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Does my ideal career in medical device engineering/business exist?

Veteran

Adam Barber Linden, NC

Hi all, I am an AH-64 Apache post-command captain who is leaving the Army in the next few months. I have a BS in mechanical engineering and an MS in engineering management, but no significant engineering work experience beyond part time work in college and a one-year broadening assignment with Army engineers. I was recently admitted to MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations program, a dual MBA/MS curriculum in which I would focus on mechanical engineering. Within ME there are several research areas, such has bioengineering and product development.

My interests shifted since I started my application (from sustainable transportation to the medical device industry). With this shift came a lot of uncertainty about my future career. I can imagine my ideal job, but can’t seem to figure it if it exists based on job searches. I don’t want to pursue the MIT program with hopes of getting a job that doesn’t exist based on my credentials/experience.

I’d like to manage the R&D and manufacturing of essential medical devices (implants, diagnostic equipment, prosthetics) such that I can interact with engineers, even to the point of assisting in the design/testing, while also interacting with customers and company/corporate leadership. Essentially, I’d love to be hands on and see the end state of my team’s efforts on the customer, while still leveraging managerial/business skills to proliferate critical products. My family and I hope to live in the Midwest, preferably Ohio, if that matters.

If anyone has experience with this sort of work, I’d love to hear about it (job title, location, company, company size, etc.). Additionally, I’d appreciate any constructive criticism/reinforcement of my plan and/or job search. Thanks!

21 March 2021 14 replies Career Exploration

Answers

Advisor

Clifford Gardner Gordo, AL

Hi Adam,

I echo the previous comments. I work for a med-device company. If you're looking to design, you'll likely have to relocate to one of the tech-heavy areas (Pacific NW, Chicago NW suburbs, or Northeast NY-ME). If you can translate your skills into a more customer-facing role (Field Service Engineering Manager, Project Manager, etc.), you have a lot more locations to pick from. Here's how to find all the jobs: Look at either Field Service USA or Field Service Medical business conference websites. They have a list of all the companies who have sponsored, provided speakers, or sent attendees. Then, you can visit each of these companies' websites to see who's hiring and where. Hope this helps!

Cliff

1 April 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Laura Zoerner Littleton, CO

Hi, Adam!

The responses above are all good. I wanted to just add also that an R&D route might be a little more challenging with no experience but, a manufacturing route (operations) might not be. I’ve been in medical marketing for 15+ years now and been in both the marketing R&D for most of that. Happy to chat also and get you connected to others who can give you perspective!!

1 April 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Mike Etzel Maple Plain, MN

Adam,
I also suggest you look into these companies that fit your interest profile: Boston Scientific, Medtronic. They certainly have career paths and are veteran friendly with dedicated vet hiring initiatives. They have multiple locations but Minneapolis is a center for many.
https://www.bostonscientific.com/en-US/Home.html
https://www.medtronic.com/us-en/index.html

Best Regards,
Mike

31 March 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Ashutosh Mehta Edison, NJ

Hi Adam, Thank you for your services.

With your qualifications and experience, you will do great in field of Medical devices. There are many companies like Zimmer Biomet, Striker, both in Indiana doing good work in field of medical devices. Medtronic in Minneapolis is another good company working with devices. In the era of space travel, robotics and Cyborg, there are lots of possibilities in the area of nano devices. Also, your clearance may help you with govt./defense research facilities.

Another suggestion is to find medical device or bio technology related profiles in LinkedIn and connect there to establish your field network.

Good luck!

Ashutosh Mehta

30 March 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Po Wong Orlando, FL

Hello Adam,
Thanks for your service!

At one point, I was the J&J Global ElectroMechanical Medical Devices (Clinical analyzer, Glucose meter, Sterilizer, Laser cutter, Vision equipment....) category leader. Also managed engineering/manufacturing/Supply chain. If you think it may add value, we can setup a call. I can share with you some information about FDA compliance, Medical Device Industry including some of the leading contract manufacturers.
Regards,
Po

29 March 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Paul Tusting Salt Lake City, UT

Hi Adam,

Over the last 20 years, I've primarily working on product development in outdoor recreation, consumer electronics, and the firearms industry, but have done a couple medical devices myself and witnessed a number of other ones be developed.

