Becoming a Biomedical Engineer - Education, Experience & Professional Licensure

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Biomedical engineers enjoy work in a vocation that straddles the line between engineering and medicine, and that is often responsible for the creation of lifesaving medicine and technology. These professionals may assist in the development of pharmaceutical drugs, biocompatible prostheses, imaging equipment, and other products that help with the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Ultimately, biomedical engineers devote a substantial amount of time to research and development, where they work to expand the boundaries of medicine by leveraging their engineering skills and expertise. Some biomedical engineers may spend their careers in a university setting, while others may work in manufacturing facilities, research labs, medical institutions, or even government agencies.

One of many types of specialized engineering, careers in biomedical engineering are a blend of science, technology, design, and computer programming disciplines. These fields merge together in bioengineering bachelor degree programs which are required for most entry-level positions according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics BLS 2021).

Some biomedical engineers choose to pursue advanced degrees in medicine, law, or business depending on their area of specialization. Careers in biomedical engineering are projected to grow 6 percent nationally between 2020 and 2030, which is just slightly slower than the national average (8 percent) for all occupations (BLS 2021). As for salary, biomedical engineers earn an average annual salary of $101,020 (BLS May 2021).

Biomedical engineers are often responsible for the preservation and improvement of quality of life for ailing patients, so the work can be quite fulfilling. However, because of the complex and demanding nature of the work, interested individuals should possess certain character traits and complete their engineering education before beginning to work in the field.

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Characteristics of a Successful Biomedical Engineer

It would be untrue to claim that all successful biomedical engineers possess an identical set of character traits that set them apart from the rest. In general, though, several characteristics will certainly benefit an individual interested in becoming a biomedical engineer in the future. For example, O*Net Online (2022) lists the following skills among those necessary for someone hoping to work in this position:

  • Complex problem solving: Biomedical engineers may be faced with problems to which the solutions are not readily available, and must be able to review the information at hand to develop and implement an appropriate solution.
  • Critical thinking: In addition to being able to solve complex problems, biomedical engineers should also be able to utilize logic and reasoning to determine which course to take when identifying an approach to an issue.
  • Judgment and decision-making: When faced with a multitude of options, a skilled biomedical engineer must be able to weigh the outcomes of each to determine the most reasonable one, given the resources available.
  • Knowledge of science: A successful biomedical engineer generally must have a strong grasp of scientific rules and methods, as well as their application to this work. Fields of science in which biomedical engineers must be proficient include biology, physics, and general engineering and technology.

Becoming Role Requirements and Responsibilities of a a Biomedical Engineer

There are specific educational and licensing requirements necessary for anyone who wishes to work as a biomedical engineer.

To begin, anyone who intends on working in this career field should first obtain a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university in biomedical engineering. Of course, while an individual does not necessarily need to obtain a degree from a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET), doing so is a requirement for eligibility to receive a professional engineer license, which may be a prerequisite for a number of jobs in the field.

Here, it should be mentioned that a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, specifically, is not a requirement to work in this capacity. Instead, a student may complete a degree in another field of engineering, and then go on to further obtain a graduate degree in biomedical engineering. This may take more time overall, however, it may provide the individual with a broader view of general engineering concepts and a deeper understanding of biomedical engineering specifically, which he or she can put to use throughout his or her career.

Furthermore, a student who has already obtained a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering may still benefit from pursuing a graduate degree in the subject, as this will reinforce and deepen that student’s understanding.

Steps to Becoming a Biomedical Engineer

Overall, the path to becoming a biomedical engineer will be very similar for most individuals aspiring to work in this career. In light of this, anyone interested in working in this capacity should consider following the steps listed below:

Step One – Obtain a High School Diploma or GED (Four Years):

Fundamentally, anyone who intends on working as a biomedical engineer in the future should obtain a high school diploma, or obtain a GED. This is, in general, a requirement for eligibility at virtually all four-year colleges or universities nationwide.

In addition, certain courses should be completed during high school education that focuses on chemistry and biochemistry, physics, biology, mathematics and statistics, and any other related subjects. This will help the individual become comfortable with these subjects, and test his or her ability to handle a significant amount of concurrent work.

Step Two – Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering or a Related Discipline (Four Years):

Biomedical engineers and bioengineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, bioengineering, or a related engineering field to be able to work in the field, according to the BLS.

