedule a call with one of our admissions outreach advisors today.

Case Western Reserve University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.