While I agree with Joe that in a large medical device company the divisions are compartmentalized, that isn't necessarily true in a start-up. In a new catheter company I've worked with, one of the principals is the MD/Doc guru and the other is the Engineering guru, both have very broad roles.

Here's a local example of a holding company supporting small start up medical companies.
http://medventureholdings.com/portfolio

I have also witnessed structures like this with "skunkworks" projects within large organizations. Also, due to the "validation" process being so intense with medical devices, it is common for R&D and manufacturing to be more tied together than in other industries.

Universities often have departments related to commercializing the technology that is coming out of them. Here are some local examples of this, and MIT (I grew up only a couple subway stops from it) should have no shortage of this activity. Again, in a startup environment the roles are often quite broad, like you are describing.
https://uofuhealth.utah.edu/center-for-medical-innovation/
https://pivotcenter.utah.edu/

But like Joe said, gaining experience is going to be a big part of any of these roles. The MIT program should be able to assist with it (that area is one of the hubs in the world for this kid of thing).

Please reach out to me directly if there is anything I can help with.
-Paul

27 March 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Joe Engle Indianapolis, IN

Hello Adam.
I understand...you want to do it all (LOL). Seriously, the designers rarely interact with the customers. The medical device industry is highly regulated, like the military, and very compartmentalized. I have several friends that went into medical device engineering positions(though I did not myself). They kept telling me how different and regulated it was from the engineering we had known. The closest that might fit your ideal position might in sales support engineering, where you would hear from customers, and feedback info to the design engineers (though you would likely not do the actual design). As a sales engineer you might visit hospital sites, trade shows, conferences, etc., to get feedback. Alternatively, if you were a high level design manager, you would be included in meetings where the high level goals and design requirements are determined, and you would pass them down to the designers. Again, you would be going to trade shows and conferences

The only way you could work on a product, from inception to sales, would be if you worked for a very small company, and you were having to wear many hats.

Honestly, I cannot see a medical device company hiring an R&D manager without any experience. There are just to many FDA regulations, industry design guidelines, verification procedures, etc, that are peculiar to the industry, that must be at least generally understood, before doing design.

It is such a different field, I suggest getting a position you like, and observe the many functions and roles that you see. Within a year you will have a much better idea of where your interests lie, and how to proceed with your career. And you will have good experience!
If you do a good job, you should be able to move around within the company, when you see openings. You are young and not married to a job or company.

Maybe linkedin with someone, with a position you are interested in, and pick their brain. That would be very informative.

Good luck and thanks for your service to us.

22 March 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

cathy salerno Chester, NJ

Hi Adam! Thank you for your service. I might suggest checking out Johnson & Johnson opportunities in Cincinnati Ohio with the Ethicon Endo Surgery team. Here’s a link with some of the jobs that are currently recruiting: https://www.indeed.com/jobs?q=Ethicon+Endo+Surgery&l=CINCINNATI&mna=5&aceid=&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkKO1kJPE7wIVxpyGCh1jLQB_EAAYASAAEgKgJPD_BwE

22 March 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Jerry Welsh Middleville, MI

Adam,
You might find Informational Interviews with R&D staff in the implantable device industry. You have two major categories, orthopedic and cardiology, with subsets in smaller industries i.e. urology, neurological etc. Look up how to conduct Informational Interviews and focus your questions on the industry, how "they" found their way into the industry. Believe it or not there are a number of medical device manufactures outside of implantable devices, medical equipment (a large number of manufactures in the electronic products). If conducted properly you should find a number of industry employees willing to "help" a transitioning military service member. Thank you for service and God Bless

22 March 2021 Helpful answer

Advisor

Gene Barrett Naples, FL

Adam, sounds like you may have gone through Ft. Rucker about the same time as my son Austin, a Black Hawk pilot - he got his wings Sept 2014.

