Choosing a Biomedical Engineering (BME) program is a bit more complicated than many other programs, like chemical or mechanical, because there is actually quite a variety among them. The following is my impression of the various types of BME programs.
First, what should a Biomedical Engineering (BME) program look like academically? Here is a reasonable definition given by ABET, the U.S. “Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology“:
The program must prepare graduates to have: an understanding of biology and physiology, and the capability to apply advanced mathematics (including differential equations and statistics), science, and engineering to solve the problems at the interface of engineering and biology; the curriculum must prepare graduates with the ability to make measurements on and interpret data from living systems, addressing the problems associated with the interaction between living and non-living materials and systems.
(The Canadian equivalent of ABET, CEAB, doesn’t publish any definitions but our expectations would be similar anyways.)
Within that framework, there are actually several different “flavours” of BME, and for potential applicants it is very important that you recognize and understand this. Otherwise, you might end up in a program that is completely different from what you might have had in mind. Here, I will attempt to summarize my understanding of the different “flavours”, with some example programs in Canadian universities.
- The “Electrical” Flavour: in this flavour, much of the emphasis is on signals and instrumentation, including imaging. Think of pulse oximeters, EKG devices, CT scanners, MRI, and various electrical/computer applications. If you’re looking at a BME program which is housed within an Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, it is likely going to be this flavour. Examples include Ryerson’s Biomedical Engineering program, McMaster’s Electrical & Bioengineering program, and Carleton’s Biomedical & Electrical program. Looking at their curriculum, the Biomedical programs at Guelph, UBC, Victoria, and SFU also seem to be weighted towards this Electrical flavour, in my opinion (although it may depend on elective choices).
- The “Mechanical” Flavour: here the emphasis leans more towards biomechanics and biocompatible materials. Think of assistive devices, prosthetics, implantable joints, artificial hearts. Obviously if a program is housed in a Mechanical Engineering Department, it is likely this flavour. Examples include Carleton’s Biomedical & Mechanical program, Ottawa’s Biomedical Mechanical program, and Victoria’s Biomedical program. The curriculum at UBC and SFU can also lean in this direction, depending on elective choices.
- The “Chemical” Flavour: this has more emphasis on biomolecular aspects. Think tissue engineering, targeted pharmaceutical delivery, biomolecule detection for diagnostics, biocompatible materials. This flavour seems to be somewhat less common in Canada, but examples include McMaster’s Chemical & Bioengineering program (which requires a fifth academic year).
- Toronto’s Engineering Science program has a Biomedical Systems Engineering major starting in 3rd year. Depending on which elective courses you pick, it looks like it could cover any of the three “flavours”.
- Waterloo’s Biomedical Engineering program has three possible focus or theme areas: Biomedical Signals (an electrical flavour), Biomechanics (a mechanical flavour), and Biomedical Devices (a hybrid of electrical, mechanical and chemical flavours). Since the program was designed and will be delivered by faculty from electrical, mechanical, chemical, and systems design engineering (and others from science and applied health studies), it should have a very good mix and coverage across all three “flavours”.
- As far as I can tell, most biomedical engineering programs at other universities don’t have any specialized biomedical courses until 2nd or 3rd year. At some universities, the biomedical part is an “option” or add-on elective package with another degree, for example at the universities of Calgary and Alberta. Waterloo’s is specialized from the start of first year, with all courses designed specifically for biomedical applications. For example, the first term includes BME 161 “Introduction to Biomedical Design” and BME 101 “Introduction to Biomedical Engineering”. (This is typical for all of our engineering programs. With mandatory co-op starting in first year, students need to get into some key topics right away.)
- In Ontario, Carleton, Guelph, Ottawa, Ryerson, and Waterloo have direct-entry Biomedical Engineering programs. In other universities you either select an option package in upper years, or compete for a spot after 1st year engineering.
So that’s my overview of biomedical engineering programs in Canada. Lots of choice which is good, but it can be confusing too. So it is worthwhile to spend some time looking at the various programs in detail before making a choice that fits your goals and interests.