Students must, therefore, enroll in a four-year biomedical engineering program; or, if the student aspires to pursue a graduate degree in biomedical engineering in the future, he or she may obtain a bachelor’s degree in any field of engineering. As mentioned before, strong consideration should be placed on engineering programs that have received accreditation from ABET.

This accreditation ensures that students complete programs that offer quality education, and have met other requirements that are needed for graduate-level admissions, credentialing, or to be hired by some employers.

Admissions Requirements – Biomedical Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

Admissions requirements for biomedical engineering programs may vary from school to school, but there are some similarities. This might include a students’ high school grade point average, scores on achievement tests (such as SAT), and even a candidates’ involvement in extracurricular activities. A phone or on-campus interview could also be a requirement.

Examples of common admissions materials to biomedical engineering schools include:

  • A completed online application along with an application fee
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • An essay
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A competitive GPA
  • Proof of prerequisite courses

Program Examples

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University’s College of Science, Engineering, & Technology offers an on-campus bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering training future biomedical engineers for making a positive and meaningful contribution to the healthcare field. Students in this program are prepared to improve patient care by learning about the principles of biomedical research, and about designing, developing, and manufacturing diagnostic and medical devices.

Blending classroom learning with real-world and hands-on learning experiences, the curriculum includes courses such as biomaterials; fluid mechanics; thermodynamics; biomedical design elements; bioimaging; biomedical instrumentation and devices; and a survey of tissue engineering. The program comprises 128 credits.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET; Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $8,250 per semester

Drexel University

Drexel University also has an on-campus bachelor of science program in biomedical engineering preparing students in conceiving, designing, and developing systems and devices that improve quality of life and human health. Students in this program will be required to select one from the following available concentrations: biomaterials; tissue engineering; biomechanics; neuroengineering; biomedical imaging; and biomedical informatics.

Made up of 187.5 to 188.5 credits, the program includes coursework in biomedical statistics; biomedical ethics and law; modeling in biomedical design; programming and modeling for biomedical engineers; mechanics of biological systems; biofluid mechanics; techniques in molecular biology; quantitative systems biology; and introduction to thermodynamics.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission of ABET; Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 to 60 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $17,956 to $18,405 per term

Some colleges and universities offer a five-year undergraduate and graduate dual degree program, offering students the chance to earn a bachelor of science and a master of engineering in five years. This option allows students to earn two degrees in a shorter amount of time, leading to expanded future opportunities and saving time and money.

Step Three – Gain Some Professional Experience (One Year or More):

While it is certainly not a requirement of becoming a biomedical engineer, students may wish to find related employment or volunteer experience in the field as they complete their degree. Doing so will give them a better idea of what to expect upon graduation.

Many undergraduate engineering programs include internship opportunities for students, providing them with hands-on experience before graduation or in the fourth year in the case of five-year dual degree programs.

Step Four – Earn an Advanced Degree in Biomedical Engineering (Two Years or More, Optional)

Once the individual has obtained a degree, he or she may begin working as a biomedical engineer immediately. Or, he or she may choose to pursue a graduate degree in the field to be eligible for additional, sometimes more lucrative, types of employment.

According to CareerOneStop (2022), 27 percent of people in biomedical engineering careers had a master’s degree. There are several master’s degree programs in biomedical engineering that are available entirely online.

Admissions Requirements – Biomedical Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

As mentioned above, admissions requirements vary by institution. Some typical admission requirements to master’s degree programs in biomedical engineering include:

  • A completed online application along with an application fee
  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • A statement of purpose
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A minimum grade point average of 3.0
  • GRE or GMAT scores
  • Transcripts that have proof of course prerequisites

Program Examples

University of Southern California

University of Southern California’s master of science in biomedical engineering (MSBME) program can be completed online or on-campus with thesis or non-thesis options available.

Consisting of 28 credits, the curriculum explores topics such as advanced topics in biomedical systems; physiological control systems; advanced studies of the nervous system; signal and systems analysis; advanced biomedical imaging; ultrasonic imaging; and medical diagnostics, therapeutics, and informatics applications.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in any engineering or engineering-related discipline, transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, a current resume, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students whose first language is not English.

