Healthcare Systems Engineer

Healthcare system engineers are integral to the modern healthcare landscape. With pressure on medical professionals to deliver better care at lesser costs, it is invaluable to have a go-to technical team behind them. Healthcare system engineering encompasses everything from designing efficient workflow systems, digitizing patient records, and deploying artificial intelligence (AI) automation solutions to optimize high-performance computing in hospital networks and designing user-friendly medical technology interfaces. 

A healthcare systems engineering degree differs from a healthcare IT degree, as the former focuses on managing healthcare systems and examining how engineers can improve healthcare technologies. Healthcare systems engineering seeks to improve healthcare delivery by addressing policy, economics, social dynamics, and technology issues. By doing so, healthcare systems engineers hope to reduce errors and costs associated with healthcare treatments and decrease wait times for individuals seeking healthcare services.

How do health systems engineers help patients and providers? According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, healthcare systems engineers minimized patient wait time and provider idle time and improved resource use in its chemotherapy unit. In addition, by developing a new scheduling system that allowed patients to manage their appointments, the results were optimized delivery of care and less patient saturation during peak hours. 

Careers in health systems engineering (HSE) are growing steadily. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) shows the demand for health and safety engineers, a related field, will grow steadily at 4 percent from 2021 to 2031. HSEs earn median salaries of $99,040 annually, which breaks down to $47.62 per hour. 

To become a licensed engineer, one must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from a program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In addition, employers in the healthcare industry are looking for individuals with work experience in a healthcare setting or internship programs to keep healthcare workers safe and the building spaces from unnecessary illness or injury.

Nearly all industries hire engineers or contract their services as part of their healthcare teams. Some industries healthcare systems engineers work within include academia, administration, biomedical research, healthcare providers, regulatory agencies, and social services. 

Read on to learn more about healthcare systems engineers, including degree types, admissions, accreditation, on-campus and online or hybrid programs, and guidance on becoming a professional in the field.

Healthcare Systems Engineer Specializations & Degree Types

Many career fields fall under the umbrella of healthcare systems engineers. After completion of a program, jobs a candidate could apply for include the following positions below: 

  • Applied biomedical engineer
  • Continuous improvement specialist
  • Healthcare analyst
  • Healthcare management engineer
  • Healthcare manager
  • Health systems engineer
  • Hospital process engineer
  • Industrial healthcare engineer
  • Public health engineer
  • Healthcare engineering faculty
  • Systems engineer

Degrees for healthcare systems engineers typically include bachelor’s or master’s degrees and add-on certificate programs in an engineering discipline. In addition, HSE is often a degree specialization option for those enrolled in industrial engineering degree programs. 

Here are some common degree and certification titles for healthcare systems engineers: 

  • Bachelor of science (BS) – industrial, process, systems, and lean engineering
  • Bachelor of science in engineering (BSE) – industrial, process, systems, and lean engineering
  • Master of science in engineering (MSE)  – healthcare systems engineering
  • Master of engineer (MEng) – healthcare systems engineering
  • HSE certificate (HSE) – undergraduate and graduate levels

Admissions Requirements for Healthcare Systems Engineers

Healthcare systems engineering program admission requirements vary by program but typically include standard qualifications. Aspiring healthcare system engineers are advised to have the following:

  • A bachelor of science in engineering or a related field (or applying within the final semester)
  • A GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Application 
  • GRE scores 
  • Official transcripts 
  • Resume or CV
  • Work experience in healthcare or engineering

Healthcare Systems Engineer Program Accreditation

To legally work as a licensed engineer in the United States, it is imperative to graduate from an engineering program accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET). This accreditation assures that engineering programs meet a specific level of academic quality within an engineering discipline. 

At a minimum, an engineer must complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering accredited by ABET. However, upon receiving this degree, it’s possible to pursue graduate programs that are not ABET-accredited that focus on healthcare administration and other disciplines. 

