University of Witwatersrand Biomedical Engineering

By | May 4, 2016

University of Witwatersrand Biomedical Engineering

Bachelor of Engineering Science in Biomedical Engineering

General Information

The Bachelor of Engineering Science in Biomedical Engineering – BEngSc(BME) is a new three year degree programme which has been designed to give students a thorough understanding of the application of quantitative sciences and engineering methods to problems in medicine and biology. The course develops an appreciation for living systems as complex machines amenable to engineering analysis, as well as facilitating a thorough understanding of diagnostic and therapeutic instrumentation.  Most importantly, graduates will receive a thorough training in general science, making them highly adaptable for many careers paths in science and technology.

This degree has been specially designed to enable students to become doctors, electrical engineers or physicists, with a minimum of additional study. The details of these options can be viewed on the link called follow-on options. (Please note that some of these options are competitive and automatic entry is not guaranteed).   In addition, students who are more research oriented may choose to follow this degree with any of a number of postgraduate degrees in the sciences. In view of these options, prospective students are discouraged from seeing this degree as an end in itself.

In short, this degree will serve as a key step in producing doctors, engineers, physicists and other scientists who will be equipped to become leaders in their respective fields.

You are encouraged to read the section on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Structure of the Programme

The BME programme takes a minimum of three years to complete Each academic year of the degree programme is divided into two terms. Courses last for one or two terms.

Biomedical Engineering Programme : The following is a summary of courses in each year of the Biomedical Engineering degree program

Year 1



Course code

Chemistry full year (1) CHEM1012
Electric Circuits full year (1) ELEN1000
Physics I full year (1) PHYS1014
Mathematics I full year (1) MATH1014
Introductory Life Sciences full year (1) BIOL1000
Mechanics full year (1) PHYS1015
Vacation design

Year 2



Course code

Electronics 1 half year (1/2) ELEN2001
Microprocessors half year (1/2) ELEN2002
Software development 1 half year (1/2) ELEN2004
Electric and Magnetic Systems half year (1/2) ELEN2003
Signals and Systems 1 half year (1/2) ELEN005
Mathematics II full year (1) MATH2014
Physics II (Electrical) half year (1/2) PHYS2007
Molecular and Cell Biology half year (1/2) HAEM2001
Biomedical Statistics and Numerical Methods half year (1/2) APPM2013
Vacation work

Year 3



Course code

Signals & Systems IIA Half year (1/2) ELEN3012
Biomedical Signals, Systems and Control Half year (1/2) ELEN3014
Physiology & Medical Biochemistry 1 full year (1) PHSL2004
Biomedical transport phenomena half year (1/2) CHMT3017
Biomedical Measurement, Instrumentation and Imaging half year (1/2) ELEN3008
Anatomy I full year (1) ANAT2020

Course outlines

To be updated shortly.

Articulation Possibilities

The diagram below shows some of the possible career paths following the BEngSc(BME) degree program.
Articulation Possibilties

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Biomedical Engineering?
Biomedical Engineering is the application of Engineering and other quantitative sciences to the solution of problems in medicine and biology.

Can you give me some examples of the type of work biomedical engineers do?
Biomedical engineers study the human body and other living systems from the perspective of an engineer. In other words, they see the organism for what it really is – a complex machine, and use concepts from engineering and science to understand how it works.  In addition to this they develop equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.  Examples of such equipment include C/T scanning and ultrasound to see inside the body without surgery, as well as devices such as artificial hearts, dialysis equipment for people without functioning kidneys, and LASER surgery devices, to name a few.

Do I need to be interested in engineering and science to study biomedical engineering?
Yes. The activity of biomedical engineering includes both engineering and science.  For this reason, you will need to be good at mathematics and science as well as having a strong interest in developing new technology.

Do I need to enjoy biology to study biomedical engineering? 
Yes. Biology is an integral part of what you will learn in the course, and so naturally you must have an interest in this subject.  However, remember that as you progress in the course, you will gain an understanding and insight into the way living systems work that is far more interesting and satisfying than the memory-intensive learning you may be used to in your biology studies so far.

