The field of biomedical engineering broadly refers to the application of engineering skills and practices to biology and medicine. Biomedical engineers use their knowledge of engineering and biomechanical principles to develop and evaluate systems and technologies, primarily those in the health industry. Students interested in pursuing degrees in biomedical engineering will find options to do so at all levels of higher education. Having earned a degree, there is a broad spectrum of professional opportunities, from research to regulation. Students looking to enter the biomedical engineering field should be prepared to select the specific industry they would like to apply their skills and knowledge to.
Biomedical Engineering Degrees at a Glance
There are academic programs in biomedical engineering at all levels of higher education, from certificate programs to doctoral degrees. Depending on each student's specific background and career aspirations, the level of education that he or she chooses to pursue may vary. For example, most certificate programs are designed for students who would like to add supplemental education to an already existing degree in a related area of study. Undergraduate degrees such as a bachelor's or associate degrees will be broader and more suitable for students who are seeking an entrance into the biomedical engineering field. Graduate degrees and doctorates are strong options for students who desire careers in academia, or advanced responsibility and influence in biomedical engineering research or development on an industry or government level.
An associate degree program in biomechanical engineering typically lasts two years, while a bachelor's degree will take four years to complete. A student pursuing an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering will likely take classes in a variety of subjects, as biomedical engineers need a breadth of skills and understanding of many subjects. Classes will vary by university, but almost all biomedical engineering tracks will include courses in biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, mathematics, and physiology. In addition, students will take classes in technical writing, English, and humanities. A common misconception regarding biomedical engineering is that strong writing skills are not necessary. In fact, in many applications of biomedical engineering, technical writing and communication are among the most valued skills. Outside of classroom academics, it is important for students to seek out extracurricular practical experience. Many undergraduate programs offer the chance to be exposed to real-world work environments through internships or research opportunities with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, or government agencies. In addition, many students can find opportunities to work in research labs through their academic institutions by petitioning their faculty for assistant positions. In addition, online resources like the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering are constantly updated with research and internship opportunities for students.
A graduate degree or doctorate in biomechanical engineering is for students seeking greater opportunities in research and development. Students who have received bachelor's degrees in related fields may find that pursuing a masters degree or doctorate in biomedical engineering will aid in focusing their education and deepening their understanding of the components of biomedical engineering. While the courses for an undergraduate degree are primarily focused on understanding of subject material, in a graduate program, the curriculum is based in skill acquisition and industry preparedness. For example, the Masters of Engineering in biomedical engineering through Duke University mandates that each student take core classes in management and business fundamentals, in addition to specific technical courses according to the student's career trajectory. These technical course options include instrumentation, cardiac and neuroengineering, and biomaterials.
Admission and Tuition
The admission requirements for biomedical engineering programs will depend largely on the institution and the level of education pursued. Technical colleges and certificate programs will be less expensive and have fewer admission requirements, whereas private universities and liberal arts colleges wil be more competitive and have a higher annual tuition. It is reasonable to expect that biomedical engineering programs will range from approximately $10,000 yearly to $70,000 yearly. Admission requirements for undergraduate programs generally include a high school education with strong academic standing and a transcript that shows academic excellence in courses such as mathematics (calculus, advanced algebra, and trigonometry), physics, biology, and chemistry. It also behooves students to have taken a computer programming course, or a course in drafting and mechanical drawing. While not essential, these courses will set students up to be strong candidates for biomedical engineering programs, and provide a solid foundation and understanding of the material that will be covered in their undergraduate courses.
The American Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) provides accreditation standards for engineering and information technology programs, including those for biomechanical engineering. Students can use the ABET website to search for an accredited program, as well as see reports of programs with deficiencies that have prevented their accreditation. It is important to select an educational institution that has passed the accreditation requirements, as it ensures that the institution has been held against the highly respected peer-reviewed process that determines whether the program can produce graduates prepared to enter a global workforce.
Specializations and Further Certification
Due to the fact that there are many viable career paths for biomedical engineers, most will find that they end up specializing in particular applications of the field. Some of these specializations include ultrasound or x-ray imaging and image processing, micro and nanotechnology, and clinical engineering, which involves the supporting of patient care through advancements in medical technology. For many of these specializations, certifications can be earned in order to prove competency in the area. Biomedical engineers with these certifications will find that they are more competitive in job markets pertaining to their certification than applicants who are not certified. ACI (AAMI Certification Institute) provides the following certifications:
- Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician (CBET)®
- Certified Laboratory Equipment Specialist (CLES)®
- Certified Radiology Equipment Specialist (CRES)®
- Certified Healthcare Technology Manager (CHTM)
- Certified Quality System Manager (CQSM)
Each of these certifications is distinct and separate, and involve extended preparation, study, and an eventual exam in order to obtain it. Additionally, most of the certifications involve paying a fee to sit for the exam. The cost of the exam, however, is a small price for the career benefits of having the certification. As the industry and technology change, certifications may need to be re-achieved. In some cases, this can take the form of continued education, rather than taking another exam.