Every state has varying specifications for engineering licensing. Choosing an ABET-accredited healthcare systems engineering program will set them on the path toward licensing and job prospects.

On-Campus Healthcare Systems Engineer Degree Programs

Lehigh University – MEng and HSE certificate 

Lehigh University is in Philadelphia and offers a master’s degree and a healthcare system engineering certificate. Their unique program combines analytic tools and systems modeling to form a rundown of healthcare modules and how to address operational questions. Students taught to utilize various tools may include engineering economics, project management, statistics, stochastic modeling, process and flow in queuing, simulation and information systems analysis and design, and operations research and innovation. 

It comprises 30 credits with 12 credits in healthcare core, nine credits in systems engineering foundation, six elective credits, and three capstone credits. There is an option to work online through coursework, but on-campus is available for students. 

  • Location: Bethlehem, PA
  • Duration: One to six years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET)
  • Tuition: $1,500 per credit

University of Pittsburgh – HSE certificates (undergraduate & graduate)

The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and Pitt Public Health offers undergraduate and graduate HSE certificates that focus on management and technical skills to work within the field. 

These certificate programs are specializations within the bachelor’s or master’s degree programs. Required courses in this program include the introduction to statistical methods, health systems engineering seminar, graduate projects, and work design. Students can complete this program part- or full-time.

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET)
  • Tuition: $27,684 (residents); $46,952 (non-residents)

North Carolina State University – HSE certificates (undergraduate & graduate)

North Carolina State University’s Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering offers a health systems engineering certificate. Their healthcare systems engineer certificate provides undergraduates seeking work in healthcare systems with a step up for their skill set. Student research focuses on dynamic programming and decision analysis, metaheuristics, mathematical programming, simulation, and statistical analysis.

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Duration: Four years 
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET)
  • Tuition: $272.29 per credit (residents); $1,178.17 per credit (non-residents)

Oregon State University – BS with HSE specialization

Oregon State University offers an HSE program option as part of its industrial engineering major. Students pursuing the HSE option will incorporate industrial engineering and healthcare systems into their professional practice. The College of Engineering was founded in 1889 and has since followed the sustainability of nature, health, and society. 

The 181-credit industrial engineering bachelor’s degree with HSE specialization includes courses in game theory with engineering applications, data analysis methods, and healthcare management introduction.

  • Location: Corvallis, OR
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET)
  • Tuition: $346 per credit

Binghamton University, State University of New York – MS in HSE

Binghamton University offers a part-time and full-time master of science in healthcare systems engineering. This program prepares students for leadership roles in healthcare, including hospital health information technology and consulting. Students will learn industrial and systems-based engineering practices, including reliability modeling, human factors, simulation and data science, optimization, and scheduling. 

The program comprises six courses, including nine credits of specific ISE (industrial and systems engineering) classes and nine credits of health systems classes. In addition, the program offers a final project or thesis option to complete the degree. Open enrollment is based upon a continuous option with no specific cut-off dates.  

  • Location: Binghamton, NY
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET)
  • Tuition: $38,000 total

Online or Hybrid Healthcare Systems Engineer Degree Programs

University of Central Florida – MS and HSE certificate (graduate)

The University of Central Florida is a leader in online engineering programs. Their unique curriculum design and coursework allow students to impact ecological and social systems across society positively. Students in the 30-credit master’s program and the 15-credit HSE certificate programs utilize computer simulation, experiential learning engagement, quantitative analysis, and system modeling elements to teach students a critical view of healthcare management. 

Courses include industrial engineering analytics for healthcare, engineering economic analysis in health systems, and engineering quality in health systems. Students can complete the HSE certificate in one year, while the master of science program requires two years.  

  • Location: Orlando, FL
  • Duration: One to two years 
  • Accreditation: Health Informatics Accreditor (CAHIIM), Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), Mentorship Circle (CAHME), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $1,239.16 per credit 

Louisiana State University – HSE graduate certificate

Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering offers an affordable online graduate certificate in healthcare systems engineering. Their program provides a coach from application through graduation to help guide the education process for every candidate. 

