The employment outlook for biomedical engineering graduates is, in a word, good. So say three professors who are tops in the field, from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., to Clemson University in South Carolina.
"The outlook is good and getting better as employers recognize the value of the specialty of biomedical engineering," notes Dr. Scott Delp, associate professor of biomedical engineering and rehabilitation at Northwestern University, as well as a research scientist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. "The more biomedical engineers who go out into industry, the more I see that trend continuing."
Currently, Delp estimates that about half of Northwestern's biomedical engineering undergrads go on to medical school, while 25 percent head to grad school and the remaining 25 percent, roughly 20 students, go on to jobs in industry right out of college.
"Biomedical engineers have unique skills," Delp says. "Often they are needed to bridge traditional engineering skills with medical applications. For someone to have a formal education in both disciplines is very helpful."
Delp asserts that the U.S. dominates the world in the healthcare marketplace, which translates into an optimistic view of the future for his field.
"We have a strong export/import balance," he says. "The growth of the healthcare industry and the domination of the U.S. healthcare industry worldwide are strong indicators that biomedical engineers will be doing well in the coming years."
As vast as the field is, all areas of biomedical engineering represent good employment prospects for today's graduates, according to Dr. Larry Dooley, professor of bioengineering and director of the School of Chemical University. Dooley notes that both the medical device marketplace and the diagnostics marketplace are expanding in the U.S. in terms of new production capability. That translates into a wealth of opportunities for grads possessing bioengineering skills.
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"Industry went through a downsizing period," Dooley relates, "but now the economy is booming, healthcare is an important issue and industry is looking to expand. It's a good, dynamic time."
Dr. David Kelso, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University, is an expert in the emerging area of biosensor technology. He says the employment outlook is upbeat, ranging from the hiring patterns of large diagnostic companies such as Abbott Laboratories and Hoffman-La Roche to a number of small start-ups pursuing technological development in the biosensor area. Among the exciting avenues available to graduates is exploring new ways of doing blood tests, from infectious diseases to genetic screening to hormones, says Kelso.
"There are opportunities at all levels," he adds. "With the population in this country aging and with people's growing concern for healthcare, there's very little on the down side these days. Issues of cost-containment and cost-control associated with the healthcare industry simply represent more engineering problems that need to be solved."
While the interest in and need for new, cost-effective technologies is high, Kelso says the demand is equally strong for biomedical engineers to work in large systems areas, such as designing and testing in large, centralized manufacturing environments.
"What makes a biomedical engineer so valuable," Kelso says, "is that they understand the medical problem, the chemistry, the biochemistry involved in doing the sensing, yet they also understand the engineering that goes into developing the devices. They have a great ability to interface with all of the specialties that come together in the field."
Dooley of Clemson University points out another area related to health biomedical engineering grads.
"Information technology application in healthcare is changing the way medical centers and hospitals are approaching the management of clinical information," Dooley explains. "That includes billing, radiographic information and clinical information. Merging all of this into a clinical database is changing the way information is used. Doctors are wanting the most up-to-date clinical information at the [hospital] bedside and in the operating room."
Device capability is another strong area, according to Dooley. "We know more now about the way materials behave inside the body and so we're changing the way we think about implantable devices," he says. "This represents new opportunities in design."
Diverse Disciplines Desired
Delp highlights some burgeoning areas of opportunity in his field of expertise. "Biomaterials, rehab engineering, computer-assisted surgery and medical imaging are all areas that draw on engineering, science and medical applications," Delp says.
Other than the good news they have to offer, the common thread expressed by these professors is the list of traits employers appear to be demanding from today's graduates. Delp notes that for undergraduates, "employers are looking for people with native intelligence, drive and the capacity to learn. Quantitative skills and the ability to analyze a problem in detail are also valued."
Dooley adds that a solid foundation in engineering is essential, even for students looking to enter medically dominated areas. "Of course they should also have math skills and teamwork skills," he notes.
And though biomedical engineering programs are growing by leaps and bounds in this country, there doesn't seem to be any fear of oversaturating the industrial marketplace any time soon. The bottom line? A biomedical engineering graduate can look forward to a dynamic career ahead.