Biomedical engineering utilizes knowledge from traditional engineering disciplines to solve problems in living systems. It is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines engineering, biology and medicine to improve human health. Biomedical engineers design and apply advanced technology to the complex problems of medical care. They design instruments and devices, develop new procedures and carry out research in order to acquire the knowledge needed to meet the new challenges of modern medicine. Artificial joints, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), arthroscopy, angioplasty, kidney dialysis and the heart-lung machine are all major medical advances pioneered by biomedical engineers.
The Biomedical Engineering undergraduate program at Hopkins is world-renowned. Its curriculum includes a set of “core knowledge” that all biomedical engineers should possess: molecular and cellular biology, linear systems, biological control systems, modeling and simulation, thermodynamic principles in biology, and engineering analysis of systems level biology and physiology. In addition, each student takes a sequence of advanced engineering courses within one of four focus areas: Biological Systems Engineering, Cellular/Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials, Computational Biology and Imaging, and Sensors, Microsystems and Instrumentation. The program challenges biomedical engineering majors to analyze problems from both an engineering and biological perspective
The department offers three degree programs to undergraduates:
- Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering - is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and devotes a major portion of coursework to engineering. This degree is ideal for students who intend to work as engineers or to pursue graduate programs in engineering.
- Bachelor of Arts in Biomedical Engineering - is designed for students seeking more flexibility and diversity in their coursework, and is suitable for students who want a general background in engineering but plan to continue his or her education at the graduate level in some field outside of engineering.
- B.S. M.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering - integrates the master’s degree program with the Bachelor of Science curriculum, and is typically completed in 5-6 years. The program allows students to extend their studies into advanced areas of engineering and to gain practical experience through a laboratory research or a design project, as well as a required thesis. Students apply for and are admitted to the B.S. – M.S.E. program during their junior year.
According to the Department of Biomedical Engineering, most graduates work in one of three major areas: basic and applied research in an area of biomedical science, medical practice or research following graduate or medical school, or professional engineering practice in industrial settings, hospitals or biomedical institutions. Graduates are employed by universities, government laboratories, and industry to evaluate systems and develop products for use in the fields of biology and health. Their work ranges from research and development to more business-oriented aspects of engineering, such as sales, customer engineering and technical management.
Those who pursue research and development in biomedical engineering will find the field heavily specialized. While there is continual change and creation of new specialty areas due to rapid advancement in technology and science, below are some of the more established areas of research that those interested in biomedical engineering should explore.
- Bioinstrumentation - the application of electronics and measurement techniques to develop devices used in diagnosis and treatment of disease.
- Biomaterials - the development of both artificial materials and living tissue for implantation. Because the selection of an appropriate material to place in the human body may be one of the most difficult tasks faced by biomedical engineers, understanding the properties and behavior of living material is vital to the selection or design of implant materials, which must be non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, chemically inert, stable and mechanically strong enough to last a lifetime.
- Biomechanics - the application of classical mechanics (statics, dynamics, fluids, solids, thermodynamics and continuum mechanics) to biological or medical problems, including the study of motion, material deformation, flow within the body, and transport of chemical constituents across biological and synthetic media and membranes.
- Cellular, Tissue, and Genetic Engineering - the utilization of anatomy, biochemistry and mechanics of cellular and sub-cellular structures to understand disease processes and to be able to intervene within specific sites. Using this technology, devices can deliver compounds that can stimulate or inhibit cellular processes at precise target locations to promote healing or to inhibit disease formation and progression.
- Clinical Engineering - the application of technology to health care in hospitals. Clinical engineers are members of health care teams along with physicians, nurses and other hospital staff, and are responsible for developing and maintaining computer databases of medical instrumentation and equipment records as well as for the purchase and use of sophisticated medical instruments. They also work to adapt instrumentation to the specific needs of the physician and the patient. They are involved with the application of the latest technology to health care.
- Medical Imaging - the combination of knowledge of a unique physical phenomenon (sound, radiation, magnetism, etc.) with high-speed electronic data processing, analysis and display. Biomedical engineers in this area are responsible for the creation of minimally or noninvasive procedures that provide doctors with the knowledge they need while saving patients from pain, complication and cost.
- Orthopedic Bioengineering - the application of engineering and computational mechanics to understand the function of bones, joints and muscles, and for the design of artificial joint replacements. Orthopedic biomedical engineers analyze the friction, lubrication and wear characteristics of natural and artificial joints in order to develop artificial biomaterials for replacement of bones, cartilages, ligaments, tendons, meniscus and intervertebral discs.
