John H. Linehan

Northwestern University

As a modern academic discipline, biomedical engineering has evolved as the continuing integration of the sciences of chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology. Biomedical engineering educational programs are new (the majority have been established in the past 15 years) and are designed to help students achieve a deep understanding of this new discipline. But there is more!

Engineers use knowledge to solve unmet needs. Biomedical engineering practitioners use design principles and quantitative skills to develop technological solutions to unmet needs in biology and medicine, particularly as related to human disease and health. An important goal of biomedical engineering educational programs is to help students use acquired knowledge via experiential learning opportunities. Prospective students should evaluate schools accordingly.

Improving the quality of life has long been a prime motivation for the invention and development of medical devices (and continues to be a strong attractor of young people into the field). The list of successful devices is long: to name a few (therapeutics) – pacemakers, artificial joints, dialysis, implantable lens, insulin pumps … and (diagnostics) – CT, MR, ultrasound. Medical devices continue to change the practice of medicine.

As the adage says, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”.   But, most assuredly, research advances in technology, such as increased computing power, novel and improved materials, miniaturization, robotics, wireless technology and manufacturing, will drive new and improved devices. An example of a disruptive technology in the news at the beginning of 2014 is the leadless pacemaker.

Over the years, students have told me that helping people is their prime reason for choosing to study biomedical engineering. The majority of graduates from biomedical engineering programs find rewarding jobs in the private sector, particularly in the medical device industry. 

The industry job spectrum spans management (after appropriate experience), engineering research and product design, marketing, manufacturing, regulatory affairs, and technical support with physicians and hospitals. While many jobs are in large global companies, there are exciting opportunities in early-stage start-up companies for biomedical engineers with an entrepreneurial mind-set. Graduates also pursue careers in medicine and dentistry, patent law, government (FDA) and academia (as professors).

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