Bioengineering is an exciting and developing field that brings together knowledge and skills from engineering, biology, and medicine. Biomedical engineers (or bioengineers) work everywhere from hospitals to pharmaceutical companies to government organizations. An engineer working in the field might design or maintain products like artificial organs or advanced medical equipment. One might even design a product that prevents diseases, improves quality of living, or outright saves lives.
What Does a Bioengineer Do?
There are numerous specialty fields in the bioengineering field, such as:
- Biomechanical engineers, who focus on the human body, cell structures and microbiology. A biomechanical engineer might design projects for biological waste treatment, develop new kinds of living tissue, and help develop medical advances that improve human quality of life.
- Biomaterials engineers, who study and develop substances for use in medical devices. Biomaterials engineering is used in the development of therapeutic treatments for spinal cord injuries, neuro-degenerative diseases, and cardiac problems.
- Genetic engineers, who study and alter the genetic makeup of organisms to develop superior food crops, use gene transfer to control invasive animal species, and even creating microbial art. Some genetically altered microbes can even be used in bioremediation to treat contaminated substances and make them useful again.
Bioinstrumentation engineers, who help develop tools in the fields of medicine and health. Most notably, bioinstrumentation has been used to develop fitness trackers, as well as adding functions like heart rate and blood oxygen levels to smartphones. Bioinstrumentation is also being used to develop noninvasive operation techniques like laser microsurgery, as well as drug delivery and aiding machines for anesthesia. Bioinstrumentation is also used extensively in agriculture to test soil and measure plant growth.
What sort of things have bioengineers pioneered or helped develop? Here are just a few examples:
- Hearing aids
- High-performance fabric
- Cardiac pacemakers
- ICU equipment for hospitals
- Artificial organs
- High-impact prosthetic limbs and joints
- MRI, CT scan, and dialysis machines
- Astronaut monitoring units
- Suits for deep sea diving
- Artificial human tissue
- LASIK treatments
How to Become a Bioengineer
Due to the innovative nature of the field, bioengineering is a highly skilled and in-demand profession. As with so many fields, the first step toward a lucrative bioengineering career is obtaining a degree.
Ideally, students should start preparing in high school, placing emphasis on computer programming, chemistry, life sciences, and calculus. Speech and communications courses are also encouraged.
Next, a student will require a college degree. Because some certifications require a degree accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), an aspiring bioengineer should obtain a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from an accredited school.
Once a degree is secured, two licenses must be obtained:
- A fundamentals of engineering license. To obtain a license requires passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which in turn requires the aforementioned degree from an ABET-accredited school. After passing the exam, the aspiring engineer must work a minimum of four years in the field.
- After obtaining the FE license and acquiring the requisite work experience, the engineer must pass another exam to get their Principles and Practice of Engineering License. This means getting a passing score on the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam, which tests engineering competency in a variety of specialties. Once the exam is passed, the student becomes a licensed professional engineer with all the benefits that entails.
Developing Your Bioengineering Career
A successful bioengineering career requires more than just a bachelor’s degree, some certifications, and math and science skills. An aspirin bioengineer must also:
- Learn “people skills” for networking, finding a mentor, and working with others
- Develop their time management, focus, and dedication.
- Be prepared to earn their masters degree or get a doctorate in their chosen field, a tremendous advantage in a competitive environment like bioengineering.
What Does a Bioengineer Earn?
Bioengineering can be a lucrative and rewarding career. The median wage for full-time biomedical engineers was approximately $91,000 in 2019. The lowest earners in the field made around $55,000, and the highest earned almost $150,000.
Wages for bioengineers also vary by industry and specialization:
- Those working in electromedical or control instrument manufacturing earns about $105,000.
- Research and development in physical and life sciences engineering earns around $92,000.
- Working in health care and social assistance earns about $77,000.
- The field of medical equipment and supplies manufacturing commands a salary of around $89,000.
The Future of Bioengineering
Employment prospects for bioengineering are growing fast. Because medical and industrial technologies grow more sophisticated and necessary every day, there will be a need for bioengineers well into the future.
Statistics show jobs for bioengineers will grow four to five percent from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than average among occupations overall. About 1,400 job openings for bioengineers are expected to open each year.