You'll need a keen interest in creating and maintaining design systems and products for the medical industry to be a successful biomedical engineer

Biomedical engineers apply engineering principles and materials technology to healthcare.

In this role, you'll research, design and develop medical products, such as joint replacements or robotic surgical instruments, design or modify equipment for clients with special needs in a rehabilitation setting, or manage the use of clinical equipment in hospitals and the community.

You'll be employed by health services, medical equipment manufacturers and research departments or institutes.

Job titles vary depending on the exact nature of the work. As well as biomedical engineer, other terms include:

  • bioengineer;
  • design engineer;
  • clinical engineer or scientist (in a hospital setting/clinical situation).

Responsibilities

The tasks you carry out will vary depending on your employer and the seniority of the post held, but may include:

  • using computer software and mathematical models to design, develop and test new materials, devices and equipment. This can involve programming electronics, building and evaluating prototypes, troubleshooting problems, and rethinking the design until it works correctly;
  • liaising with technicians and manufacturers to ensure the feasibility of a product in terms of design and economic viability;
  • conducting research to solve clinical problems using a variety of means to collate the necessary information, including questionnaires, interviews and group conferences;
  • working closely with other medical professionals, such as doctors and therapists as well as with end-users (patients and their carers);
  • discussing and solving problems with manufacturing, quality, purchasing and marketing departments;
  • assessing the potential wider market for products or modifications suggested by health professionals or others;
  • arranging clinical trials of medical products;
  • approaching marketing and other industry companies to sell the product;
  • writing reports and attending conferences and exhibitions to present your work and latest designs to a range of technical and non-technical audiences;
  • meeting with senior health service staff or other managers to exchange findings;
  • dealing with technical queries from hospitals and GPs and giving advice on new equipment;
  • testing and maintaining clinical equipment;
  • training technical or clinical staff;
  • investigating safety-related incidents;
  • keeping up to date with new developments in the field, nationally and internationally.

Salary

  • Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) consist of nine pay bands and are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. Salaries for medical engineering technicians range from £21,909 to £28,462 (Band 5). At a specialist level, salaries rise to between £26,302 and £35,225 (Band 6).
  • With significant experience and a team manager position salaries can range from £31,383 to £41,373 (Band 7). Salaries may reach higher than this if head of department or consultant level is reached.
  • Salaries for biomedical engineers in the private sector are comparable to those in the NHS, ranging between £21,000 and £45,000 depending on experience and level of responsibility.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. If you are involved in research you may work in a flexible environment and longer hours may be necessary at certain stages of a project. On practical grounds, safety and maintenance work on hospital equipment is likely to be performed out of hours.

Part-time work is available and career breaks are possible.

What to expect

  • The workplace may be an office, laboratory, workshop, clinic or a combination of all these settings.
  • Self-employment is unlikely, although there may be scope to work as a consulting engineer or a contractor to a hospital once you have significant experience. You would also need to have a good network of contacts due to the collaborative nature of the work; biomedical engineers rarely work alone.
  • Jobs are widely available across the UK, particularly in NHS trusts. Flexibility in preferred geographical location may be necessary both to obtain an initial training post, and when seeking to move to a higher grade.
  • Local travel within the working day may be required, for example where the job involves the regional management and maintenance of medical equipment in hospitals, GP surgeries and patients' homes.
  • Travel to meetings, conferences or exhibitions both in the UK and abroad is possible. Some jobs in the private sector may involve extensive travel to introduce products and clinical trials to hospitals.
  • NHS employees are less likely to travel abroad than private sector or research staff, who are more commonly involved in international collaboration.

Qualifications

You need a degree to become a biomedical engineer and relevant subjects include:

  • biomedical science or engineering;
  • electrical or electronic engineering;
  • mechanical engineering;
  • physics.

Many employers require at least a 2:1. If you'd like to gain chartered status you should make sure that your degree is accredited by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) or the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

Having an accredited degree can help with securing a job or getting onto specific training courses. Details of accredited courses are available from Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

Once you have completed a degree you are able to apply for work in the private sector at research units or medical equipment manufacturers.

If you wish to work in the NHS you will need to undergo further training through the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). This is a graduate-entry programme that leads to more senior roles in the NHS. You will need a first or 2:1 in a relevant subject, or a 2:2 with a related Masters or PhD.

During the STP you will be employed by an NHS Trust on a salaried three-year training programme, which includes study for an approved and accredited Masters degree in your chosen science specialism. You will complete workplace-based training within clinical engineering. There is an annual intake for the STP, check the Health Careers website regularly for further details.

