The popularity and ubiquity of engineering jobs has led many college students to consider enrolling in these academic programs. However, even if you’re interested in engineering and technology, you may still be hesitant to commit to engineering because you want to work in a profession that directly betters people’s lives. Enter bioengineering and biomedical engineering — two programs that combine engineering principles with environmental, agricultural, and medical expertise to solve biological problems.
Those interested in applied biological sciences are likely to be a good fit for both bioengineering and biomedical engineering. Both fields have strong job outlooks and interesting, fulfilling work.
Despite their similar names however, the two fields are fairly different from each other. When considering these two career paths, prospective students will want to know not only what they can expect to earn, but also what kind of work they’ll be engaged in and what kind of education is required for each.
Bioengineering vs. Biomedical Engineering
The terms bioengineering and biomedical engineering might roll off the tongue similarly, but in practice there are notable differences between the two. Understanding these differences is key to discovering which field aligns best with your interests.
What Is Bioengineering?
Bioengineering is the study of applied engineering practices in general biology. Bioengineers’ work often focuses on general theory that can be applied to various areas of natural sciences to solve problems. The field supports several branches that specialize in a specific element of biology and engineering cohesion, such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, natural resources, and foodstuffs, among others. As such, its practices are applied across many different sectors, including health care, technology, and the environment.
If you’re interested in big-picture ideas and creating new theoretical frameworks through which to approach biology, a bioengineering career could be a great fit.
What Is Biomedical Engineering?
Biomedical engineering is a specialized area of bioengineering that puts many of the discipline’s principal theories into practice to improve human health. The field focuses on the production of new tools and processes that can be used in various health care contexts.
Biomedical engineers commonly work to solve issues that pertain to the life sciences. Those who work on prosthetics or the emerging field of cybernetics (more formally known as biomechatronics) may also be referred to as biomechanical engineers. Devices like the pacemaker, artificial heart, and cochlear implant are all results of biomedical innovation. Medical and surgical tools such as specialized robotic surgery suites fall under their purview as well. Biomedical engineers also work to advance the efficacy of natural processes through biotechnology, such as tissue regeneration and cell diffusion.
Biomedical engineers can be found in almost all fields of medicine — wherever there’s a problem that impacts human health, they work to find a solution. If you want to use established doctrine to improve health care by creating or operating advanced biotechnological products, then the biomedical engineering career path might be the preferred choice.
Education Requirements for Bioengineers and Biomedical Engineers
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for a career in either field. While this can be a degree related to science or math, an engineering degree is likely to offer the best educational foundation. Pursuing a master’s degree in engineering after a bachelor’s is advisable. This can potentially broaden available opportunities in the field, as some employers prefer those with advanced degrees for senior roles.
In terms of what level of education is explicitly needed, most engineering disciplines follow similar patterns. With a bachelor’s, students can expect to have access to entry-level engineering roles as well as to low- or mid-level leadership positions. After this, the ability for a graduate to elevate their position will differ on a case-by-case basis.
With a master’s degree, the field of engineering opens much wider. Supervisory and advanced research roles become more accessible. On average, a master’s degree takes about two years to complete, in addition to the four years most engineering bachelor’s programs require.
Finally, those looking to reach the apex of their bioengineering or biomedical career can pursue a Ph.D. This will open up the most prestigious research and development roles. In addition, Ph.D. holders can be considered for teaching, advisory, and consulting roles at universities and in government organizations.
Curriculum for Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering
The coursework for each degree is fairly similar. A basic engineering curriculum defines both bioengineering and biomedical engineering at most institutions, as the application of engineering principles is just as important in biological sciences as it is in other fields. Mathematics is another universal foundational skill. Knowledge of calculus, differential equations, and advanced statistics are necessary competencies in both degree programs.
Advanced knowledge of biology is another part of these curricula, and physics, chemistry, and other sciences get a fair amount of focus as well. At the conclusion of a degree program, many colleges have students conduct capstone projects, where their engineering skills are applied to create prototype products or processes that solve specific issues in biological science fields.
