In 1959 a group of medical engineers, physicists and physicians met at the 2nd International Conference of Medical and Biological Engineering, in the UNESCO Building, Paris, France to create an organization entitled International Federation for Medical Electronics and Biological Engineering. At that time there were few national biomedical engineering societies and workers in the discipline joined as Associates of the Federation. Later, as national societies were formed, these societies became affiliates of the Federation.
In the mid-sixties, the name was shortened to International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering. Its international conferences were held first on a yearly basis, then on a two-year basis and eventually on a three-year basis, to conform to the practice of most other international scientific bodies.
As the Federation grew, its constituency and objectives changed. During the first ten years of its existence, clinical engineering became a viable subdiscipline with an increasing number of members employed in the health care area. The IFMBE mandate was expanded to represent those engaged in Research and Development and in Clinical Engineering. The latter category now represents close to half of the total membership.
The Federation now has an estimated 120,000 members in 59 affiliated organizations. The category Honorary Life Member is given to individuals who have served the Federation in various ways as affiliate members.
Observer status may be temporarily granted to a society or organization (pending the determination of their definitive application) to attend the General Assembly. The Federation actively looks at ways to assist national or regional groups encountering some difficulties in qualifying for affiliation.
The IFMBE has also achieved a close association with the International Organization of Medical Physics. Its international conferences, commencing with the 11th in 1976 have been aligned or combined with those of the IOMP. The two international bodies have established an International Union for Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine.