Biomedical Engineering: Boom time for biomed engineers

Biomedical engineers who conceptualise, design, and develop healthcare equipment are much sought after. With populations ageing worldwide, the demand for life saving equipment is booming

With sophisticated machines and instruments beginning to play an ever-increasingly important role in healing and saving human lives, biomedical engineers who conceptualize, design, and develop healthcare equipment are a much sought after species. With the demand for biomed engineers far outstripping supply, this is one of the hottest careers of the 21st century.

Essentially, biomedical engineers develop and maintain medical equipment, prosthetics, bioengineered tissue and organs, biosensors and the like. They also design medical diagnostic devices for specialised medical procedures such as laser systems (used for eye surgery) and develop artificial organs, imaging systems, and ultrasound and x-ray systems.

With populations ageing the world over, the healthcare outlays of all countries are shooting skywards and demand for life-saving equipment is booming commensurately. Consequently, biomed engineers are at a premium in hospitals, healthcare, and medical electronics firms.

Biomedical engineering study programmes are available at the undergraduate, Master’s, and Ph D levels. To be eligible for admission into a B.E. (biomedical) degree programme, a Plus Two certificate is a prerequisite of writing the Common Entrance Test of state governments. There are too few colleges offering this specialisation considering the rising demand. Among them in Mumbai are Thadomal Shahani College, D.J. Sanghvi College, Watoomal College, Mahatma Gandhi Mission College, Navi Mumbai, and Indian Institute of Technology, Powai.

Beyond Mumbai, the Manipal Institute of Technology, Cochin Institute of Science & Technology, and Banaras Hindu University offer biomedical engineering at the bachelor’s level. For postgraduates various specialisations are available such as biomechanics, bioinstrumentation, rehabilitation engineering, biomaterials, medical imaging, and clinical engineering.

Employment opportunities are myriad with jobs chasing biomedical engineers who tend to be employed in manufacturing enterprises (pharmaceutical, medical instruments, and supplies companies), government product-testing and safety units, and/or hospitals.

Biomedical engineers are also favoured by research and development organisations to purchase and maintain lab equipment and for developing life-saving equipment. They are specially valued as technical advisors to marketing departments of healthcare equipment manufacturing corporates.

Given the general demand-supply imbalance, pay packages of biomed engineers tend to be enviable. A trainee engineer can expect a monthly pay cheque of Rs.10,000–15,000 in a hospital, while for trainee service engineers in the production/R&D departments of corporates, pay scales range between Rs.15,000–20,000 per month.

“These are exciting times for biomedical engineers. India’s hospitals are multiplying at a rapid pace and are being equipped with incrementally sophisticated equipment. That’s why a growing number of young people are opting for this career. It fulfills the excitement of working to save lives and applying advanced technology to complex problems of medical care,” says Hitesh Bharambe, a bio-medical engineer at the Bombay Hospital, one of Mumbai’s largest hospitals.

After completing his Plus Two exam from Kelkar College, Mumbai, in 1999, Bharambe secured admission into the undergraduate biomedical engineering study programme of the MGM College of Engineering and Technology, Navi Mumbai.

After graduating in 2003, he was immediately signed up by the Kamalnayan Bajaj Hospital, Aurangabad, as a junior biomedical engineer. Two years later he moved to the Apollo Hospital, Goa, as a senior biomedical engineer. Under pressure from headhunters, in January 2006 he joined Bombay Hospital as head of the biomedical engineering department. “For biomedical engineers, hospitals are the best places to work in. You get exposure to the latest machines which hospitals keep buying and/or upgrading. This ensures automatic knowledge and skills upgradation in the high-tech areas of CT, MRI, cath lab, echo, and sonography,” says Bharambe.

With rapid technology changes and multinational healthcare corporates building manufacturing capacity in India, the premium on biomedical engineers will continue to rise. “There’s an urgent need for more colleges offering biomed courses at graduate and postgraduate levels. With India emerging as a healthcare tourism destination, creating and expanding capacity for training biomedical engineers requires immediate attention,” warns Bharambe.