Biomedical engineering is a specialized profession with strong links to the health industry. Combining the physical sciences with engineering, the biomedical engineer produces a range of products, techniques, simulations and programs for the improvement of modern medicine. As an aging population seeks out the newest medical technology to maintain active lifestyles, the biomedical engineer career is an attractive one thanks to its growth potential. However, as with any job, it does come with its own set of hazards.
Work Environment Hazards
Most biomedical engineers work in laboratories with strict workplace safety protocols. The laboratory training that a biomedical engineer receives as part of post-secondary schooling provides a solid basis for minimizing workplace hazards. As part of their education, biomedical engineers learn the safe handling of chemical and hazardous waste disposal, shipping and receiving hazardous materials and managing blood-borne pathogens. These safety measures mean that biomedical engineers are not subjected to a particularly risky work environment while working in a lab, although engineers working in hospitals or as part of undersea or space programs can face an entirely different set of environmental factors. If protective gear is required, it can be uncomfortable or annoying.
Possible Health Hazards
Although they can be mitigated by proper safety measures and workplace equipment, there are some health risks associated with biomedical engineering, particularly for those employed in non-laboratory research capacities. It is possible for a biomedical engineer to be exposed to disease, electric shock, radiation, burns and toxic fumes as part of the job. Careful observation of safety protocols and the wearing of protective clothes prevent most accidents, but even the most rigid procedures cannot prevent all possible dangers.
Biomedical engineering can be a demanding field. While most will work a typical 40-hour week, overtime is not unusual, and hospital-employed engineers are often on-call. Those working in sales or performing field engineering may travel extensively, with all the associated stresses of working on the road. Biomedical engineers of all specialties are expected to attend a number of conferences and continuing education courses as well as to keep up with a variety of field journals to update their knowledge. These factors can all contribute to job burnout or health complications due to stress if career expectations are not properly managed.
Job Outlook and Salary
Despite the potential dangers, biomedical engineering is nonetheless a strong field to enter thanks to a comfortable salary and prodigious expected job growth. The growth potential of the field comes with a caveat, however. Despite boasting a predicted 62 percent job growth rate by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is still a small one. Even such a spectacular growth rate translates to only about 9,700 new jobs. There are virtually no risks involved in the pay scale for biomedical engineers, though -- their average 2012 annual salary was $91,200, according to the BLS.