- Rehabilitation Engineering - the design of prosthetics and home, workplace and transportation modifications to enhance of the capabilities and quality of life of individuals with physical and cognitive impairments.
- Systems Physiology - the use of engineering strategies, techniques and tools such as computer modeling and predictor models to gain a comprehensive and integrated understanding of the function of living organisms ranging from bacteria to humans.
These specialty areas are often interrelated and expanding. All areas of biomedical engineering require working with teams of physicians, nurses, therapists and technicians to solve problems. Because their skills include both medicine and engineering, they often serve as the interface between the two fields, connecting the needs of one with the abilities of the other. Communication abilities, both written and verbal, are particularly important because biomedical engineers often interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside of engineering. Because teamwork is central to the work of biomedical engineers, they must be able to work cooperatively. Biomedical engineers must be comfortable working and presenting in all environments, including laboratories, hospitals, universities and corporations. Some biomedical engineers are technical advisors for marketing departments of companies while others work in management and strategic planning for large corporations.
The mission of the undergraduate degree program in Biomedical Engineering is to provide a state-of-the-art biomedical engineering education so that students will be prepared to enter graduate (MS or PhD) or professional (Medical, Dental, Veterinary, Business, Public Health or Law) schools, or to enter industrial careers in biomedical engineering or a related field. However, the field is extremely competitive, and students must be proactive to ensure that they are well qualified both in the classroom and in the workplace.
Biomedical engineering students should first focus on becoming a good engineer, and then on acquiring a working knowledge of the life sciences and terminology. When entering the job market or applying for graduate school, graduates should be able to point to well-defined engineering skills as well as demonstrated real world experience. Pursuing both academic research and internship opportunities within the industry are ideal ways to obtain these skills.
Hopkins Biomedical Engineering alumni go into a variety of career fields. The Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.
Hopkins Alumni in Biomedical Engineering
Chris Aldrich- President / CEO, Aldrich Consulting, Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering, Class of 1996
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I became interested in engineering after attending several engineering summer camps along with family influence. The medicine part came while volunteering in high school at a local hospital. The entertainment portion of my background didn't develop until after I had gotten into JHU. My original goal when I started Hopkins was to be pre-med and become a doctor.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I helped to start the film and media studies department while I was a student and ran the film series on campus for four years along with the MSE Symposium and working on several student film productions. This led me into the entertainment industry where I started out as an executive assistant in a large talent agency. This led to jobs as an assistant to a producer and ultimately to positions as a talent manager and talent agent.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job after college was as an assistant to a producer which led fairly quickly to an entry-level position at a major talent agency. It was in my current field.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Begin networking with alumni as early as possible. Cold call alumni in areas you might be interested in and ask them what their day to day job is like and what they suggest you do if you want to follow their general career arc.
- What is your typical day like? - My typical day involves reading trade publications and newspapers, some planning, lots of information gathering and then lots of phone calls. The engineering portions of my days involve careful layout of projects with clients followed by some heavy design and development work. Then there's lots of explaining and teaching of how devices should properly be used in the field.
- What's most rewarding about your industry and / or job? What's most challenging? - The rewarding part of the movie business is seeing the final product on screen and the reaction of the audience. The most challenging is the constant throwing of spaghetti at the wall hoping it sticks combined with the very long lead times for projects to finally come to fruition. In engineering the most rewarding is designing new research equipment that hasn't been used before and seeing clients utilize it in Nobel Prize winning work. The most frustrating is dealing with tremendously smart and educated researchers who simply and often surprisingly don't understand basic physics, chemistry, and biology.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Entry level positions in entertainment are terrifically underpaid for long hours and generally thankless work. To be successful, just suck it up, keep your head down, and slog through it with a smile. As soon as you realize the business may not be for you, get out quickly and find something else that might be satisfying.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - More and more work will be produced for distribution directly online, so become highly web savvy. Realize the implications of the internet on the entertainment business.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Running the film series like a business and making student films were the most valuable experiences I had at Hopkins to prepare me for the entertainment portions of my career.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - In two years they should be department coordinators at talent agencies or junior development executives at production companies or studios. In five years they should be junior agents or development executives. In ten years they should be well established agents, producers, or studio executives.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - For the entertainment industry, students should be reading Hollywood Reporter and Variety on a daily basis to begin seeing how the industry works as well as absorbing general information about who is who and what projects are active in Hollywood.
