The role of biomedical engineer allows you to combine engineering, design and medicine and gives you the chance to work with equipment used for treatments, diagnoses and rehabilitation

As a biomedical engineer you'll apply engineering principles and materials technology to healthcare equipment.

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 could be employed by health services, medical equipment manufacturers or research departments and institutes.

Job titles vary depending on the exact nature of the work. As well as biomedical engineer, you could be known as a:

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

Responsibilities

Tasks vary depending on the setting you're working in and your level of responsibility. However, you may need to:

  • use 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
  • liaise with technicians and manufacturers to ensure the feasibility of a product in terms of design and economic viability
  • conduct research to solve clinical problems using a variety of means to collate the necessary information, including questionnaires, interviews and group conferences
  • work closely with other medical professionals, such as doctors and therapists as well as with end-users (patients and their carers) to make sure needs are being met
  • discuss and solve problems with manufacturing, quality, purchasing and marketing departments
  • assess the potential wider market for products or modifications suggested by health professionals or others
  • arrange clinical trials of medical products
  • approach marketing and other industry companies to sell the product
  • write reports and attend conferences and exhibitions to present your work and latest designs to a range of technical and non-technical audiences
  • meet with senior health service staff or other managers to exchange findings
  • deal with technical queries from hospitals and GPs and give advice on new equipment
  • test and maintain clinical equipment
  • train technical or clinical staff
  • investigate safety-related incidents.

Salary

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates. Entry level salaries within medical engineering range from £24,907 to £30,615 (Band 5). You can then progress on to Band 6 where salaries are between £31,365 and £37,890.
  • With significant experience salaries can range from £38,890 to £44,503 (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 generally around 37.5 hours per week. If you're 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'll 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. You may need to be flexible in terms of geographical location, both when obtaining 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. 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 work towards 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 also 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've completed a degree you'll be 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'll need to enter 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 a Masters degree in clinical engineering. You'll also complete approved and accredited workplace-based training within this specialism. There is an annual intake for the STP - check the Health Careers website regularly for further details.

Successful completion of the STP means you're eligible to apply to the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) for a Certificate of Attainment, which allows you to register 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 don't complete the STP it may still be useful for you to obtain a postgraduate qualification in biomedical engineering for careers outside the NHS. This is particularly desirable for entry into research and development and would 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 postgraduate courses in biomedical engineering.

Entry isn't possible with an 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'll 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 efficient and practical, as well as cost effective and aesthetically pleasing
  • 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 isn't essential, but relevant work experience, for example in an engineering, design or research area, either through 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.

If you're studying engineering, you could consider volunteering for organisations such as Remap, a charity seeking to design or modify equipment for individuals with specific needs.

Employers

You could find work within:

  • 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.

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're 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'll spend time in general settings, as well as your specialist area.

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

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.

There are also opportunities to specialise in areas such as biomechanics, biomaterials, medical instrumentation or rehabilitation. Or you could pursue a PhD or work to obtain a fellowship with your professional body.

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