Based on your career interests, you may want to explore options at Arthrex - https://www.arthrex.com/ - a surgical products developer here in Naples FL. While it's a big company, and the biggest employer in southwest Florida, it's family-owned, and small compared to giant like J&J. Might give you the potential to range across multiple disciplines, per your objective. Good luck with your decision process!

Veteran

DF Jackson Washington, DC

Thank you for your service. Maybe try Medtronic and Siemens. They have a strong medical and biotech area. Best wishes.

Advisor

Kyle Nevala Saint Michael, MN

I'm a fan of telling it straight...and long responses.
I see these incredible responses and highly encourage taking those up on their offer for personal assistance.
At this stage in your 1) life and 2) career, your network will be a major factor in how you transition. MIT is not a chump school. For the money (and prestige), you should expect and use the resources and network it provides. Don't be shy with any of this. We offer our assistance for a reason, and it's not to be selfish. Little bit more, then I'll get off my soapbox: stay humble, yet self-aware. Believe me when I say you are starting over. If competing for the lower level roles, the competition are the 23-25 year old graduates who have a year or 2 experience under their belt. The only way to not compete is to not compete for those roles. Understand you are beyond the lower level roles. Even with zero functional industry experience, other skills are still valuable. Yet, understand your competition is now the 10yr experience grunts with desires to move into the manager role.
An analogy to offer some help with civilian careers. Within the realm of radiation, there is the visual spectrum. The visual spectrum realm also has its own breakdown, being what we recognize as colors. The medical device industry analogy is to view the industry career focus like the realm of radiation. There are major defined sections (education (engineering) leading to a career choice (engineering)) and sections within sections (focused, very focused, etc., career paths (Quality Engineer)). A quick reality check: the more focused towards one specific path, the easier it is to find a job. Spanning across multiple sections within the radiation scale is experience based, and schooling definitely helps. One section will need to be focused on prior to transitioning into the next. This is expected. There is the rare idiot savant, yet even those have a hard time getting past the HR resume screening process...and quickly realize skipping the ATS screening process is the best path (network).
Understanding the "regulated industry" as how it applies to the technical side of medical device. This is the basic medical device industry definition and technical path.
1) A Quality Management System (QMS) is created. The larger the company, the more complex the QMS will be, and in it's most simplest form it's quite complex. The larger the desired commercial market, the more complex the QMS will be. Why? The larger the company, the more activities requiring control, and different countries across the globe have different regulatory requirements. Medical Devices are approved for commercial use per 'country'. The major market countries have the most defined regulatory requirements. Understanding medical device regulations is a discipline (career) in itself. One I recently moved into.
2) The QMS is followed to both create and manufacture a medical device. I use "both" because there is a Y in this technical path. From the technical perspective, a medical device company will expect professional focus for one of the 2 paths: development or manufacturing.
To offer a little more to this, each path then has its own breakdown of professions and skill sets. A rare find is someone who has functional experience and skill sets in both paths. This experience is not gained through school. Schooling (and your network) gets you in.
I am not going to discuss marketing or sales. Sales is a profession where you either have it or you don't. Marketing can be taught, and can be an engineer's path, but another lengthy discussion.
3) Development or Manufacturing. I use "or" because I am unaware of a education program that offers functional level education for both at the same time.
Development: turning a clinical need and an idea into a functional device. This can be novel or me-too. The activities involved performed against formal methods (QMS) and are purposeful.
Manufacturing: taking that developed device and making it over and over again. Not as simple as it appears. All actions being methodical and statistical. Changes occur, pro-actively, re-actively and though pre-defined criteria.
There is a formal transition from development to manufacturing. Transitioning back normally involves looping back close to the beginning of the development cycle and manufacturing might stop, depending on the reason.
4) Staying focused towards the technical side, worker bee or management. Both have different skill sets. Management having an understanding and commitment to 'ownership' the worker bees typically haven't acquired (or even comprehended) yet. Management having an understanding of mission, why completing the mission is important (money), and how to keep the team 1) on mission objective and 2) motivated throughout.
