The field of engineering is wide ranging and encompasses many subspecialties.
In fact, it’s become so diverse that simply calling someone an “engineer” is usually a major oversimplification. They could be a structural engineer, chemical engineer, train engineer (okay, maybe that last one isn’t quite the same thing). The point is, when you think about a career in engineering, you have plenty of options to choose from.
One area to consider is the realm of bioengineering.
Not to be confused with biotechnology, which is the application of biological principles to the development of new technology, i.e., the development of biofuels or genetically modified organisms, bioengineering is divided into two subspecialties, biomedical engineering and biomechanical engineering.
You are likely to find either type of engineer in a biotech environment, especially given that the industry as a whole is experiencing unprecedented growth.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the field of bioengineering will grow faster than almost any other, with a cumulative 60 percent increase in job opportunities by 2020.
That being said, while they both fall under the umbrella of bioengineering, biomedical and biomechanical engineering are actually quite different. Choosing the right path requires considering your own interests and strengths, and the type of work you want to do.
Biomedical engineering is a broader field than biomechanical engineering, and involves the development and improvement of engineering solutions for biological and clinical applications.
Some view it as a bridge or connection between medicine and engineering, as it uses the concepts and problem-solving skills germane to engineering to improve the delivery of healthcare and medicine.
Biomedical engineers may work on projects designed to improve healthcare at all stages, from diagnosis through treatment and post-treatment monitoring. More specifically, some of the most common types of projects include research and development in tissue engineering, medical imaging, kinetic modeling, and neural implants.
A biomedical engineer might work on the development of new medical devices, or improve existing devices with a focus on the biological aspects of the design.
Becoming a biomedical engineer typically requires earning a master’s degree in engineering, with a concentration in biomedical engineering. However, many biomedical engineers also go on to earn additional degrees relevant to their area of focus.
For example, many who work on projects with direct applications to clinical care also study medicine for greater insights into how the technologies will be used. Others study law in order to move into the world of patents, or earn an MBA to take on managerial roles.
In any case, biomedical engineers earn much more than average, with median salaries closing in on $90,000 per year.
Typically viewed as a subspecialty of biomedical engineering, biomechanical engineering is largely a research-based field in which the principles of physical sciences are used to better understand biological systems.
In other words, a biomechanical engineer applies his or her understanding of engineering principles to living things, to develop better solutions for healthcare and life sciences. This might include using such principles as mass, kinetics, catalysts, and polymer science to create new products that will imitate or control biological systems — like advanced prosthetics.
Other specialties within this field include the study of balance and movement, hearing, speech, and soft tissue mechanics.
One growing specialty within this field is robotics, specifically the development of robotics technology for minimally invasive surgery and advanced prosthetics. Sports medicine is also benefitting from biomechanical engineering, as engineers are developing solutions for improved performance as well as improved equipment to reduce and avoid injuries.
Becoming a biomedical engineer usually requires earning a master’s degree, either in person or by taking online engineering courses. In most cases, biomedical engineering is a concentration within an overall engineering program.
With median salaries around $86,000 annually, this is a satisfying and potentially rewarding field.
The differences between biomedical and biomechanical engineering are subtle, but important. In either case, you can apply your knowledge and skills to improving lives and advancing medical treatments.
As we move into exciting new frontiers of technology and changing expectations for healthcare, either type of bioengineering career promises to be an exciting and challenging one.