What is a Biomedical Engineer?
Biomedical engineers study, design, develop and evaluate biological and medical systems and products such as artificial organs, prostheses, medical instruments and information systems.
4 years post-secondary education/training
Biomedical engineers work closely with life scientists, chemists and medical professionals (physicians, nurses, therapists and technicians) on the engineering aspects of biological systems.
Duties and responsibilities vary from one position to another but, in general, biomedical engineers:
- design and develop medical devices such as artificial hearts and kidneys, pacemakers, artificial hips, surgical lasers, automated patient monitors and blood chemistry sensors
- design and develop engineered therapies (for example, neural-integrative prostheses)
- adapt computer hardware or software for medical science or health care applications (for example, develop expert systems that assist in diagnosing diseases, medical imaging systems, models of different aspects of human physiology or medical data management)
- conduct research to test and modify known theories and develop new theories
- ensure the safety of equipment used for diagnosis, treatment and monitoring
- investigate medical equipment failures and provide advice about the purchase and installation of new equipment
- develop and evaluate quantitative models of biological processes and systems
- apply engineering methods to answer basic questions about how the body works
- contribute to patient assessments
- prepare and present reports for health professionals and the public
- supervise and train technologists and technicians
Biomedical engineers may work primarily in one or a combination of the following fields:
- bioinformatics – developing and using computer tools to collect and analyze data
- bioinstrumentation – applying electronic and measurement techniques
- biomaterials – developing durable materials that are compatible with a biological environment
- biomechanics - applying knowledge of mechanics to biological or medical problems
- bio-nano-engineering – developing novel structures of nanometer dimensions for application to biology, drug delivery, molecular diagnostics, microsystems and nanosystems
- biophotonics – applying and manipulating light, usually laser light, for sensing or imaging properties of biological tissue
- cellular and tissue engineering – studying the anatomy, biochemistry and mechanics of cellular and sub-cellular structures, developing technology to repair, replace or regenerate living tissues and developing methods for controlling cell and tissue growth in the laboratory
- clinical engineering – applying the latest technology to health care and health care systems in hospitals
- genomics and genetic engineering – mapping, sequencing and analyzing genomes (DNA), and applying molecular biology methods to manipulate the genetic material of cells, viruses and organisms
- medical or biological imaging – combining knowledge of a physical phenomenon (for example, sound, radiation or magnetism) with electronic processing, analysis and display
- molecular bioengineering – designing molecules for biomedical purposes and applying computational methods for simulating biomolecular interactions
- systems physiology - studying how systems function in living organisms
- therapeutic engineering – developing and discovering drugs and advanced materials and techniques for delivering drugs to local tissues with minimized side effects
Biomedical engineers work in offices, laboratories, workshops, manufacturing plants, clinics and hospitals. Some local travel may be required if medical equipment is located in various clinics or hospitals.
Most biomedical engineers work standard weekday hours. Longer hours may be required to meet research deadlines, work with patients at times convenient to them, or work on medical equipment that is in use during daytime hours.
Biomedical engineers need the following characteristics:
- a strong interest in engineering and medicine
- the ability to think analytically and solve problems
- an aptitude for science and mathematics
- the ability to visualize complex processes and equipment
- good oral and written communication skills
- creativity and persistence
- a willingness to improve their knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis
- the ability to work effectively with people from various disciplines and educational backgrounds
They should enjoy:
- synthesizing information to conduct research and develop new instruments, equipment and systems
- performing tasks that require precision
- consulting with and supervising others
Entry-level positions in industry (medical device or pharmaceutical companies) or clinical engineering positions in hospitals generally require a bachelor's degree in engineering with a major in biomedical engineering, or a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering with a specialty in biomedical engineering. A working understanding of life sciences and medical terminology is required.
Many biomedical engineering program graduates continue their education by taking medicine or dentistry, or graduate (master's or doctoral) degree programs in other fields. A graduate degree is required for research and development positions in biomedical engineering.
Source: Government of Alberta - ALIS