Their program partnered with a healthcare facility, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which also helped develop and review program coursework to better identify relevant healthcare needs for the public. The GRE is not required for admission. This program is a great starting point for those interested in earning an MS in industrial engineering. 

  • Location: Baton Rouge, LA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $750 per credit 

Loyola Marymount University – MS in HSE

Loyola Marymount University’s College of Science and Engineering offers a master of science in healthcare systems engineering. The program provides four individual modalities for prospective candidates: a four-year bachelor’s plus one year for a master’s degree, a regular master’s program degree, a dual degree of master’s and MBA combined, and a certificate of completion. 

All HSE courses are available online to better fit the needs of program candidates. In addition, their program offers the opportunity to work with Kaiser Permanente and features a small instructor-to-student ratio, competitive tuition costs, and advising to meet student needs. 

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: One to three years
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Tuition: $1,457 per unit

University of Southern California – MS in HSE

The University of Southern California USC offers an HSE program for prospective students with a bachelor’s degree in science, engineering, or applied sciences. This program prepares students for work in healthcare by increasing their skills and knowledge of hospital efficiency, safety operations, and quality management, among many other practice areas. Students can complete this program part- or full-time.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: One to three years
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) 
  • Tuition: $31,734 total

Johns Hopkins University – MS in HSE

The MS in healthcare systems engineering at Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering offers an ABET-accredited program online. The 10-course program provides students with experience in the applied physics laboratory to improve processes and lower costs. 

Every class utilizes real-life techniques, programs, and concepts in daily work. For example, this institution’s work during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic created a tracking map that helped professionals and people to understand viral trends and benefit the field of public health. 

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: One to five years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET)
  • Tuition: $49,200 total

How Long Does it Take to Become a Healthcare Systems Engineer?

Becoming a healthcare systems engineer can take nine to 12 years, including high school and undergraduate education. A certification in HSE takes one year or less to complete. The length of time for this career pathway truly depends upon the program selected and how much time a student can invest in the degree or certification process.

How To Become a Healthcare Systems Engineer – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduation from high school or GED completion is the first step in pursuing an HSE career. Aspiring HSEs are encouraged to take as many math, science, engineering, and STEM courses available at their school. These courses help individuals form a firm foundation in the arts of sciences and public health work. In addition, taking advanced placement (AP) courses are recommended to earn college credits. 

Step 2: Complete an ABET-Accredited Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Completing an ABET-accredited bachelor of science in engineering is extremely helpful in obtaining an HSE. Many master’s and post-bachelor programs also allow students with regionally-accredited BS degrees in mathematics, science, and information technology with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. In many science and engineering programs, HSE is a degree specialization option. 

Step 3: Become a Healthcare Systems Engineer (Timelines Vary)

After a bachelor’s degree, a candidate can choose from post-bachelor programs where Students can complete an HSE certification. Many online and on-campus programs offer HSE certification, which is less rigorous and time-intensive than obtaining a master’s degree. Most HSE programs and positions require a background in science or engineering for admission.

Step 4: Gain Work Experience (One Year Minimum)

Many bachelor programs in science and engineering offer practical work experiences in the field. This type of valuable experience is considered favorable in the realm of work experience for HSE. Work experience in science, healthcare, engineering, and public health all provide a foundational understanding of systems analysis brought to the table to apply in later HSE work. Residential programs and internships are offered for HSE work to interested parties to gain experience in the field without certification.

Step 5: Complete a Graduate Degree in Healthcare Systems Engineering (Two to Four Years)

Graduate work in HSE is even more accessible now, with online and on-campus options available worldwide. Most graduate programs require two to three years for completion, and the time involved in a graduate degree depends on how much time the student can invest in the program work. A graduate degree or certificate in HSE prepares graduates with the didactic and practical laboratory experiences needed to excel in this field. 

