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Thanks to biomedical engineers, people who have lost a limb can still be mobile and perform tasks such as driving, cooking or using a computer. Designing, building and testing prosthetic devices is one of the specialties of biomedical engineering, although the discipline is broad and includes many other activities. Specialized training and hands-on experience can help you succeed as a biomedical engineer.
Skills and Characteristics
Like all engineers, biomedical engineers must be problem-solvers. They must be able to analyze patient needs, develop possible solutions, then select the best solution. Communication skills are important to work with patients, healthcare professionals, and other scientific researchers or medical scientists. Listening skills are equally important, as the engineer may need to make revisions to prostheses based on patient or physician feedback. Critical thinking and systems analysis skills, as well as attention to detail, round out the list of essential qualities.
Begin to lay the groundwork for your career in high school with courses in math, science, biology, chemistry, physics and computer science. Calculus, mechanical drafting and computer-assisted design courses are also helpful. Practical experience might be a little harder to come by, although experience in a machine shop could help you learn hands-on skills. If you already know you want to work in the field of prosthetic design and development, you might be able to find an orthopedic surgeon or an orthotist to job shadow. Both of these disciplines work with people who have had amputations or were born without limbs.
You can become a biomedical engineer with a bachelor’s degree, although you may need a graduate degree to lead a research team, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ONet online reports that 45 percent of biomedical engineers have a bachelor’s degree and 35 percent have a master’s degree. Your major could be in either general engineering or biomedical engineering. If you choose a general engineering degree, take extra courses in topics such as biology, human anatomy and physiology to give you some background in the medical aspects of your work.
Get Hands-On Experience
Practical experience is vitally important in a biomedical engineering career, and you should look for experience related to the design and manufacturing of prosthetics. Seek out internships or cooperative programs with hospitals that your school may offer. Volunteer at the office of an orthopedic surgeon, orthotist or prosthetist. Work with amputee support groups, which would allow you to learn about issues amputees face in dealing with prosthetic appliances. Physical and occupational therapists may also offer opportunities to gain hands-on experience.