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Prosthetics refer to mechanical devices that replace human limbs lost through accident, illness, or congenital conditions. Prosthetics must thus be comfortable to wear, aesthetically pleasing and function efficiently and accurately. Biomedical engineers design prosthetics by combining medical knowledge with technical expertise.
Prosthetics come from the minds of biomedical engineers. They start their projects by consulting with managers, medical professionals and patients. They create initial designs on computer, before developing a prototype that they can test for safety and effectiveness. Several rounds of testing and modification may be necessary before they produce the final prosthetic.
Students interested in biomedical engineering begin their education with high-school courses in biology, physics, mathematics, drafting and computers. They continue with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from an accredited institution. Columbia University offers a typical program of study. The first two years cover general education courses in English, physical education, humanities, math, physics and chemistry. The last two years focus on the engineering specialty, such as biomechanics, which include experiences in the classroom and laboratory. Internships and co-ops, such as with hospitals, can provide the practical experience valued by employers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the biggest employers of biomedical engineers are medical equipment and supplies manufacturers, followed by scientific research and development services, and medicine manufacturers. Depending on the stage of a project, engineers work in offices to plan activities, laboratories to analyze prototypes, manufacturing plants to build working models and medical facilities to test prosthetics on live patients. Engineers who want to lead research teams typically need a graduate degree. Some attend medical school to further develop the medical aspects of their profession.
Jobs for biomedical engineers are expected to grow 23 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS. Much of this growth is expected to come as baby boomers age, fueling need for treatment with prosthetics. Engineers will find additional work with medical scientists, researchers and manufacturers to develop new technology.