Biomedical engineering seems to be a mixture of science and engineering. What is the difference between an engineer and a scientist?
The answer to this will depend on whom you talk to.  Here is one possible answer.  A scientist is a person who studies natural phenomena (physical, chemical, biological), and draws conclusion about the system under study in order to enhance understanding. These conclusions are often generalizations that apply widely to a large class of problems.  The methods used in science are both experimental and analytical, and frequently involve mathematical ideas.  An engineer is a person who utilizes knowledge of physical phenomena to design useful systems and processes.  Engineering also requires experimentation and analysis, however the outcome of the work is frequently a practical device or process.  One could argue that a scientist works on understanding the more fundamental aspects of nature, while the engineer uses this knowledge to solve applied problems.  This is partially true but is actually an oversimplification.  The reality is that there is substantial overlap between the two areas, and some scientist (eg. some physicists) do applied practical work, and some engineers do highly theoretical work.  So science and engineering form part of a spectrum of activity with frequent blurring of the distinction between the two areas.

What attributes should a prospective biomedical engineering student have?
You should be good at mathematics and physical science, and should also enjoy problem solving.  Most importantly, you should be the type of person who gets a kick out of understanding things rather than just learning. For example, if you are able to visualize school physics problems and arrive at a method of solution by thinking about what is actually happening rather than just plugging into formulae, then you may be well suited to a career in science or engineering.

What is the degree BEngSc(BME)?
The full name of this degree is Bachelor of Engineering Science in Biomedical Engineering.  It is Wits University ‘s new undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering.

How does the BEngSc(BME) differ from the BSc(Eng)? 
The BEngSc(BME) is a three year degree that teaches students the science of engineering as it relates to Biomedical Engineering.  In its own right, it does not lead to professional registration, but has been specially designed to be followed by a professional degree in medicine electrical engineering or physics, with a minimum of wasted time.  At the moment, this degree emphasizes the electrical engineering aspects of biomedical engineering.
The BSc(Eng) degree on the other hand, is the Wits four year professional engineering degree, which  is a prerequisite to registration as a professional engineer.  The BSc(Eng) can be undertaken in a number of branches of engineering, viz. Chemical, Civil, Mechanical and Electrical (and the various options within these branches eg. aeronautical or matallurgical engineering).  If, however, you choose to go directly into the BSc(Eng) following completion of the BEngSc(BME), then at this stage, only the electrical engineering branch can be completed in an additional two years.  The BEngSc(BME) has not yet been designed to facilitate the other branches of engineering, although this is a likely future development.

Is the BEngSc(BME) a difficult degree?
There is no question that the curriculum is demanding.  The requirement to teach a diverse range of skills in a very short time makes this the most crowded undergraduate syllabus at the university.  However, as a capable and interested student, you should also find this course challenging and exciting.

Why will I not be a qualified engineer after completing the BEngSc(BME)? 
The BEngSc(BME) degree will give you an excellent scientific education with emphasis on engineering and applied sciences as they relate to biomedical problems.  You will develop a solid scientific thought process and skills in scientific analysis and experimentation.  To become an engineer, however, you will require additional skills in using your knowledge in the design and innovation process, and this is taught in the formal four year engineering degree BSc(Eng) but not in the BEngSc(BME).

How long does it take to earn the BEngSc(BME) degree?
The degree requires a minimum of three years full time study.

What can I do with the BEngSc(BME) degree?
The simple answer is that this degree alone may not offer you many job opportunities, and you should ideally not consider doing this degree unless you intend to follow this with a professional degree.  The BEngSc(BME) degree has been designed to be followed by one of three possible qualifications.  These are: Medicine (MBBCh) – this takes 4 additional years, and admission is on a competitive basis
Electrical Engineering – this takes 2 additional years
BSc Honours in Physics – this takes 2 additional years, and admission is subject to arrangement with the school of physics
If you follow one of these routes, you will become either a doctor, an electrical engineer or a physicist in addition to having an outstanding grounding in biomedical engineering. It may also be possible to use the BEngSc(BME) degree as a basis for doing honours, masters or PhD degrees in a number of disciplines eg. applied mathematics and biological sciences, however admission to these programmes will depend on the requirements of the individual schools and universities. Other areas of possible employment include the teaching profession and some areas of medical technology, however some extra study will generally be required.

What are my career options if I leave university directly after obtaining the BEngSc(BME) degree?
We strongly discourage this, as the BEngSc(BME) is intended to be followed by a professional degree.  However, if you do want to enter the job market with only the BEngSc(BME) degree, you may try to find employment in any one of a number of biomedical engineering, biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies, possibly on the marketing and sales side, or in various aspects of project management.