Graduates of the program have career opportunities in the areas of biomaterials, bioinstrumentation, biomechanics, medical imaging, drug design and delivery, orthopedic surgery, and pharmaceuticals.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Accreditation: Senior College and University Commission (WASC Senior or WSCUC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Full-time (18 to 24 months); part-time (30 to 36 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: $2,199 per credit

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota offers an online master of science degree in biomedical engineering providing students with the expertise needed for advancing into the biomedical device field. Students will learn to create innovative solutions through research and biomedical product development. Offering both thesis and non-thesis options, this program allows students to be part of a biomedical research and device development team at the UND’s College of Engineering & Mines.

The major admission requirements for the program include a bachelor of science degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program and a minimum grade point average of 3.0.

Comprising 30 credits, the program includes courses such as digital image processing; anatomy and physiology for biomedical engineers; biomedical instrumentation; advanced biomedical engineering problems; intelligent decision systems; and seminar for biomedical engineers.

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $798.08 per credit

Arizona State University (Related)

Arizona State University offers an online master of science program in biomedical diagnostics providing students with the experience and knowledge needed for pursuing new career opportunities in the biomedical engineering field. Students in this program will learn how diagnostics influence decision-making at medical organizations and will develop a comprehensive understanding of the business, regulatory, technological, and legal facets of biomedical diagnostics.

Made up of 30 credits, the program includes courses such as health economics, policy, and payment models; principles of diagnostic technology: immunoassays; regulation of medical diagnostics; principles of diagnostic technology: molecular diagnostics; and translational bioinformatics. As part of this program, all students will be required to take one course with extensive learning modules from Dublin City University (DCU).

Applicants to the program must possess a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from a regionally accredited university or college in one of the following, or closely related fields: biomedical informatics, biomedical engineering, life sciences, biology, biochemistry, engineering, business, computer science, or supply chain management. Candidates must have earned a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as clinical laboratory technicians, regulatory affairs specialists, operations engineers, database administrators, and clinical research specialists.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 to 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $842 per credit

Additionally, check out this guide to online degrees in biomedical engineering.

Once a bachelor’s or master’s degree in biomedical engineering has been obtained, an individual may begin working in the field immediately. However, as mentioned above, anyone wishing to work as a biomedical engineer should consider pursuing professional licensure to maximize employability and validate his or her qualifications and abilities.

As described by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), there are certain required steps to achieve a Professional Engineer (PE) license, which is listed below:

  • The individual must complete a four-year college degree from an institution that has been accredited by ABET. For convenience, ABET has compiled a database of accredited programs nationwide that can be searched by visiting its website.
  • Upon completing a degree in engineering from a four-year college or university, the individual must work in the field for at least four years under the supervision of another PE.
  • Once the engineer has completed a degree and worked for four years in the field, he or she must then pass two intensive competency exams that are provided by the relevant state licensure board. At this point, upon successful completion of all of these steps, the engineer should be awarded a Professional Engineer (PE) license.
  • Finally, in order to maintain said license, the individual must continually maintain and improve his or her skills throughout his or her career as an engineer.

It is also important to note that a Professional Engineer (PE) license applies to all fields of engineering. As such, if an individual has degrees in both biomedical engineering and, for example, electrical engineering, a professional engineering license will benefit him or her while searching for employment in either field. In other words, once an engineer has earned the PE designation and so long as said engineer keeps it up to date, the PE certification remains valid.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Biomedical Engineer?

The following provides a short overview of the time requirements necessary to become a biomedical engineer:

  • High School: In most cases, it takes a total of four years to complete a high school degree, although some may complete it in three. It may take a shorter period to obtain a GED, although this depends entirely on the individual.
  • Undergraduate Degree: A bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering will take four years to complete, unless the student takes on a significant course load each year, or he or she enters college or university already with credits to his or her name.
  • Graduate Degree: Although a graduate degree is not a necessity, it will likely take one or two years to complete a master’s degree, and significantly longer for a doctorate degree.
  • Professional Licensure: A biomedical engineer must work in the field for at least four years before becoming eligible to obtain a professional engineering degree.

Total Time: Not counting the time it takes to finish high school or obtain a GED, an aspiring biomedical engineer may be eligible to work in this field within three to four years (this solely includes the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree).

Once a biomedical engineer finds a position in the industry, he or she may take another one to five years, or more, to obtain additional qualifications leading to greater responsibilities and pay. The relatively short time frame necessary to begin work, as well as the additional possibilities for career advancement, make this choice an enticing option for those who wish to work in the fields of both engineering and medicine.

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