Step 6: Obtain National Certification (Timelines Vary)

Certain positions may require IT certification in healthcare. For example, the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification offered by American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) can be valuable for HSEs who work with large data sets and hold a health information management (HIM) undergraduate or master’s degree. 

To be eligible for RHIA certification, a candidate’s degree program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM).

Step 7: Obtain State Licensure (Timelines Varies)

Depending on the position, healthcare system engineers may be required to hold a current state-level engineering license to work legally. Engineers have one of two licenses: an FE or a PE license.

To be eligible for engineering licensure through the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and state licensure boards, candidates must graduate from an ABET-accredited engineering program, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, complete four years of work supervised by a PE-licensed engineer, then pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. 

What Do Healthcare Systems Engineers Do?

Healthcare systems engineers pave the way for the future’s organized, systematic, and patient-focused healthcare. Much of their work focuses on the organizational problem-solving and strategizing side of healthcare, allowing providers to focus more on patient care and less on the systems analysis of their teams. Some of the following duties give a clearer picture of an HSE’s responsibilities: 

  • Staffing decisions
  • Finding procedures that prevent, diagnose, plan/treat, and manage illnesses
  • Predictive analytics
  • Triage planning and policies
  • Scheduling
  • Implement statistical and technological methodologies
  • Design, research, develop, test, and implement new systems and procedures

Healthcare Systems Engineer Certifications & Licensure

Healthcare systems engineers must complete an undergraduate, graduate, or certification program to be eligible for work in this field. Degree and certificate programs provide knowledge and the skills necessary to achieve such vital results in healthcare. Certification programs are less time-intensive, depending on the program selected, and candidates can complete them within one to two years. Master’s programs vary in length but generally take two to three years to complete.

As for engineering licensure, some positions require an engineer to work legally with an FE or PE license. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) gives this state-level license exam, and state boards of engineering confer state-level engineering licenses.

How Much Do Healthcare Systems Engineers Make?

Healthcare systems engineers (health and safety engineers) make a decent salary. The BLS (May 2021) found that the 22,870 working professionals in this field earned $99,700 on average and the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $58,490
  • 25th percentile: $76,650
  • 50th percentile (median): $99,040
  • 75th percentile: $126,780
  • 90th percentile: $150,720

Finally, here are the top-paying states for health and safety engineers (BLS May 2021): 

  • California: $119,360 per year
  • New Hampshire: $117,940
  • Colorado: $116,450
  • Texas: $114,780
  • Massachusetts: $111,030

Healthcare Systems Engineer Career Alternatives

As with many fields, there is career overlap in healthcare systems engineering. Here are some alternatives to a career as a healthcare systems engineer. 

Become a Health Data Analyst or Scientist

A health data analyst is a professional who uses data analysis and other technology to uncover insights that can benefit patients, doctors, and healthcare organizations. 

Healthcare data scientists use their knowledge of programming languages, machine learning algorithms, databases, statistical software, and mathematics to analyze large datasets from hospitals, insurance companies, decision support systems, and clinical trials. Their ultimate goal is to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs for healthcare organizations.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s or master’s degree in analytics, HIM, statistics, information technology, and industrial engineering, among other degrees in the health informatics field 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)

Become a Project Engineer 

A project engineer is a professional responsible for managing the technical aspects of a project. They often work closely with other engineers and professionals in related fields to plan, design, develop, test, and evaluate various projects. 

A project engineer may also be involved in budgeting, scheduling activities, and coordinating personnel and equipment resources. They must possess a strong understanding of engineering principles and possess good communication, organizational and problem-solving skills.

  • Typical Education: ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree in engineering; four years of experience in the field 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
Rachel Becker

Rachel Becker

Writer

Rachel Becker is a freelance writer who enjoys life in the PNW. She holds a master’s degree in education and taught in elementary classrooms for twelve years. When she is not running around after two toddlers, she makes time for daily movement, running two blogs, and reading.

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