- What do biomedical engineers do?
- Biomedical engineer career path
- Biomedical engineer salaries
- Qualifications and training
- Biomedical engineer skills
- Pros and cons of being a biomedical engineer
- Work-life balance of a biomedical engineer
- Typical employers hiring biomedical engineers
- Related jobs to biomedical engineer
- More information
Would you like to combine an interest in medicine with a passion for engineering? If you want to help people through designing and developing technical equipment to be used in a clinical setting, then a career as a biomedical engineer could be the path you’re looking for.
What does a biomedical engineer do?
Biomedical engineers are concerned with researching, designing and developing healthcare equipment which can be used to aid a variety of clinical procedures and disorders. Biomedical engineers are the minds behind much of the pioneering medical practice we see today, such as robotic surgical instruments, bionic limbs, joint replacements and technology for tailor made rehabilitation.
The work of biomedical engineers is varied and you may be employed by hospitals or private health services, research institutes or manufactures of medical equipment. Biomedical engineers are sometimes referred to as bioengineers, clinical engineers, medical engineers or design engineers depending on their specialism. Despite specialisation, there are certain tasks and responsibilities that are common amongst biomedical engineers. Here are some examples of what working as a biomedical engineer day to day may look like:
- Researching ways to problem solve medical equipment and treatments which are ineffective and need improving
- Designing and developing new materials or devices using mathematical models and computer software
- Designing and conducting clinical trials for innovative medical equipment or treatment methods
- If working with manufactures, a biomedical engineer works closely with marketing departments to ensure they are happy with the cost and quality of a product, as well as ensuring it is viable for mass production
- Approaching other industry companies to help market and sell the product
- If working in a hospital, a biomedical engineer collaborates with doctors and patients to oversee the course of a patient's treatment
- Training healthcare professionals in the correct ways to use a product and offering advice and guidance to clinicians when dealing with technical difficulties
Biomedical engineer career path
Biomedical engineers usually work for the NHS or private healthcare, in research or in industry. If you are working within the NHS, there is a clear path of progression you can follow based on the grades that you achieve through training and developing new skills. Promotions often mean moving to other hospitals in different areas to take advantage of any job openings there.
For biomedical engineers working in research, it is typical to study for a PhD in Biomedical engineering before taking a position as a researcher or lecturer at a university or higher education institution. Those studying for a PhD will have a supervisor to support them through their studies and can receive additional training and guidance from organisations like Vitae which are there to support the professional development of biomedical engineers in the early stages of their career.
If you think you’d like to work in industry then progression to senior roles is done through the company or organisation you’re developing products for. You could work your way up to a senior role in production, marketing or management or choose to specialise in technical advice or quality assurance.
Biomedical engineer salaries
- For biomedical engineers working within the NHS, salaries are divided up between 9 pay brackets. Entry level salaries range from £24,907 to £30,615 per year within Band 5
- You then progress to Band 6 where salaries range from £31,365 to £37,890 per year
- This goes up to Band 7 which is between £38,890 and £44,503 per year, requiring significant experience
- Within the private sector, salaries are very similar, ranging from £21,000 to £45,000 depending on specialism and experience
Qualifications and training
Reaching the right level of qualifications and having great experience helps you secure a job on the career path you want. Here is an idea of the education and training that you need to succeed as a biomedical engineer:
Biomedical engineers going into the private sector are expected to have an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject such as biomedical science/engineering, mechanical engineering, physics or electrical engineering. If you think you might like to work towards chartered status later down the line, it’s a good idea to make sure your degree is accredited by institutions such as the IMechE or the IET. More information on accredited courses can be found on this Accredited Course Search.
If you would prefer to work for the NHS, you’ll need to apply through the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). This is a full time 3 year work scheme that also includes study at Master’s level. To get onto this graduate-entry scheme, you are required to have a first class degree or 2:1 in a relevant subject such as the ones listed above, or a 2:2 with a related Master’s or PhD.
However, there are other routes depending on where you would like to work. The Royal Navy and the Royal Airforce offer sponsored biomedical science degrees.If you don’t want to go down the degree route, you could secure a healthcare science practitioner apprenticeship. You can explore the apprenticeships available with this government apprenticeship search tool. For other ways to get into engineering without a degree take a look at how to get into engineering without a BEng.
Getting onto the STP can be competitive so it’s a good idea to set yourself apart from other candidates by having some hands-on experience working in a clinical environment before applying. You could contact your local hospital and ask to shadow a biomedical engineer working in a department you’re interested in. Another good idea is to volunteer for charities who work with people who live with disabilities and disorders to get an idea of the types of products you could develop. For example, Remap is a charity set up to help design and improve medical equipment for people with specific needs and requirements.
If you’re looking to get into manufacturing, it may be helpful to look at internships for companies that work in the area you’re interested in. Many top firms offer internships during the summer aimed at university students. Explore the current internships in Science and Research.
Biomedical engineer skills
Education is an important building block on the road to securing your career as a biomedical engineer, but it is also important to consider the skill set required for the job. Here are some of the hard and soft skills that you need to flourish in your career as a biomedical engineer:
- Computer skills. Regardless of the area you specialise in as a biomedical engineer, you are likely to need a degree of computer literacy when designing technical devices using computer modelling.
- Spatial awareness and three-dimensional conceptual ability. It is important you’re able to map out what new products are going to look and feel like when they’re off the page and before they materialise in production. Like an architect, you need to be able to visualise the device you’re designing.
- Medical literacy. An applied understanding of human biology and clinical terminology is required to develop products from the ground up and ensure they are both safe and efficient for patients to use.
- Creativity. Biomedical engineers are innovators, so you need to be able to combine your technical knowledge with the creative flare needed for coming up with new ideas for products.
- Problem solving. To work as a biomedical engineer, you need to be able to think through and analyse problems as they arise from product development and testing.
- Commercial awareness. This is needed when considering how economically viable a product is and whether it is suitable for mass production and marketing.
- Teamwork. When working in a hospital a variety of different departments and specialisms will come together to work on a project.
Pros and cons of being a biomedical engineer
A career as a biomedical engineer can be incredibly rewarding. However, it’s hard work and not suited to everyone. Here are some pros and cons to help you consider whether life as a biomedical engineer might be right for you:
- Working alongside patients who need help can be very rewarding when you are able to help them improve the quality of their life
- Designing and problem solving can often be exciting and challenging work, with huge job satisfaction when you design something the world has never seen before
- Collaboration is at the heart of biomedical engineering, and if you enjoy working as a part of a team, there is often a strong sense of unified purpose
- Specialising and becoming chartered can offer high rates of pay as you excel in your career
- The nature of scientific endeavour is that progress is achieved through trial and error. Sometimes designs don’t work or aren’t accepted by manufacturers, and a project you’ve been working on for a long time may not come to fruition
- Biomedical scientists often work long hours or weekends and bank holidays when developing a product. Deadlines from manufacturers and unforeseen setbacks can make the job sometimes highly pressured
- If you are working in a hospital, this can be a high intensity and high stress environment
Work-life balance of a biomedical engineer
The hours of a biomedical engineer are generally between 38 to 40 hours a week, and if you’re doing research your hours will vary depending on the stage of a project you’re completing. If you are working in a hospital, your hours will depend on the shift pattern and requirements of the rota. This means you may well be required to work into the evenings or on weekends. However, biomedical engineers often have the opportunity to attend conferences which could provide an exciting opportunity to travel. Senior positions in the private sector often involve international travel to introduce medical trails and new products to different parts of the world.
Typical employers hiring biomedical engineers
Below is an idea of the types of companies who might have positions or work experience for people interested in a career in biomedical engineering:
- Cambridge Consultants
- PA Consulting
- Novo Nordisk
- The Science and Technology Facilities Council
Related jobs to biomedical engineer
- Chemical engineer
- Clinical scientist
- Crime scene investigator
- Pharmaceutical sales
Does engineering feel like it might be the right sector for you, but you’re not sure about working in medicine? Take an in-depth look at the different types of engineering. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the technical jargon, take a look at our guide to engineering terminology.