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How Do I Become a Biomedical Engineer?

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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 career in a university setting, while others may work in manufacturing facilities, research labs, medical institutions, or even government agencies.

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.

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, there are a number of characteristics that will certainly benefit an individual interested in becoming a biomedical engineer in the future. For example, O*Net Online 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 solution 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.
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Becoming a Biomedical Engineer – Role Requirements and Responsibilities

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.  Based on Payscale data (2016), the yearly salary range for biomedical engineers with master’s degrees is $3-10,000 higher than that of biomedical engineers with bachelor’s degrees.

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.

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 in order 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 in order to achieve a Professional Engineer (PE) license, which are 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 in time, 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 the duration of his or her career as an engineer.

It is also important to note that a Professional Engineer (PE) license is applicable 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.

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: 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 that focus 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: 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.
  • Step Three: 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.
  • Step Four: 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 in order to be eligible for additional, sometimes more lucrative, types of employment.
  • Step Five: Although this is not necessary, biomedical engineers with four years of relevant work experience may apply for a professional engineering license to help them obtain more lucrative opportunities in the future.

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 of time 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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