I have always wanted to do medicine but was not accepted.  Is it a good idea to consider the BEngSc(BME) degree as an easy route into medicine?
Definitely not!  Firstly, remember that this degree does not guarantee you a place in medicine.
Secondly, this degree is very demanding, and your chances of success in this programme will be far greater if you are doing the BEngSc(BME) degree for the right reasons ie. you have broad scientific interests and have a strong interest in and fascination with applying quantitative sciences to  medicine and biology. Students who undertake this degree simply as a means of getting into something else like medicine, are less likely to have sufficient interest in the subject matter to pass the very demanding curriculum.  Having said this, we do believe that this degree will give you an excellent grounding if you do subsequently decide to study medicine.

What can you tell me about Wits? 
Wits is an English medium university situated in Johannesburg , and spread over one main campus, and three satellite campuses.  Johannesburg is a major city located on the Witwatersrand, which is a region on the interior plateau of South Africa at an altitude of about 1750m (+/-5750 ft), and is the world’s richest gold field. Wits evolved from the South African School of Mines, which began in the diamond mining town of Kimberly more than a century ago, and subsequently migrated to the gold mining town of Johannesburg .  Wits’ full name is “University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg ”.  Mostly, it is referred to simply as Wits.  (all the w’s in Wits and Witwatersrand are pronounced as if they were substituted with the letter v.)  Wits is world renowned in many areas of research, and numerous Wits alumni have won international acclaim and honours including Nobel Prizes. Wits graduates occupy leadership positions in industry and academia throughout the world.

Why is Wits a good place at which to study Biomedical Engineering?
Wits researchers have for many years been involved in research which would fall into the broad category of Biomedical Engineering, however a formal undergraduate degree in this area is new for Wits.  Despite being a novel degree at our university, Wits is ideally suited to offering this area of study by virtue of the stature of the individual schools and faculties providing input to the new degree.  The lecturers in Biomedical Engineering will be drawn from three faculties viz:
Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Faculty of Health Sciences, and Faculty of Science. Being at the center of the gold mining industry, Wits has developed world-renowned engineering expertise, partly due to the unusual technical demands of ultra-deep level mining.  In addition to this, our medical school and science faculties are highly regarded throughout the world.  Our BEngSc(BME) degree represents a combination of these three excellent faculties.

How is Wits arranged organisationally, and where does the BEngSc(BME) degree fit within this structure?
Wits is made up of 5 faculties.  A faculty is a large grouping of related disciplines.  For example, medicine, dentistry and physiotherapy all fall under the faculty of Health Sciences.
Within each faculty, there are a number of schools.  A school is a narrower grouping of disciplines. The BEngSc(BME) degree is run by the School of Electrical and Information Engineering which is based in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment.  It should be noted, however, that courses for the BEngSc(BME) degree are provided by many schools from three different faculties, viz. Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Science.

Can I be a professional engineer after completing the BEngSc(BME) degree?
The designation of professional engineer is governed by statute.  The usual route to becoming a professional engineer, is to do a formal four year BSc(Eng) degree (or equivalent at another university) in one of the traditional engineering branches eg. mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering.  However, if you complete the BEngSc(BME) and then choose to do the extra two years to become an electrical engineer, then you will also gain the BSc(Eng) and can become a professional engineer.  In other words, the BEngSc(BME) degree alone is not sufficient to become a professional engineer.
The BEngSc(BME) degree has much the same status as a general science degree (BSc).  ie it should give you an excellent education in science but does not necessarily qualify you for a specific profession.

If I choose to do the extra two years to become an electrical engineer after doing the BEngSc(BME), what will my career prospects be?
If you go this route, then you will become a fully qualified electrical engineer who will be entitled to work in any environment appropriate to this qualification.  However, your additional BEngSc(BME) degree will give you added insight and ability to seek work in areas that have a biomedical aspect to them, such as in medical research laboratories, hospitals, universities and medical device/equipment manufacturers.

On completion of the BEngSc(BME) degree, am I guaranteed a place in the two year programme to obtain an electrical engineering degree at Wits?
Yes. If you successfully complete the BEngSc(BME) degree, you will be deemed to have completed an equivalent of the first two years of the BSc(Eng) in electrical engineering, and will thus be admitted directly to the third year of electrical engineering at Wits if you choose.  Please note that this does not automatically apply to other universities.

