What Biomedical Engineering Is

  1. Some products biomedical engineers would be involved in the development, design, manufacture, sales, use or maintenance of include:

    1. Medical imagining equipment like x-ray machines, CAT scanners (3-D x-rays), PET scanners, and ultrasound (or sonagram) machines. These devices allow medical professionals to "see" inside patients without resorting to surgery.

    2. Surgical equipment like electrosurgical devices (modern surgeons rarely use plain scalpels), medical lasers, heart-lung machines and endoscopes (that allow observations to be made and surgery done through small openings in the body).

    3. Implants like artificial joints (like knees, hips and knuckles), cardiac pacemakers, artificial hearts and soft tissue implants (for reconstructive and cosmetic surgery).

    4. Patient monitoring equipment like ECG's (that measure electrical activity in the heart), EEG's (that measure electrical activity in the brain), EMG's (that measure electrical activity in the skeletal muscles), cardiac output calculators (that measure the amount of blood pumped by the heart), pulse oximeters (that measure the oxygen saturation of hemoglobin in blood), blood gas machines (that measure the pH and oxygen and carbon dioxide partial pressure in the blood), apnea monitors (that detect when patients stop breathing), blood pressure monitors, blood glucose monitors and thermometers.

    5. Patient care equipment like intravenous (I.V.) pumps, ventilators (respirators), defibrillators (that can restart a "stopped" heart) and hemodialysis equipment.

  2. Some things biomedical engineers typically do not do include:

    1. Provide patient care. Doctors, nurses and allied medical professionals (respiratory therapists, physical therapists, etc.) provide patient care. Biomedical engineers provide these professionals with the equipment they need to do their job.

    2. Make artificial limbs (prosthetics). The people who make artificial limbs are called prosthetists. The manufacture of prosthetics is a much older field than biomedical engineering. It dates from Roman times. However, designing completely new prosthetics, say one controlled by electrical signals from the body, would be a job for biomedical engineers.

    3. Maintain medical equipment. Biomedical engineers supervise equipment maintenance. The actual work is usually done by people with two year (Associate) degrees in biomedical engineering technology (called BMET's).

    4. In general, biomedical engineering provides a good, if difficult, pre-med degree. However, MSOE's program is not directed toward pre-med. The MSOE biomedical engineering program contains a little less chemistry than is required by most medical schools.

  3. Some principles (subjects) biomedical engineers apply include:

    1. Natural sciences (chemistry and physics), life sciences (biology, physiology and medicine) and mathematics (statistics and calculus). Biomedical engineers study biology, physiology and medicine. Biology is the study of life. Biology tends to be general and descriptive. Physiology is the study of the physical processes of life. Physiology tends to be more quantitative than biology and focuses on mechanisms. Medicine is the art and science of diagnosing, treating and preventing disease. Medicine tends to be very practical and applied. Biomedical engineers also study statistics and calculus. Statistics are used to analyze experimental results. Statistical analysis is required because biomedical engineers often experiment on human and non-human animals. Calculus is needed to solve a wide variety of problems involving rates of change and cumulative effects.

    2. Biomedical engineers also apply skills commonly associated with electrical engineering (including circuit analysis, analog and digital electronics and control theory), mechanical engineering (including statics, dynamics, material science and heat transfer), chemical engineering (including mass transfer, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics), computer science (high level and assembly language programming) and industrial engineering (human factors and ergonomics).

    3. Biomedical engineers also apply special skills such as technical communication (writing and oral presentation), analysis, synthesis and problem solving.

  4. Some types of places biomedical engineers work and some jobs they do include:

    1. Medical manufacturing companies where biomedical engineers are typically involved in applied research, development of new products, the design to new products, manufacturing, sales, user training and technical service.

    2. Hospitals where biomedical engineers typically supervise the maintenance of medical equipment, assist in the selection and acquisition of new equipment, and assist in training the medically staff to use new equipment. These engineers are often called clinical engineers. Clinical engineering is a specialty area within more general field of biomedical engineering.

    3. Public and private research institutions where some biomedical engineers conduct their own research. The goal of this research is generally the development of new types of medical equipment and devices. Other biomedical engineers in research institutions help physicians, physiologists and others with their research. These engineers often design and build new equipment and devices for use by other researchers.

    4. Biomedical engineers in government regulatory agencies like the FDA and EPA are involved in writing and enforcing government regulations. Some biomedical engineers are FDA inspectors that visit medical equipment manufactures.

  5. Some other types of professionals biomedical engineers work with include:

    1. Biomedical engineers often help physicians by providing technical advice and training on new equipment and techniques. Biomedical engineers often get help with medical questions from physicians. Biomedical engineers also can get ideas for new and improved medical products by interviewing physicians.

    2. Biomedical engineers often help nurses by providing training on the use of medical equipment. Biomedical engineers also can get ideas for new and improved medical products by interviewing nurses or watching them work.

    3. Biomedical engineers often help physiologists by providing them with specialized equipment for use in their research. Many ideals for new and improved medical products come from physiologists.

    4. Biomedical engineers often go to chemists and physicists for help with specific questions and problems.

    5. Biomedical engineers often work in groups with chemical, electrical, industrial, mechanical engineers. Each member of the group contributes his or her own specialized background and knowledge to help the group succeed.

    6. Biomedical engineers often go to mathematicians and statisticians for help on particularly difficult mathematics or statistics problems.

    7. Biomedical engineers often work with technical writers to produce instruction and maintenance manuals for medical products.

    8. Biomedical engineers often work with business people to get money to develop new and improved medical products and to market medical products. Clinical engineers must deal with hospital administrators.

  6. The college degrees biomedical engineers typically get include:

    1. It is possible to get a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in biomedical engineering in 4 years. Biomedical engineers with B.S. degrees generally work in sales, technical service, production and product development. MSOE offers a B.S. degree in biomedical engineering.

    2. Biomedical engineers with Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees are likely to be involved in medical device design and biomedical research. MSOE does not offer M.S. or Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering. About half the students who graduate from MSOE with biomedical engineering degrees go on to graduate school to get one of these degrees.

    3. Some biomedical engineers (particularly those involved in clinical engineering or at medical device manufacturing companies) get Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees.

      Send comments and suggestions about this page to: Dr. Charles S. Tritt
      This page last updated 7/18/97