Wheelchairs. Artificial organs. Nicotine patches. What do all of these products have in common? They were developed by biomedical engineers (also known as bioengineers). Professionals in this field work at the intersection of the human body and the outside world. They’ve contributed to the development of thousands of medical devices and other equipment that have transformed human health and wellness.
The biomedical engineering field is growing, and individuals who choose this career path have a wide array of options for where they can work. Bioengineers work in health care, of course, but also in sports, entertainment, research, government, and many other sectors. Given the role’s versatility and the important nature of their work, a biomedical engineering salary is typically generous, making this a potentially satisfying career for someone with excellent math, engineering, and analytical skills who wants to help people live healthier lives.
Investing in an online biomedical engineering degree is an excellent first step in pursuing this rewarding career.
What Do Bioengineers Do?
Biomedical engineers work for a variety of employers, including colleges and universities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, engineering and life sciences firms, and research and development organizations, as well as medical device and supplies manufacturers. Their skills are in high demand because their experience combines the technical know-how of engineers with the expertise, professionalism, and capabilities that medical researchers bring to the table.
Using their background in engineering, mechanics, and biomechanics, bioengineers design medical devices such as heart monitors and MRI machines. These engineering professionals are experts in how medical products work with the human body.
Their responsibilities include:
- Equipment design. Depending on their specialty, bioengineers may design artificial organs or joints, medical devices, or diagnostic machines.
- Tech support, training, and maintenance. Engineers install and maintain equipment and train medical staff on its proper use.
- Research. Bioengineers work with medical researchers and other scientists on the design and development of new products.
- Simulation and modeling. Bioengineers use modeling and simulation software, such as advanced 3-D and statistical modeling software, as part of the design and testing process.
- Presentation and communication. Bioengineers present their findings to various audiences, including the medical team, company executives, research organizations, and patient groups.
For individuals who have a passion for medicine but also enjoy engineering work, biomedical engineering is an ideal combination. It’s a multidisciplinary profession, with bioengineers working in many different capacities toward the common goal of helping people experience longer, more fulfilling lives. Whether it involves designing the electrical circuitry that runs medical equipment or creating prosthetic limbs, a biomedical engineering career is richly rewarding.
A number of different occupations are available for biomedical engineers. Some lean more toward medicine, and others toward engineering. A master’s degree in bioengineering can prepare students for a career in any of these roles.
Biochemical engineers create products using biological materials, such as organisms (i.e., bacteria), cells, enzymes, and molecules. They combine biological materials with lab-produced materials to create new products that solve specific challenges. They develop products for waste remediation, water purification, biofuels, and more.
Pedometers, heart monitors, and pulse oxygen monitors are just a few examples of bioinstruments. This area of bioengineering combines knowledge of electrical engineering and electronics, software development, and measurement to design and develop medical instruments.
Biomaterials engineers study the properties of materials that are used in medical procedures and treatments to design and develop medical devices and other treatments. They may research natural materials or lab-created products and combine them in many different ways. Biomaterials include ceramics, polymers, fabrics, and metallic materials.
Clinical engineers apply the study of biomedical engineering to improving health care delivery. However, unlike bioengineers, they may not be involved in the research, design, and development of medical devices. Instead, they find ways to use existing technology to enhance the delivery of medical care. Their technical background makes them excellent consultants to clinical and administrative staff.
Genetic engineers use biology, chemistry, math, and engineering skills to modify the genetic makeup of humans, plants, and animals. For example, genetic engineers may develop plant strains that have specific genetic features. These may include strains that are resistant to invasive insects or pesticides, or those that contain additional micronutrients (i.e., “golden rice”). They may also work as genetic counselors to help people with genetic diseases. Genetic engineers are called engineers because they work with the structure of DNA.
Rehabilitation engineers develop devices that assist people suffering from physical or cognitive impairment. Like biomechanics engineers, they work with the mechanics of the human body to develop solutions for people with physical and mental disabilities. Devices include assistive devices for people who have suffered a stroke or who are living with Parkinson’s disease, or for those who have vision loss, hearing loss, or another disability.
