What is a Biomedical Engineering Degree?

Students of biomedical engineering learn how to apply engineering principles and design skills to the biological and medical sciences. They study these four major areas in the field:

  • Clinical engineering – focuses on equipment used in hospitals and other medical facilities; engineers in this area design equipment, train others on its use, and maintain it
  • Medical device engineering – is concerned with the invention and operation of medical devices like artificial heart valves, pacemakers, diabetic pumps, and prostheses
  • Medical imaging – biomedical engineers who concentrate on this area invent and improve upon medical equipment that can look into the human body, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG (electroencephalogram) machines
  • Tissue engineering – uses technology to regrow organs, create new ones, and invent artificial organs

Simply stated, degree programs in biomedical engineering teach students how to solve complex issues in healthcare by creating life-saving and life-enhancing innovations.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering – Four Year Duration
Programs that lead to a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering start with foundational courses in biology, mechanics, physics, chemistry, calculus, and system analysis and design. During the first three years of their studies, students follow a core curriculum that prepares them for a final year of elective courses and concentration in a specific area of the field (Review these areas in the section above, What is a Biomedical Engineering Degree?)

Here is some sample bachelor’s level core coursework:

  • Communications in Biomedical Engineering – technical communication skills in the engineering field
  • Digital Computation – developing practical biomedical software systems
  • Biomedical Design – Introduction – the design process: problem definition, life-cycle design, prototyping design and evaluation
  • Human Factors in Biomedical Design – designing for human capabilities, needs, and safety
  • Statistics and Experimental Design – statistical applications to biomedical experiments, imaging data, and clinical trials

Here are some courses that may be taken in the upper years of the bachelor’s program:

  • Prototype, Simulation, and Design – design, development, and prototyping via group projects in biomedical engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering Design – a term-long design project in student groups
  • Physics of Medical Imaging – introduction to the concepts of medical imaging: radiation for imaging, x-ray, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and others
  • Sports Engineering – the application of engineering principles to the analysis of sports equipment and athlete performance

Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering may find work as a junior biomedical engineer, bioengineering research assistant, or medical device software developer.

Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering – Two Year Duration
At the master’s level, biomedical engineering students focus on a particular track or focus area. They may also be required to complete some prerequisite and master’s core courses.

Possible prerequisites:

  • Signals and Systems – fundamentals of electrical and computer engineering, concepts in probability, statistics, and random processes
  • Molecular Biology – fundamental introduction to cell and molecular biology, the biochemistry of the cell, the dynamics of macromolecules
  • General Applied Mathematics – basic concepts of matrix theory

Typical master’s core courses:

  • Physiology for Applied Biomedical Engineering (usually, multiple courses) – the cell and its chemistry, tissue and muscle properties, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the nervous system, the auditory system, the visual system, the motor system, the kidney and gastrointestinal tract, the neural and neuroendocrine control of the circulation
  • Mathematical Methods for Biomedical Engineering – mathematical techniques used to solve problems in applied biomedical engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering Practice and Innovation – hands-on experimentation and design in physiology, cell and tissue engineering, and biomedical instrumentation

Imaging Track sample courses:

  • Principles of Medical Imaging
  • Medical Instrumentation and Devices
  • Medical Image Processing
  • Biochemical Sensors

Instrumentation Track sample courses:

  • Medical Sensors and Devices
  • Rehabilitation Engineering
  • Neural Prosthetics
  • Advances in Cardiovascular Medicine

Tissue Engineering Track sample courses:

  • Cell and Tissue Engineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomechanics of Cells and Stem Cells
  • Orthopaedic Biomechanics

Holders of a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering typically go on to occupy senior positions in the biomedical/bioengineering fields.

Doctoral Degree in Biomedical Engineering – Four to Six Year Duration
The focus of the doctoral degree program in biomedical engineering is research intensive training in a laboratory or clinical setting. Doctoral candidates work in collaboration with both faculty members and clinicians. In addition to completing a specified number of credits beyond their master’s degree, they are required to pass an oral and written qualifying examination and successfully defend their doctoral dissertation, which must be based on individual and original research.

Biomedical engineering doctoral graduates often go on to conduct advanced research and/or assume leadership roles in the field.

Degrees Similar to Biomedical Engineering

Majors in this field study engineering and the life sciences to create new products – such as vaccines, medicines, growth hormones for plants, and food additives – for the agricultural, industrial, and environmental industries.

Engineering Technology
Majors in this field study many of the engineering concepts and design skills that engineering majors learn. Their focus, though, is more on applied design and is less theoretically and mathematically oriented. As part of an engineering team, a technologist might be involved in product development and testing or designing a programming language to improve a system designed by an engineer.

Materials / Manufacturing Engineering
The focus of this major is the study of metals, ceramics, and polymers like glass, plastic, and rubber, with the objective of inventing and manufacturing new materials. Coursework covers topics including the thermodynamic, kinetic, and electronic properties of materials.

Molecular Biology
The field of molecular biology is concerned with genetics, with the structure and the relationships between four molecules in the body: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, nucleic acids.

Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, and of the complex collection of interacting cells, known as the brain.

Pharmacologists study how drugs and medicines work so they can be used in the right way. The work naturally involves an understanding of chemical and biological interactions.

Pre-medicine (Pre-med)
Pre-med programs, designed to prepare students for medical school, include courses in general biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and physics.

Skills You’ll Learn

Individuals who study and work in the field of biomedical engineering develop a set of skills that are transferable to a variety of careers. Among these skills are:

  • Attention to detail
  • Investigation, research, and problem-solving
  • Technical savvy
  • Creativity
  • Product design, development, testing, and modification
  • Three-dimensional conceptual ability
  • Appreciation for product marketability
  • Communication developed through the need to collaborate with professionals in the medical, scientific, and engineering fields
  • Report writing and documentation

What Can You Do with a Biomedical Engineering Degree?

Biomedical engineering graduates find employment with:

  • Research hospitals and institutes
  • Universities
  • Government agencies
  • Medical and diagnostic equipment/device manufacturers

Their activities include:

  • Biomedical data analysis
  • Biomedical image analysis
  • Medical and diagnostic equipment/device design, manufacturing, testing, and training
  • Design and development of implant materials that can be safely used within the human body
  • Modeling and simulation of diseases and biological/physiological systems
  • Evaluation of healthcare regulations
  • Engineering and testing of sports equipment
  • Biomedical research and development; related software design and development
  • Teaching

Some individuals with biomedical engineering backgrounds go on to medical school and become physicians.


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