The successful completion of the STP leads to eligibility to apply to the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) for a Certificate of Attainment, which allows registration as a clinical scientist with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

For the separate scientist training schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland see:

If you do not complete the STP it may still be useful for you to obtain a postgraduate qualification in biomedical engineering. This is particularly desirable for entry into research and development and would also improve your prospects if you have a non-engineering first degree. Many MSc courses have opportunities for work experience in the field, which could be valuable.

Search for postgraduate courses in biomedical engineering.

Entry is not possible with a HND only. However, if you have A-levels in life sciences, it may be possible to secure work as a trainee biomedical technologist in the NHS. To progress beyond this to the role of a biomedical engineer would require further qualifications.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a strong interest in the integration of engineering and medicine;
  • excellent communication skills in order to liaise with a variety of people;
  • good attention to detail;
  • spatial awareness, three-dimensional conceptual ability and computer literacy (particularly for design engineers);
  • the capacity to combine a high degree of technical knowledge with creativity;
  • the ability to design products that are effective and practical as well as cost effective and aesthetic;
  • commercial awareness, in order to appreciate a product's marketability;
  • excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to work under pressure.

Work experience

Prior practical experience is not essential but relevant work experience in the form of vacation work or a placement year is very helpful in getting a first job and making contacts.

Voluntary or paid work with children or adults with disabilities can make you aware of the need for products, such as specially adapted wheelchairs.

Engineering students are encouraged to volunteer for organisations such as Remap, a charity seeking to design or modify equipment for individuals with specific needs.

Previous experience in project management, quality or design would also be useful.

Employers

Typicaly employers include:

  • hospital trusts;
  • medical equipment manufacturers;
  • university research departments;
  • other research units;
  • rehabilitation or health charities.

Hospitals employ engineers to oversee the deployment, maintenance and safety of high-tech equipment of all kinds, some of which may be used in GP surgeries and patients' homes.

Rehabilitation units exist in larger hospitals where engineers work on prosthetic devices, wheelchairs and a range of assistive technology for patients.

Other employers include research organisations. Well-known research units include:

Bespoke equipment for children and young people with disabilities is designed and manufactured by the Medical Engineering Resource Unit (MERU).

In the private sector, there is a need for engineers in companies that research and manufacture medical products, such as artificial heart valves, replacement joints and monitoring equipment. Some private sector manufacturers also operate internationally and may offer scope to work in Europe and beyond.

Look for job vacancies at:

Hospital trusts generally advertise on their own websites as well as in the press. If you are currently studying engineering or a relevant degree, look for opportunities in the information resources of your careers service.

Professional development

If you work within the NHS, your training will be structured through the STP. This includes three years in workplace-based training where you will spend time in general settings, as well as your specialist area.

Alongside this you will also complete a specifically commissioned and accredited Masters degree.

If you wish to work in the private sector, you can follow the route to achieve chartered status. This can be done through various professional bodies such as:

You have to show that you are working at a certain level and have the required professional competencies and commitment, as set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC). Find out more at Engineering Council - Chartered Engineer.

The status of chartered engineer is also available to those who work in the NHS. See individual institutions for further information.

In addition to structured training routes there will be opportunities for short courses, events and conferences that can help to expand your knowledge of the field.

The IET, IPEM and IMechE all run seminars, workshops, conferences and courses that are relevant and encourage networking.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important and can be carried out by attending these events, as well as reading trade press and gaining membership with a professional body.

Career prospects

There are three main areas that a biomedical engineer may work in:

  • industry;
  • the NHS;
  • research.

If you choose to go into research, your career path will typically involve a PhD in biomedical engineering, followed by a role at a university or academic institute as a lecturer or researcher.

If you wish to work in industry, you can move into a job after your degree and start to work your way up. Senior posts may offer roles in:

  • management;
  • marketing;
  • production;
  • quality assurance;
  • research;
  • technical advice.

There may be scope for international work if a company has branches outside of the UK.

A career path in the NHS has a clearer structure in the early years. A willingness to relocate later in your career may be needed to progress to more senior roles.

Career prospects are reasonable and movement between hospital-based jobs and those in the healthcare industry is possible in either direction. However, those moving into the NHS must obtain registration with the HCPC.

In terms of progression to more senior roles, you could expect to manage a department with responsibility for medical equipment and technical staff across a regional area.

Biomedical engineers also have the opportunity to specialise in areas such as biomechanics, biomaterials, medical instrumentation or rehabilitation. Some engineers pursue PhDs or obtain fellowships with their professional body.