4a) I'm adding this because this is a private forum. Publicizing this is definitely a CLM (career limiting maneuver). There is a reality I can not completely and thoroughly comprehend, though fully recognize. I started my civilian career path in the mid-90's. Engineering degree from a large Midwest University. I live in the Midwest. I am a white male. I've been told I minimize this dynamic because of how I express my point of view: the best qualified candidate should get the role, regardless of anything else. I've made hiring decisions this way, sometimes with retribution, but not regret. I'm sure you have seen, as I have, the best qualified candidate doesn't always get the role. When this happens, there is the continual questioning of 'how is this person in this role'...for a long time. Sometimes there are politics that govern decisions. Good or bad, these decisions are enacted, we adapt to the condition and continue the mission. Fighting that decision is pointless, regardless of who's agenda it improves, and opposition means "you are not a team player." Recognize this?
4b) Regarding 4, keep the team 1) on mission objective and 2) motivated throughout, when 4a is ramped can be a very large challenge. Title (positional authority) with agenda is usually less moronic sporadic along the technical paths, but it is still a reality. Developing this reconciliation skill is not taught...because it is a legal liability to do so. At your stage, this dynamic should be easily recognized. Disobeying a bad decision can happen in the civilian world, though it is done with persuasion and data (for legal reasons) with presentation and promotion of alternate paths. Flat out disobeying will trigger a similar response, military or civilian, trouble. If you are able to verbalize this skill in a politically savvy manner, this will be recognized.
With all this said, and if you have made it this far, here is my opinion / recommendation.
Your current MS in Engineering Management should be your lead-in for engineering manager or director. As a CO, you have the experience to lead this level group, easily. Look for these job descriptions and create / give examples of how / what you have done by answering the line item job characteristic with a functional example. Don't use military jargon. Because you haven't been in the industry doesn't mean you can't lead lead this team of people. You can always hire the expert others go to for needing knowledge help. I remember my CO having an Art degree leading a Heavy Equipment Engineering Company. The LTs had engineering degrees. Another story.
I would suggest the MBA/MS Product Development route. You are on path to be an executive, not a researcher, and don't have the researcher background. I truly hope the MS program isn't: Welcome to the Wonderful World of the Medical Device Industry. These programs cover a lot, and little in detail to help with day to day duties. Yes, it helps, but should not be classified as an MS.
You may have interests in bioengineering, who doesn't? There's some really cool stuff happening. You definitely have the brains for it. I feel you may be competing against the PhDs of bioengineering, a much more difficult path to get into early on. I'll repeat this, a much more difficult path to get into early on.
To help with understanding the medical device industry better, the FDA has a learning channel. Google search CDRH/Learn. This is medical device focused. FDA has 3 focus areas for clinical therapies: Medical Device and Device/Drug combos (CDRH), Drugs (CDER), Drug/Device combos and biologics (CBER).
If you like things that happen slowly, the Drug side of things is the way to go.
If you like things dynamic, Device side is the way to go.
Although there have been suggestions for start-ups, I would discourage looking this direction. A start-up is funded to meet deadlines. The leadership team normally has many years of functional experience under their belts. They know what to do, how to do it, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. They know the roles and responsibilities of each department and what feeds into what and when it is needed. I don't believe a start-up venture would offer the ability to learn the industry while trying to meet deadlines.
As always, we are here to help. Use us! There are no dumb questions. Stupid questions, maybe.
PM me for a contact at P&G in Ohio.

Advisor

FRANCIS TEPEDINO, ESQ. San Diego, CA

Here is a thought from "Left field" -- Law School. Can you imagine the executive level career potential with a combination of your Engineering credentials and Law? Having "done that and been there" I certainly can.

That background will blow the competition, including the MBAs away. You can do this. Let me know if you want more information.

Veteran

Adam Barber Linden, NC

So far these are incredible answers. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and candidness. I reached out to J&J and a nice representative said they will send my information and resume to Ethicon to hopefully start a dialogue. I will look to conduct informational interviews and be willing to work in smaller companies, or just try a position in a larger company to see where I fit. If anyone else has some more advice, please send it my way!

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