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Biomedical engineering or biomedical EE

  1. Aug 18, 2015 #1
    I post this in career guidance, because I'm interested in the career effects of going one way or the other in terms of employability, as opposed to just the academic side. Please move it if it should be in Academic Guidance. I am in the U.S.

    I'm an undergrad in electrical engineering. I have a lot of different interests, so I'm always trying to figure out what direction to take when I go to grad school. Something that's been really nagging at me (in a good way) is the application of engineering to medicine. Looking around various graduate programs, a lot of graduate programs in EE have concentrations in bioengineering.

    Usually it focuses on sensing/image processing techniques, but it can vary a lot between universities. I was wondering--if I decided to go this route and do this concentration, would it be preferable to do it as an electrical engineering graduate student, or would it be better to apply to a biomedical engineering program? Would I be at a disadvantage applying to a biomedical engineering program with an EE undergrad (I understand biomedical engineering undergrad programs are usually not very useful on their own, and are very broad, so I imagine EE would complement it nicely)?

    More importantly, what would the career ramifications be with an EE graduate degree with a concentration in biomedical engineering as opposed to a biomedical engineering graduate degree? Would I be able to work in the same jobs? Are there any licensing issues I should be aware of (because I imagine licensing is important since biomedical engineers deal with the medical field)? Any issues with, for instance, becoming a P.E.? Anything else I should know?

    As a side note, what biology courses would be most essential if I were to take this path?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I would recommend EE over biomedical engineering at the undergraduate level. Biomedical engineering remains a pretty heavily "advanced degree" field.

    You can get into a BME grad program from a EE background quite easily at most schools.
  4. Aug 18, 2015 #3
    If you really want to get into the medical electronics field, or even just medical devices in general, then I recommend a biomedical engineering program. This is a signal that you are interested in that field, and not more traditional EE pursuits. It isn't impossible to get into the field without the degree, but I think it could be helpful. In my opinion, the strongest biomed programs introduce you to the concepts of design control, which is how medical devices are regulated for sale. Having this knowledge is very useful in this field, and not every program addresses it.

    As far as I know, there are no licensing requirements at all in this field. In the US, a PE is required if you market your services to the public as an engineer. Biomedical engineers do not market their services to the public. If you want to start a consulting firm, or be an expert witness, a PE is very useful, but this has nothing to do with entering the field per se. Some employers may value the EIT or PE, but that hasn't been my experience.

    Useful courses would be anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, materials science, especially polymer science, and industrial stats. Some of this stuff is outside of the EE part of biomedical engineering, but it would make you more useful in general.

    I disagree with DaleSpam that biomedical engineering is a grad degree only field. I hire lots of undergrad biomed engineers these days, because the programs are getting more useful than they used to be.
  5. Aug 18, 2015 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    That is actually good to hear. I would be glad to be wrong on that, although I haven't seen any data.
  6. Aug 18, 2015 #5
    What about something like this from Georgia Tech? Which would be preferable?

    Given how I'm a rising junior, and because I don't have a ton of room for extra classes, my options for relevant courses for a BME graduate program are:

    Fundamentals of biology 1 this semester
    Fundamentals of biology 2 next semester
    Intro to cellular and molecular biology senior fall
    Physiology and anatomy senior year
    My degree doesn't require chemistry, so I haven't taken that yet, but I could take that and General chemisty 2 senior year. Maybe organic chemistry if I can fit it in

    Would this be enough? I'm sure I'd have at least a little catching up to do. On the EE side I'll be taking signals and systems, digital signal processing, control systems, maybe a MEMS course, and I can do some research work in image processing with one of my professors. What else would I need? It seems like medical imaging would be the most realistic transition, but I don't want to limit myself if I decide I would prefer other areas. And should I attempt to squeeze in other biology/chemistry courses? It's unfortunate that I'm looking into this when I'm starting my junior year, because I have less leniency when tacking on all these extra courses, but I'd like to put myself in the best position possible to enter the field.
  7. Aug 18, 2015 #6
    FWIW, I don't have data either, this is my experience in my own job. The students I interview seem to have lots of offers however.

    Don't feel like you need to fit everything in I suggested. That was more akin to a wish list than requirements. Of your options, the biology classes would probably be relevant. O chem, and all of its pre-reqs, are far less important.

    I don't have an opinion on whether it is better to matriculate into ECE or the interdisciplinary bioengineering program. If I were interviewing you, I would be interested in how well your skills and interests aligned with the position at hand, which can vary.
  8. Aug 18, 2015 #7
    That's good to know. Does the field have a good outlook in general? I'm extremely excited about current advances in medical technology (and this is something I've recently realized is not true of other fields of EE for me. I'm usually just interested in the theory and bored by the applications. With this, I'd love to learn the theory to apply it). What are some major research areas I should look into as an EE undergrad?
  9. Aug 19, 2015 #8
    Unfortunately, I don't think I can give you any guidance here. The things I think are really interesting developments are not things I am free to discuss.
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