Biomedical engineers create tools that improve people's health. And
their work is becoming critical to hospital operations.
These engineers can work in a wide range of areas. They design instruments,
devices and software. They help develop new procedures. They also conduct
research to solve clinical problems.
"Biomedical engineers have generally found a place inside research where
there is a relationship between the hospital and the local university," says
Brian Van Skiver. He is a regional clinical engineer at a hospital.
"They work with research physicians or independently toward new improvements
in medical technologies."
The title "biomedical engineer" is often interchangeable with "clinical
engineer" and "biomedical engineering technologists/technician" inside hospitals.
Each has their own area of expertise.
Jennifer M. Barbee worked as a biomedical engineering technician, consultant
and manager for 15 years. She is now the director of clinical engineering
at a health facility in Baltimore.
Barbee and her team work on and manage the full gamut of medical equipment
in the health-care environment. They deal with everything from physiological
monitors to nuclear medicine cameras to full cardiac catheterization labs
and laboratory analyzers.
"That's one of the 'cool' things about this job -- we work with everyone,"
"We work with the physicians, nurses, technologists, senior administrators,
manufacturers, sales reps -- almost everyone who is involved with the selection,
purchase, acquisition and maintenance of equipment."
Barbara Maguire is the director of biomedical engineering at a hospital
in New York. She works closely with physicians and nurses on operating equipment
safely, including monitors, vents and surgical robots.
In addition, she and her staff repair, install and consult others about
"We also participate in long-term planning, which involves financial projections,
health-care trends and evaluation of emerging technologies," says Maguire.
Elliot Sloane's first clinical job in a hospital in Philadelphia inspired
him to continue in this career.
Sloane's group was assigned to test and calibrate all of the medical devices
in the neonatal intensive care unit. That included ventilators, physiologic
monitors, incubators, radiant warmers and infusion pumps.
"We worked closely with doctors and nurses, literally on a moment-to-moment,
patient-to-patient, crisis-to-crisis basis," says Sloane. He is currently
a professor in decision and information technology at Villanova University.
"Each critically ill newborn had to be carefully separated from all of
the life-support equipment in order for us to test and calibrate the devices.
"The babies had to be hand-ventilated and monitored by the clinical staff
while we worked as quickly and carefully as our equipment allowed. It was
an awe-inspiring experience that never left me."
"The integration of medical science and engineering design has pushed the
desire for more engineers in this field," says Van Skiver. "Besides the baby
boom crisis, the population is becoming increasingly learned in health care.
"There was a time when a patient entrusted all of their care to their doctors.
Now with a mouse click and some keywords, these patients are arming themselves
with the latest information and demanding the latest treatments."
And biomedical engineers are responding. Maguire says she and her staff
worked with several companies to implement a system so that caregivers could
receive blood gas results right at the patient's bedside to ensure that the
patient was treated quickly.
"Through a combination of technology and logistics, health-care facilities
are trying to deal with this demand," says Van Skiver. "Where there is complex
technologies, we are finding biomedical engineers both on the design side
as well as the support side."
The need for cost-efficiency and effectiveness in hospitals increases the
need for biomedical engineers.
"Technology, when selected, maintained and applied correctly, can help
doctors and nurses do what they do best -- help patients," says Sloane.
Many other amazing advances in the medical field are just on the horizon,
which will require the expertise of biomedical engineers. These include genetically
engineered drugs and implants, computer-assisted surgery, and cellular and
So how do you get into the industry?
Biomedical engineering studies are completed at the college level and take
up to four years. Many biomedical and clinical engineers go on to earn master's
and doctorate degrees in engineering, science, medicine, business, computers
or other related areas.
Biomedical engineering technologists/technicians (BMETs) typically earn
a two-year diploma at a technical college.
"If a full-out biomedical engineering college program is not available,
I recommend a solid core electrical, mechanical, materials or chemical engineering
degree program, supplemented with biology and physiology courses whenever
possible," says Sloane.
"Some excellent clinical engineers have come from the physics field, too."
You don't need a medical background. But knowledge of the health-care system
is helpful. You can get this through volunteering or internships.
"A passion for excellence and deep compassion for human beings is critical
too, because doctors, nurses and patients are often pretty overwhelmed with
both the illnesses and complicated technologies they have to deal with," says
Currently, big cities offer the best opportunities for biomedical engineers,
since they mainly work in large hospitals. However, this may change as the
field grows broader and becomes more critical to patient care.
"Whether working on the service side or design side of medical technologies,
the increasing numbers and complexities of medical devices will drive the
demand for biomedical engineers," says Van Skiver.
American College of Clinical Engineering
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Biomedical Engineering Society
Learn about internships and career planning
Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation
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Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
Get a list of accredited programs