What Engineer Designs Prosthetics?

by Aurelio Locsin
Some biomedical engineers focus on prosthetics to replace arms and hands.

Some biomedical engineers focus on prosthetics to replace arms and hands.

Prosthetics refer to mechanical devices that replace human limbs lost through accident, illness, or congenital conditions. Prosthetics must thus be comfortable to wear, aesthetically pleasing and function efficiently and accurately. Biomedical engineers design prosthetics by combining medical knowledge with technical expertise.


Prosthetics come from the minds of biomedical engineers. They start their projects by consulting with managers, medical professionals and patients. They create initial designs on computer, before developing a prototype that they can test for safety and effectiveness. Several rounds of testing and modification may be necessary before they produce the final prosthetic.


Students interested in biomedical engineering begin their education with high-school courses in biology, physics, mathematics, drafting and computers. They continue with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from an accredited institution. Columbia University offers a typical program of study. The first two years cover general education courses in English, physical education, humanities, math, physics and chemistry. The last two years focus on the engineering specialty, such as biomechanics, which include experiences in the classroom and laboratory. Internships and co-ops, such as with hospitals, can provide the practical experience valued by employers.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the biggest employers of biomedical engineers are medical equipment and supplies manufacturers, followed by scientific research and development services, and medicine manufacturers. Depending on the stage of a project, engineers work in offices to plan activities, laboratories to analyze prototypes, manufacturing plants to build working models and medical facilities to test prosthetics on live patients. Engineers who want to lead research teams typically need a graduate degree. Some attend medical school to further develop the medical aspects of their profession.


Jobs for biomedical engineers are expected to spike by 62 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS, compared to the 14 percent predicted for all jobs in all industries, and the 11 percent projected for other engineers. Much of this growth is expected to come as baby boomers age, fueling need for treatment with prosthetics. Engineers will find additional work with medical scientists, researchers and manufacturers to develop new technology.

About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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