What Is Biomedical Engineering? Impact and More

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

If you’re looking for a profession that uses engineering to make a positive impact on others’ lives, consider a career in biomedical engineering. Read on to learn more about this exciting field.

[Feature image] Biomedical engineers examine slides through microscope

Biomedical engineers have designed some of the most critical medical devices used today, from pulse-regulating pacemakers to easy-to-use blood glucose monitors. 

Whether you’re interested in joining the field because you want to save lives or simply because you’re fascinated by the challenging problems it faces, a biomedical engineering career offers the opportunity to make a real impact in the world. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about biomedical engineering, what biomedical engineers do, and their salary and job outlook. You’ll also learn how to become one and find some suggested courses to get started.

Biomedical engineering explained

Biomedical engineering is the application of engineering principles to solve health and health care problems. Biomedical engineers design medical equipment and processes that improve human health outcomes using their engineering, virology, and health care knowledge. Examples of biomedical equipment used daily include pacemakers, blood glucose monitors, and artificial limbs.

Bioengineering vs. biomedical engineering

Although they sound similar and share much in common, biomedical engineering differs from bioengineering. 

In simplest terms, bioengineering refers to the general application of engineering practices to biological systems, such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and health care. Biomedical engineering, meanwhile, is a specialized subset of bioengineering strictly focused on applying engineering practices for health care purposes by designing medical devices and developing processes to improve health outcomes. 

What do biomedical engineers do? 

Biomedical engineers use their engineering knowledge to create medical devices, equipment, and processes to heal, treat, or improve health conditions. While the duties a biomedical engineer performs daily vary from project to project, some of the most common responsibilities include: 

  • Designing medical devices, such as pacemakers or artificial limbs 

  • Repairing and installing medical devices and equipment 

  • Conducting original research into existing biomedical devices and biological processes 

  • Training medical professionals to use new medical equipment 

A brief history of pacemakers

Although the use of electricity to restart hearts had been observed sporadically by medical professionals and researchers for hundreds of years, the first artificial pacemakers were not invented until the late 1920s and early 1930s. 

In 1928, Australian anesthesiologist Mark Lidwell used intermittent electrical stimulation to restart a child’s heart born in cardiac arrest. Later, in 1932, the American Physiologist Albert Hyman developed a spring-wound hand-cranked motor that used electrical impulses to restart hearts. He called his device an “artificial pacemaker,” a term still used to this day. 

Unfortunately, Hyman’s device was not welcomed by the medical community, which viewed it simply as a “gadget” rather than a serious medical tool.  

The early 1950s saw the rise of large, external pacemakers that needed to be plugged into wall sockets and wheeled around on racks to be transported. By 1957, however, the first battery-operated, wearable pacemaker was invented by Earl E. Bakken. Many experts regard the invention as starting the field of “medical electronics,” a precursor to modern biomedical engineering. 

Just one year later, in 1958, Ake Senning and Rune Elmqvist in Sweden developed the first implantable pacemaker in Sweden. Fitting for such a device, the pacemaker was implanted in a 43-year-old engineer named Arne Larsson [1]. 

From ridiculed fringe science to mainstream medical marvel, the pacemaker has gone through many iterations over the decades—and saved countless lives. All thanks to early biomedical engineers. 


Biomedical engineering: salary and job outlook

Biomedical engineers' unique skill set means that they are well-compensated and much sought after. Here, you’ll learn more about what they earn and their job outlook for the foreseeable future. 


According to Job Bank Canada, a biomedical engineer earns an average hourly wage of $44. However, this can fluctuate significantly by experience level and location, with the national low being $24 per hour in Ontario and the highest being $96.02 in New Brunswick [2].

Job outlook

Canada Job Bank lists a “Good” to “Very Good” job outlook for biomedical engineers through 2025 in six provinces, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. The remaining provinces and territories are “Undetermined” [3].

How to get started in biomedical engineering 

Biomedical engineers use their engineering knowledge to solve biological and medical problems. Here's how to enter this career field. 

1. Obtain a degree. 

To become a biomedical engineer, you need a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, bioengineering, biomedical science, or a related field, such as mechanical engineering or electrical engineering. Sometimes, an employer might prefer or even require applicants to possess a master's degree in biomedical engineering or a related field.

2. Gain the right skills.

Daily, you'll use various technical and human skills to solve some of the most important medical problems. Here are some of the skills biomedical engineers use in their day-to-day work: 

  • Engineering 

  • Statistics 

  • Math 

  • Computer science 

  • Collaboration 

  • Problem-solving 

  • Teamwork 

As you’re looking to start your career, consider the skills you might want to develop to ensure you do the best job possible. 

3. Get experience.

One of the best ways to gain a foothold in a new career is to gain relevant work experience. If you’re just starting, consider obtaining a relevant internship or entry-level position to practice your skills in the real world. 

Explore engineering and health care. 

You'll need to develop unique skills and knowledge to join the ranks of professional biomedical engineers at the forefront of science and technology to solve some of the most complex health care problems. 

Deeplearning.Ai’s AI for Medicine Specialization equips course takers with practical experience in applying machine learning to medical problems, such as diagnosing diseases and predicting survival rates.

The Systems Biology and Biotechnology Specialization from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai covers the concepts and methodologies used in systems-level analysis of biomedical systems.

Article sources


NIH. "A brief history of cardiac pacing, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3232561/." Accessed April 24, 2024. 

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