With all this talk about becoming an electrical engineer after doing an additional two years following the BEngSc(BME) degree, what is the status of the Wits engineering degrees internationally? 
South Africa is a signatory of the Washington accord, which ensures the mutual recognition of accredited South African engineering qualifications by the other signatory countries, viz. Australia , New Zealand , United States of America , United Kingdom , Canada and Hong Kong .  Wits’ normal 4 year BSc(Eng) degree is fully accredited by the Engineering Council of South Africa, and is thus recognized in terms of the Washington accord.  Full accreditation for the new route to obtaining the BSc(Eng)(Electrical) after completing the BEngSc(BME) will be sought as the course begins.

I am aware that Wits offers an Information Engineering option in the electrical engineering degree.  If I do the extra two years after the BEngSc(BME) to become an electrical engineer, is the information engineering option available to me?
Yes. The information engineering option is just a variant of the electrical engineering degree BSc(Eng)(Electrical), in that you do a concentration of subjects in the latter half of the degree relating more to information engineering than other areas of electrical engineering.  If you enter electrical engineering after obtaining the BEngSc(BME) degree, this information engineering option will still be available to you if you so choose.

Why does it appear that electrical engineering is the preferred follow-on engineering degree after the BEngSc(BME)? What about other branches of engineering?
Biomedical engineering is a wide area of study and involves most of the major branches of engineering eg. Chemical, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.  The Wits BEngSc(BME) degree has been developed within the school of Electrical and Information Engineering, and therefore has a natural concentration in this area.  It is likely that other branches of engineering at Wits will develop versions/streams of the BEngSc(BME) appropriate to their disciplines, however this is not yet available.  If you choose to follow your BEngSc(BME) degree with a BSc(Eng) degree in eg. Chemical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering, then you will need to talk to the relevant school in each case to find out their admission requirements, and how much, if any, time you can save by doing those degrees after the BEngSc(BME).

If I choose to do the extra two years and obtain an honours degree in physics after doing the BEngSc(BME), what will my career prospects be?
The career prospects in physics are varied and include research and teaching careers at universities, as well as work in some industries and research laboratories.  In addition, having the BEngSc(BME) degree should make you more employable in areas of physics that deal with biological systems.  You should also consult with consult with the School of Physics if you have an interest in becoming a medical physicist. They will be able to give you further information on the requirements.

Why does the BSc honours degree in physics take two years instead of the usual one year if I enter the programme after completion of the BEngSc(BME) degree?
The BEngSc(BME) degree will give you much of the background that you will need to study physics at the honours level, however, a number of key areas in physics will not be covered in much detail, such as quantum mechanics and advanced optics.  For this reason, you will need to first do a one year Graduate Diploma in Scientific Studies (GDSS) in order to make up the deficiencies in physics. At this point, you will have covered the equivalent of a physics major. You will then be able to do the one year Honours in Physics.

Why will a medical degree only take an additional four years after obtaining the BEngSc(BME) degree? 
Wits University has introduced a new medical degree programme called the Graduate Entry Medical Programme (GEMP).  This version of the medical degree is shorter (4 years as opposed to 6) because applicants will already have an undergraduate degree eg. BEngSc(BME), with credits for many of the subjects normally covered in years one and two of the 6 year medical programme.    The name Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBCh), and the outcomes of the 4 year medical programme are identical to the older 6 year programme. Remember that admission to the medical degree is competitive and is not guaranteed.

If I do the additional 4 years to become a doctor, what advantages would my BEngSc(BME) give me?
Medicine is evolving and developing rapidly, and many diseases that only a few years ago were considered incurable, are now showing remarkable responses to novel diagnostic and treatment options.  This also means that medicine is becoming more challenging and technical.  We believe that graduates of the BEngSc(BME) who choose to continue with the medical degree, will have excellent insight into the rapidly changing world of medical science and will be able to adapt rapidly to new ideas.  Moreover, it is expected that these students will be active contributors at the forefront of this research.

If I choose to do medicine after my BEngSc(BME) and am not accepted at Wits, are there any other options to becoming a doctor?
You could consider applying to an appropriate year of the medical degree at another South African university.  There is no guarantee of acceptance and each university will base its decision on their own criteria.  You could also apply to overseas universities on the same basis.