Amy Dodrill- VP, Commercial Operations, DynaVox Mayer - Johnson AAC,
Biomedical Engineering, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Class of 1995
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I have always focused my interest in Healthcare and just came across this opportunity.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Entry level technical sales, Product Specialist, Sales Programs Manager, Operations Manager, VP Sales....VP Commercial Operations
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Technical Sales...I have always been in Healthcare
- What advice do you have for current students? - Have fun
- What is your typical day like? - Product planning, forecasting, lots of meetings, talking about the vision of the company and where we are headed.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - The impact we have on people's lives.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Jump in no matter what the job and get it done. You have to earn the next step it is not something that is just handed to you.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Healthcare cannot disappear but we will likely see changes with reimbursement that change the approach in some areas.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? -
I believe that you can take valuable lessons away from each experience you have and the key is translating them to the job you have at that moment.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? -
That is up to that individual. If you work for a goal you will get there if you demonstrate that you deserve it no matter the age or time in.
Tara Johnson- MD/PhD Candidate, Johns Hopkins University,
Biomedical Engineering, Class of 2002,
BM Horn Performance, 2002, Peabody Conservatory of Music
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? -
I knew that I loved engineering and medicine, so Biomedical Engineering was a great way to study both of those subjects. I also loved music, so I decided to pursue music major at Peabody.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? -
I completed the double degree program at JHU and Peabody in spring 2002, applied to medical school, and began attending the JHU School of Medicine in fall 2002. I was originally in the MD program, but then I decided to join the MD/PhD program in 2004. I am now in the graduating class of 2011.
- What advice do you have for current students? -
Major in something that you enjoy, and you will do well in it. Be sure to take advantage of everything that JHU has to offer ... not only the academics, but the extracurricular activities. Get involved ... either in a lab, where you can have one-on-one interactions with professors and graduate students, or in other activities that you enjoy.
- What is your typical day like? -
Since I am in medical school right now, my schedule is pretty busy during the day, typically starting at 6:00 am, and working through 6:00 pm or longer when I am on call. I get to interact with other people who are also excited about what they do to help patients.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? -
I enjoy interacting with patients, knowing that I can help them to understand their disease processes, what we are doing to help them to get better, and what they can do to stay healthy outside of the hospital. The long work hours are challenging, but something that one gets used to over time.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? -
Given the current changes in the healthcare system, I anticipate that the practice of medicine will need to adapt to the new environment. It's difficult to speculate at this time.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? -
Volunteer work is a necessity, in any field, although volunteering in a medical setting helps you to understand what you might be doing in the future. Shadowing physicians and talking with health care professionals is also helpful, since medicine is a long road. You will want to be sure that you are going into medicine for the right reasons ... if you are not sure, then take some time off to do something else before applying to medical school ... this will help you in the long-run.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? -
Talk with the pre-health office early and often, as they will help you to find holes in your application so that you can fill in the gaps prior to submitting your application. Good grades are important, but it is also important to set yourself apart as a leader ... so get involved with an extracurricular activity, and take on the responsibilities of being an officer, rather than being involved peripherally. Also, be sure to involve yourself in the community.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? -
There are many ways to help people, other than direct delivery of medical care. Careers in research are also gratifying ... and interventions discovered in a research setting have the potential to help many people in the long-run.
John P. Fisher- Associate Professor & Associate Chair, University of Maryland, Fischell Department of Bioengineering
Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, JHU Class of 1995, Master’s in Chemical Engineering
PhD/Doctorate in Bioengineering
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - My interest in research and a career in academia began while I was pursuing a MS in chemical engineering. I had originally planned to go directly into industry after my BS from Hopkins.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I obtained a PhD and then completed a short postdoctoral fellowship before beginning as an assistant professor.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I went directly from Hopkins into graduate school.
- What advice do you have for current students? - Learn how to work hard and be persistent. Find a profession you enjoy.
- What is your typical day like? - I work about 10 hours a day on a variety of different tasks: teaching, research, meetings, undergraduate programming, and collaborative work.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - An academic researcher basically runs a small business within an university, so your successes are yours and your failures are yours.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - A position as a professor typically requires a PhD and often requires a postdoctoral position.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - I work in tissue engineering and hopefully our field will see some clear clinical successes in the next 5 to 10 years.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Our field, similar to others, requires significant guidance from mentors and advisors, so great professional relationships are critical.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Once hired as an assistant professor, promotion and tenure usually comes after 6 years, and promotion to full professor at 10 years.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - All relevant scientific societies are important for a research career.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Teaching and research are obviously key components, but writing is a fundamental skill that is often overlooked.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
For more information on what you can do with a Biomedical Engineering Major go to What can I do with a major in Biomedical Engineering.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Medicine, Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, Teaching, and Engineering.
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- Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology (ABET), 111 Market Place, Suite 1050, Baltimore, MD 21202-4012, 410-347-7700
Biomedical Engineering Academic Program Annual Report: