Summer/Fall 2012

Diversity/Careers Summer/Fall 2012 Issue

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Dusty Needham is a Medtronic manager in spinal & biologics

Her team is working on a slate of product development projects and "looking forward to deploying on emerging assignments," she says

Medical technology company Medtronic (Minneapolis, MN) has seven major businesses that focus on specific conditions or therapy types: cardiac rhythm, disease management, cardiovascular, neuromodulation, diabetes, surgical technologies and spinal and biologics. In spinal and biologics, Dusty Needham is senior manager in product development. She works in the company's Memphis, TN location.

"My work has been related to the mechanical, hardware side," she explains. "I work on spinal implants for temporary stabilization during spinal fusion, and the surgical instruments used to prepare the site and deliver the spinal implants."

Transitioning into management
Her journey, she says, wasn't exactly what she expected it would be when she joined the company, "but it has been a delight!"

She joined Medtronic in 1998 as a product development engineer, working on products for the cervical spine. After three years she moved up to senior product development engineer, then transitioned into quality engineering in a newly formed design quality engineering department. "The focus of that department was to bring concurrent quality engineering upstream into the design process," she explains.

While working there she moved into management, responsible for a staff of thirteen engineers and three supervisors. Her work included hiring, developing retention plans, planning training needs, developing career ladders, creating orientation and progression programs and plenty more.

Next she moved to the department responsible for corrective field actions, product hold orders and the metrology lab with a staff of three more engineers and two technicians.

Transforming the business
In 2009 Needham started a new department of sustaining engineering, aiming to provide product development support for Medtronic's array of spinal products. Last year the new function was successfully integrated with other therapy product segments.

Needham still manages a team working on product development projects to "transform the business, initiatives that are outside the scope of sustaining or growth," she says.

A new slate of projects
Now Needham's team is working on product development, and "looking forward to deploying on emerging project assignments in the advanced technology group," she says.

Her team is all engineers, and "my attitude is that they don't work for me; I work for them," Needham confides. "Part of my job is to facilitate what they're doing. Ultimately we're all on a career journey, and I want to make sure they're succeeding and that I'm preparing them for the future."

Recruiting and hiring
Needham has had a lot of experience in recruiting and hiring. "I go to career fairs like the Society of Women Engineers conference and try to bring a pipeline of talent into the organization." She also runs an annual Eagle Scout Day for Boy Scouts and participates in outreach opportunities for girls through her SWE involvement, giving them the chance "to learn how interesting biomedical engineering can be."

Staying with ME
Needham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. She intended to go on to med school and took ME as a precursor, but she liked ME so much she decided to stay with it. She has a 1994 BSME and a 1995 MS in biomedical engineering.

Her last year in school she interned at Smith & Nephew (Memphis, TN), a medical device company known primarily for hip and knee implants. "The biomedical program let me help people while staying technical," she says.

In early 1996, armed with her MS, Needham looked for a full-time job and found it at Wright Medical Group (Arlington, TN), which provided surgical solutions for hips and knees. She joined as a test engineer and moved up to senior test engineer.

Needham enjoyed working in product development, so in 1998 she moved to Sofamor Danek Group as a product development engineer. The next year Sofamor Danek merged with Medtronic.

New challenges?
So far she's spent thirteen interesting years "working for a company whose mission aligns with my own values and where I can make transitions and take on new challenges.

"We have many female engineers at Medtronic, plus our SWEnet group, part of the Society of Women Engineers Professional Network, that helps young women trying to forge their way in a career that has been traditionally male-dominated." She notes that many Medtronic engineers partner with FIRST Robotics "to get young people, especially girls, excited about building things."


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