Biomedical engineering is a cross-disciplinary field. Its focus is primarily developing therapeutic techniques and devices. These include kidney dialysis machines, pacemakers, synthetic skin, artificial joints, and prostheses. Mechanical devices such as motorized wheelchairs and carts to assist mobility impaired individuals are additional examples of biomedical engineering.
Fields of chemistry, valuable in bioengineering, include polymer chemistry (materials science) and surface chemistry. Examine the professional credentials of many biomedical engineering department faculty members and you’ll see they have degrees, often Ph.D.’s, in chemistry. Many post-docs working in university biomedical engineering departments also have Ph.D.’s in chemistry. Biomedical engineering may offer exciting career opportunities for chemists.
Biomedical engineering has only recently emerged as a separate discipline evolving from an interdisciplinary specialization among already established fields of chemistry and electrical, mechanical and other engineering fields. Universities began establishing graduate and undergraduate biomedical engineering departments in the mid-1960s. These have become increasingly common with the establishment of new biomedical engineering departments. For example, in my hometown, the University of Houston’s Department of Biomedical Engineering was recently launched in 2010.
Information on biomedical engineering employment is available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the U.S. Department of Labor) at www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172031.htm. Estimated biomedical engineer employment is 16,590 – small compared to employment of chemists, however shows a growing field.
How can you prepare to compete in the biomedical engineering job market? Biomedical engineers work in industry, universities, research institutes, hospitals and governments. Many of these positions are R&D jobs. Biomedical engineers often integrate biology and medicine with engineering to solve problems in living systems. Chemistry must often be added to this interdisciplinary mix.
Recently earned your Ph.D.? Consider a post-doc in a biomedical engineering department rather than a chemistry department. This could help you pivot to the biomedical engineering field. Chemistry students planning on graduate school could investigate possible graduate research project opportunities jointly performed in chemistry and biomedical engineering departments. Undergraduate chemistry students may wish to take one or more biomedical engineering courses as electives and apply to biomedical engineering departments for graduate school.
Chemistry students at all degree levels can review their course work and research experience to determine how this experience could be relevant to bioengineering. Then they can better prepare a customized version of their résumé to focus some of their job-hunting efforts on biomedical engineering opportunities suitable for chemists.
Undergraduates may wish to pursue sales and marketing careers in biomedical engineering. Laboratory and analytical instrument sales careers require sales representatives to be knowledgeable with their products and the intended applications.
The primary professional society focused solely on biomedical engineering is the Biomedical Engineering Society. With membership in 2012 reaching 5,730, the BMES is a small but growing membership society. Between 2007 and 2010, membership grew 60%.
The ACS offers a Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering frequently focuses its programming and other activities on materials for medical and dental applications. When artificial bones and tissues are used in the human body, rejection is a critical concern. It is not surprising that the Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry also include chemists with biomedical engineering interests.
The focus of the 2012 ACS Fall National Meeting on “Materials for Health and Medicine” provides an indication of the growing importance of biomedical engineering in chemistry.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1400 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.