Skills for Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering
Both prospective bioengineers and biomedical engineers need a similar skill set to thrive. Since much of the work involves synthesizing solutions to complex challenges, applicants should have strong problem-solving skills and the perseverance to see tough projects through to the end. The drive to confront challenges is fundamental to success in any engineering field, and this goes double for the biological disciplines.
Decision-making is another core competency. While engineers typically don’t have to make decisions with the same urgency as the medical practitioners their work supports, the impact of choice is long-lasting in any engineering discipline. If you’re confident in your decision-making ability and possess these skills, then biomedical and biological engineering could be great fits for you.
Bioengineering vs. Biomedical Engineering: Salary and Job Outlook
General bioengineering and biomedical engineering jobs can be found in many different fields. Bioengineers work in agriculture, health care, pharmaceuticals, food and drink production, and many other industries. Biomedical engineers also have a breadth of opportunities at their disposal despite their more narrow focus, as their work impacts practically every field of medicine. Medical technology engineering roles are also available, along with specialized positions in areas such as bioinstrumentation, medical imaging, and genetic engineering. This translates into a wide range of rewarding and well-paying opportunities for prospective professionals.
The median annual salary for bioengineers was approximately $89,800 as of September 2022, according to ZipRecruiter, with the top 10% of earners making more than $142,500 per year.
Several factors can influence salary, such as education level, years of experience, and location. The specific branch of bioengineering can also be a factor.
Biomedical Engineering Salary
The median annual salary for biomedical engineers was around $89,500 as of September 2022, according to ZipRecruiter, with the top 10% earning a median of $117,500. Like bioengineering, education level, experience, and job location can all affect salaries for biomedical engineers.
Bioengineering Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) combines bioengineering and biomedical engineering in its employment projections, predicting 10% job growth for the field between 2021 and 2031.
Because bioengineering is a broad field, the type of industry in which an individual works may influence job outlook, sometimes dramatically. For instance, positions for bioengineers in scientific research and development are projected to increase about 21% between 2021 and 2031.
Biomedical Engineering Job Outlook
Sectors more closely linked to biomedical engineering will also experience variable growth, according to BLS projections. For example, employment in ambulatory health care services is expected to grow 13.5% between 2021 and 2031.
Employment growth in both fields is tied to increasing demand for new and improved medical devices and procedures, such as hip and knee replacements. Additionally, because their expertise can be applied across a range of industries, opportunities for bioengineers and biomedical engineers are expected to be plentiful.
What Do Bioengineers and Biomedical Engineers Do?
Bioengineers and biomedical engineers can hold many different jobs in a variety of industries, and with this comes a breadth of possible responsibilities conducted in a host of different work environments.
Bioengineer Job Description
A bioengineer’s primary duties include designing, installing, maintaining, and supporting devices and equipment that improve daily life. They may collaborate with manufacturers to ensure the safety and quality of the materials they create. They may also collaborate with scientists to integrate engineering theories into medical or biological concepts. Additionally, they may develop statistical or simulation models to research and develop potential equipment and devices.
Specific areas of bioengineering include:
- Bionics — The study of natural systems (such as those in living organisms) and applying that knowledge to the operation of mechanical systems
- Agricultural engineering — The study of applying engineering concepts to resolve biological production issues pertaining to agriculture
- Bioenvironmental engineering — The study of applying engineering principles to resolve environmental issues
Biomedical Engineer Job Description
As a branch of bioengineering, biomedical engineers have similar duties to bioengineers, with a focus on health care and medicine. It also features several branches of its own, each with a distinct focus, including:
- Bioinformatics — The practice of developing data collection and analytical tools
- Biomechanics — The practice of applying mechanical engineering ideas to resolve medical issues
- Biophotonics — The practice of light manipulation for imaging biological tissue properties
Use Engineering to Improve the World
No matter which path you take, bioengineering and biomedical engineering are advanced areas of study that can lead to many impactful and meaningful jobs. With bioengineering, you can obtain a great grasp of engineering theory and experience in various biological sciences. Biomedical engineers can, in turn, use their medical training to create practical solutions to issues affecting life sciences and human health.
University of California Riverside’s online Master of Science in Engineering program and its bioengineering concentration can be a key component in your professional development. Find out how UCR can help you prepare for a career engineering healthy lives.