Systems physiologists use mathematical and engineering principles to predict how the human body will react to medical devices or products. This research has been put to use in the development of drug skin patches, for example. As biomedical engineers, systems physiologists have a strong biology background as well as an engineering, mathematical modeling, and statistics mindset.
How to Become a Bioengineer
To become a bioengineer, many individuals start out by taking high school courses in chemistry, physics, and biology, as well as higher-level math (advanced algebra and calculus.) An undergraduate degree in engineering, along with science classes in biology and chemistry, is also necessary.
At the University of California, Riverside, the undergraduate bioengineering curriculum includes courses in quantitative biochemistry, circulation physiology, and biomechanics; it also includes courses in biotechnology and molecular bioengineering, tissue engineering, and biomaterials. Students who choose a different engineering discipline should also take biology and chemistry courses.
Some career opportunities are available for graduates who only have a bachelor’s degree. However, most employers strongly prefer a master’s degree in biomedical engineering.
A master’s degree program in bioengineering will focus on advanced coursework in engineering, biology, and chemistry. UCR’s online Master’s in Biomedical Engineering includes coursework in engineering and the global environment, technology innovation and strategy, engineering analysis of physiological systems, cellular and molecular engineering, and biotransport phenomena. The cutting-edge nature of the coursework reflects the profession’s history of pushing the boundaries in human health care and biomechanics.
Bioengineering Salary and Job Outlook
Often when people say they want a rewarding career, they mean one that offers a combination of personal achievement, high salary, and job satisfaction. For those with an aptitude for science and creativity, bioengineering can be highly rewarding. Health care is routinely at the top of the list of highest-paying industries, as are jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
The median annual salary for bioengineers and biomedical engineers was $97,410 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS expects the number of jobs in the field to grow 6% between 2020 and 2030, adding more than 1,000 new jobs.
Approximately 16% of bioengineers worked in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing in 2020, and another 16% worked in research and development in engineering and life sciences.
Compensation can depend on several factors, such as years of experience, industry, and geographic location. According to the BLS, the following represented the industries with the highest median annual wages:
- Instruments manufacturing: $108,690 (median wage in 2021)
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: $98,610
- Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing: $97,090
- Health care and social assistance: $79,400
- Colleges and universities: $62,650
Demand and wages also vary by location. The states with the most bioengineers and biomedical engineers were California, Massachusetts, Texas, Minnesota, and Illinois, the BLS reports. However, the states with the highest annual mean wages in 2021 were as follows:
- New Mexico: $134,120
- Arizona: $120,970
- Minnesota: $119,250
- Connecticut: $116,430
- Massachusetts: $115,670
The top-paying states did not always correspond to the top-paying cities. The highest annual mean bioengineer salaries were in the following cities and metropolitan areas:
- Flagstaff, Arizona: $151,560
- Phoenix, Arizona: $122,950
- Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota: $120,340
- San Francisco: $119,130
- New Haven, Connecticut: $119,020
Experience is another factor that can have a significant influence on earnings. As of May 2022, median annual biomedical engineer salaries ranged from around $64,000 for those at the beginning of their careers to $97,000 for those with between 10 and 19 years of experience, according to salary research site Payscale.
Certain skills can also have a positive impact on compensation, and biomedical engineers with these skills often receive a bump in pay. In-demand skills include quality control, technical services, and software development, Payscale reports.
How to Pursue a Bioengineering Career
Getting a job in the biomedical engineering field requires the same approach as earning a degree: Individuals need to follow their passion, and make sure they take the right steps along the way.
Pursuing an internship with a biomedical engineering firm or other organization that hires bioengineers can be useful. An internship provides on-the-job training and a chance to become immersed in the field as well as make professional connections. Internships are invaluable experiences that can give aspiring biomedical engineers a leg up on their job search.
While private companies may not require a professional engineer (PE) license, some government and university jobs may. Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), as a recent graduate or even as an undergraduate is an excellent way to demonstrate proficiency as an engineer to prospective employers.
The NCEES PE Agricultural and Biological Engineering exam certifies that a student or recent graduate has the necessary education to move forward in their careers.
Conferences and Professional Organizations
Participating in conferences, joining professional organizations, and keeping up with biomedical trends are good ways to network and stay abreast of developments in this fast-changing field. Organizations such as the Society for Biological Engineering offer many events and networking opportunities through local chapters.
Bioengineers must be both analytical and creative. Possessing the right combination of technical expertise and soft skills can have a significant impact on a biomedical engineer’s salary.
Some of the most important skills and competencies for bioengineers include:
- Analytical mindset. Successful bioengineers possess a data-driven and scientific perspective. They must be able to assess the physical and natural features of a product, material, design, or patient need.
- Critical thinking. Critical thinking skills allow bioengineers to analyze the data they gather during their research and interpret the results with an objective mindset.
- Communication skills. Biomedical engineers need to have excellent written and oral skills. They make presentations, write scientific papers for publication, and collaborate with other professionals to solve problems.
- Creativity. Bioengineers are creative and innovative problem-solvers. They deal with complex systems and issues, both mechanical and biological, that often require innovative solutions.
- Advanced math. Math is the language of engineering. Bioengineers must be experienced in using advanced math, such as calculus, statistics, and data modeling.
Identifying prospective employers is the next step in pursuing a career in bioengineering. Companies and organizations that hire bioengineers include some of the top names in industry and research. Biomedical engineers work in the largest international corporations as well as startups that focus on a single innovation.
Bioengineers work in academia as teachers, researchers, or often both. Medical nonprofits and government agencies also hire bioengineers for their engineering and medical acumen. The Biomedical Engineering Society’s online career center includes a job board where applicants can connect with many employers.
Some of the more common employers of bioengineers include:
Medical Device Manufacturers
Medical device manufacturers produce all kinds of medical products, including prosthetics and implants. They also make medical supplies such as bandages and syringes, wheelchairs and canes, stents, and artificial joints. Medical devices may be used externally or internally, but are primarily nonbiological.
Medical Diagnostic Equipment Manufacturers
Diagnostic equipment includes MRI and X-ray machines, patient monitoring equipment, and similar devices. Wearable heart monitors and consumer products such as Fitbits are both examples of medical diagnostic equipment, although Fitbits are not officially classified as such.
Genetic Engineering Companies
Genetic engineering products include agricultural and medical products that have been engineered for a specific function or purpose. Genetic engineering products include pharmaceuticals as well as pesticide-resistant plants, foods that are genetically adapted for longer life, and plants that are designed to produce more food.
Research Institutes and Medical Nonprofits
Medical nonprofit organizations and research institutes are at the forefront of expanding science and technology in health care. They employ scientists and bioengineers who are passionate about the problems they are solving. Medical nonprofits usually focus on a specific health issue and support research in that area.
The federal government employs around 850 biomedical engineers. The largest employer is the Veterans Administration (VA), followed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Army. At the VA, biomedical engineers work with clinical engineers to ensure the safe use of medical devices, among other responsibilities.
Explore a Career in Bioengineering
Bioengineers make a difference for patients and health care providers alike by designing innovative medical products, devices, and services that solve challenging problems. Bioengineers help people walk again, protect the environment and the food supply, reengineer genetic code to eliminate congenital diseases, ensure the safety of medical equipment, and perform many other complex tasks.
Who should become a bioengineer? If you have a passion for science and an analytical mind and you’re attracted to a career that combines medicine and engineering, bioengineering could be the field for you.
If you’re interested in such a career, explore the University of California, Riverside’s biomedical engineering online degree. Enjoy the flexibility of making your own schedule by completing the program entirely online. The curriculum is designed with your busy schedule in mind, enabling you to complete the coursework and earn your diploma in as little as 13 months.
Learn more today. A rewarding career in bioengineering awaits.