Medical advances & medical devices offer growing & exciting career fields
Even as they age, many folks find their lives going on as strong as ever. Very often they, and others, have flourishing new fields of medical technology to thank for their health
"We are finding that employees are most successful when they are able to see the value in a wide variety of perspectives." – Lisa Hellmann Rhodes, Gen-Probe
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Even as our population ages and the baby boomers approach retirement, most people are still leading active lives. This is thanks, in part, to medical advances that alleviate so many formerly debilitating health issues.
Medical technology fields often turn out to be fine career areas for diverse techies. Lisa Hellmann Rhodes, senior director of organizational development and learning at Gen-Probe (San Diego, CA), notes that "Gen-Probe is seeing a labor pool that is increasingly diverse, particularly in specialized and technical areas. We are finding that candidates and employees are most successful when they are able to approach problem-solving with an open mind, ready to see the value in a wide variety of perspectives."
Jon DeDiego works on SynCardia's temporary total artificial heart
The temporary total artificial heart developed by SynCardia (Tucson, AZ) "is the first and only FDA-, Health Canada- and CE-approved total artificial heart in the world," says Rodger G. Ford, SynCardia CEO. "With a staff of forty, SynCardia leverages strong business systems to accomplish the same amount of work as companies many times our size."
SynCardia senior quality engineer Jon DeDiego always wanted to help people. During an internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory he worked with a post-doctoral student on a project to diagnose cancer without a biopsy. "The post-doc became my mentor," he recalls, "and we decided that I should be either a doctor or a biomedical engineer. I've always wanted to do something for the greater good of society."
DeDiego completed his education at Florida International University with a 2003 BSME and minor in biology and a 2006 MS in engineering management. While in school he worked with professors on various research projects, including one to measure the coating on a stent. After college he continued his work on stents and then moved into neurovascular products at a Johnson & Johnson company in Florida. When the company relocated its manufacturing to Mexico, DeDiego moved to SynCardia Systems (Tucson, AZ). "It was an exciting opportunity to work with an artificial heart, a complex class three medical device," he says.
Today he's a senior quality engineer at SynCardia, supporting both R&D and manufacturing. He likes the company's focus on development.
The real challenge with a temporary artificial heart is giving it an external pneumatic driver that allows the patient as much mobility and freedom as possible. The original driver weighed more than 400 pounds and kept the patient in the hospital while waiting for a new heart.
Customer experience is important, DeDiego says. "This lets us gain knowledge on how our devices are performing out in the field." The first relatively portable driver had an alarm that was over-sensitive to transient patient conditions like sneezing and coughing. "Working with our software development experts, we made changes that delayed the driver's response to the patient's coughing and sneezing, so it only alarms if there's a major issue. All this was done in about a week, and our first patient is at home with the thirteen-pound freedom driver after staying in the hospital for more than 600 days."
SynCardia CEO Ford notes that DeDiego is an employee who "shares our passion and commitment to saving the lives of people suffering from end-stage biventricular heart failure. Jon is a key member of our team and his contributions have been significant."
Tamara Brown is a project controls engineer at Praxair
Eight years ago Tamara Brown had the opportunity to join the emerging healthcare R&D group at Praxair (Danbury, CT). "It was a way to explore the use of gases in the medical arena, which is a rapidly growing area," says Brown. "I thought it was an intriguing opportunity."
A year ago she moved into her current job as a project controls engineer in the U.S. project execution group in Tonawanda, NY. "One of the things I love about my career at Praxair is the opportunity to move around the company and use my skills in a lot of different applications," she says.
She's currently responsible for cost and schedule management of the design and construction of Praxair air separation plants around the world. The plants produce gases like oxygen and nitrogen that are used in a variety of applications, including medical.
Like many engineers, Brown says her love of science and "seeing things come together" played a major role in her career choice. In addition, she was always interested in how science could be used to help people. "My mother is a nurse and my father has a construction business," she explains. She went to Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) for a 1993 double BS in biomedical engineering and ChE, then on to the State University of New York at Buffalo for her 2004 MS in ChE.
Most of her time at Praxair Brown has been a project manager for healthcare R&D. One of her projects resulted in Praxair's first medical device clearance by the FDA. An air mixer, she explains, "is a large central-system device that produces gas for applications like breathing, surgery and anesthetic blending. It was a great accomplishment," she notes. She led the technical team.
The project gave her the chance to learn about breathing gases, and also about Praxair as a company. But once it was completed, "I decided I wanted to try another part of Praxair, so here I am in my new project controls job."
One of the challenges in her career, she says, is to make sure she always understands the science behind a problem. "Engineers are trained to fix the problem, and moving quickly is a natural inclination. But early in my career I learned that first you have to really understand the problem you're dealing with."
This is a lesson she passes along to the girls she mentors. Through a joint effort between Praxair and the Buffalo branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Brown is involved in a program to interest girls in STEM. "Over the last five years we've introduced more than 2,000 girls to science and technology, and opened their eyes to the multiple possibilities of careers in science," Brown reports with pride.
Dr Yeong Huang: senior principal scientist at Cardinal Health
After finishing his BSChE in his native Taiwan, Yeong Huang decided to come to the U.S. to pursue advanced degrees: first a 1986 MS at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and then a 1991 PhD in polymer engineering at the University of Akron (Akron, OH).
Entering the medical device industry wasn't a specific plan but, he says, "That was the first job offer I got, and I found the field so interesting that I decided to stay in it."
After working on a single product line for several years Huang wanted a new challenge. He came to Cardinal Health (Dublin, OH), where he works in the medical segment as an engineering specialist.
"I work on research for new product development and support all the business units in their R&D," he says. Until recently he also managed the microbiology lab, where he focused on minimizing hospital infections. His group looks at bacteria and how microbiology comes into play in keeping people healthy.
One of Huang's research areas involves surgical prep solutions, used to make sure there are no bacteria on the skin before doing surgery. He has also worked on bone cement, which alleviates debilitating bone compression in the elderly.
Shawn Jones: supplier quality at Smith & Nephew
Shawn Jones was always interested in chemistry. At a high school career day she heard a techie speak about engineering, and the subject interested her so much that she went on to the University of Mississippi for her 1996 BSChE.
In college Jones interned with an oil company, but when she graduated she found a job as a chemical analyst in a forensic lab. The work didn't challenge her engineering skills, but she used her chemistry background and learned a lot about quality control.
In 2004 Jones joined Smith & Nephew (Memphis, TN) as a quality engineer working on new projects in the medical device field. "During that time, one of my responsibilities was to review drawing prints, identify any risks associated with the devices and determine the best method of inspection to ensure only quality product is delivered to our customers. We want to make sure we send out the best possible product because these are items that impact peoples' lives," she says.
Last year she became a senior quality engineer in supplier quality. Now she works directly with the company's 200-plus suppliers.
"I basically serve as a liaison between Smith & Nephew and the supplier to ensure that the design transferred to external production will translate into a device that is defect-free and appropriate for its intended use. A supplier may be making a particular component and need input on how the device functions and how it interacts with other parts in the system," she explains. "It's my responsibility to review the drawings and inspection procedures, then work with our engineers and relay information back to the supplier."
Supplier evaluation and auditing is another part of the job. "We work with the procurement group to evaluate new and existing suppliers and make sure they adhere to federal and international regulations and, of course, Smith & Nephew quality standards."
Jones' group is in the orthopedic division. "My focus is the reconstructive suppliers who supply components like knee, hip and shoulder implants," she explains.
After hours Jones interacts with area youth. Smith & Nephew has adopted schools where Jones and other employees work to get students interested in math and science careers. She also tutors at-risk kids.
Nichelle Harris Coles leads a GE production team
In 2008 Nichelle Harris Coles joined General Electric's medical electronics group (Waukesha, WI) as a production team leader. She brought with her in-depth experience in the automotive industry.
"Over the years I've read a lot about GE's businesses and technologies such as healthcare," she says. "Every opportunity I've taken on here has opened up doors for learning. GE is a knowledge pool for learning!"
As a production team leader Harris Coles oversees the first and second shifts in electronics production of medical devices. She interfaces with testing, quality, productivity and even engineering in connection with the introduction of new medical devices.
Harris Coles has a 2002 BS in human services from Springfield College (Springfield, MA) and a 2003 MS in managerial leadership and business from National Louis University (Wheeling, IL). "I approach every job with a 'team' mentality," she says. "Wherever you go, you learn."
Since the new job was technical, she had a lot to learn. Her group does assembly and testing of electronic cabinets, including all the electronic components on many different models. "Every day we affect peoples' lives through the medical equipment we manufacture and assemble," she says. "Any decision I make can have a positive impact on someone!"
Harris Coles is also co-chair for the community outreach committee of the Milwaukee chapter of GE Healthcare's African American Forum. "I work in the community to represent GE as a positive force," she explains. "The forum is involved in a national food drive that raised 10,000 pounds of food last year!"
At Medtronic, Dr Frank Chan directs research, tech development and more
Frank Chan, PhD joined Medtronic (Memphis, TN) in 2004. Today he's a senior director for research, technology development and program management.
"I'm responsible for research and technology development for Medtronic's spinal business," he explains. "That includes performance analysis and testing of our medical devices and the applied research we conduct with collaborators in universities and hospitals. My team also looks for emerging technologies, and does feasibility development of products and therapies that may eventually become part of our R&D pipeline."
Chan was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, but as he grew up, coming to the U.S. to work became his goal. "There are tremendous opportunities in the States, especially in the biomedical field," he says.
He has a 1992 bachelor of engineering in ME from Concordia University in Montreal, and a 1995 masters and 1998 PhD, both in biomedical engineering, from Montreal's McGill University.
A job with Johnson & Johnson brought Chan to the U.S. He worked on products involving artificial joints. "In the early 2000s, all the med tech companies started to think about ways to preserve motion when trying to solve spinal disorders," he says. "To do that, you have to create a different kind of medical device."
Chan was fascinated with the idea, and realized that he had skills to contribute to the work. Medtronic agreed, and Chan moved to that company and quickly rose to his current director's job. "The spine still has a lot of unmet clinical needs, and we're constantly looking to see what we can do to further the medical science and art of spine surgery," he says.
Chan is also heavily involved in recruiting and mentoring efforts, and he takes time to speak to professional and college affinity groups. "These areas are very important to me," he says. "We are a global company and diversity is key. A variety of ethnic and gender backgrounds leads to a flourishing diversity of thought."
Carmen Soikowski directs ops tech support at Gen-Probe
At one point in her life, Carmen Soikowski thought she wanted to be an astronaut. "But I ended up in a cancer research facility, and I learned it's really cool to use chemistry to keep people alive," she says.
She began with a 1985 BS in chemistry from Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA). She picked chemistry, she says, because it was fun and because of all the opportunities it provided.
But first, living as she did in Seattle, she found a job with Boeing so she could "see what aerospace looked like."
She soon decided it wasn't for her, and for a real change of pace she headed south to San Diego, CA, where she joined a company that made blood-gas monitoring devices. Ten years ago she moved to Gen-Probe (San Diego, CA), a biotech company that develops and markets diagnostic and blood screening tests, diagnostic kits used by doctors' offices for lab tests, and kits the Red Cross uses to test donors' blood.
Today Soikowski is a senior director for operations technical support (OTS) at Gen-Probe.
"I've been in my position for five years, and I've grown through the department I'm now running," she explains. "OTS is the transfer group that touches R&D, and brings material into the operations world to be validated to meet regulatory compliance."
She also oversees the manufacturing engineers and product support group. "I have a small subgroup of product and process subject matter experts to make sure we keep making cutting-edge processes and maintain our product knowledge," she notes.
The job is both hands-on and managerial. "When we make a new product we create a team to get it from R&D to its launch into sales. So I work with engineers and marketing and chemists and biologists. The cross-functional team helps build products in the most efficient manner."
Soikowski is also involved with Gen-Probe's mentoring program. "The leadership team is a vital part of any business," she says. "You need to know how to be a manager as well as how to do the technical parts of your job. If you want a good team, you need a strong mentoring program to build your next group of leaders."
Evans Griego: mechanical engineer in R&D at Lumenis
When Evans Griego was a kid he entered an architectural drawing contest, and he won. "From that point on I wanted to become an engineer," he admits with a smile.
And he did. He got a BSME from the University of Southern Colorado, and when he graduated he worked at AT&T Bell Labs for twenty years.
In 2000 he left the telecom business and started his own engineering and design company. But after a few years he decided to move to Utah. There he found an opportunity to expand his engineering expertise into the design of medical products.
A year ago Griego moved into his current job as a mechanical engineer in R&D at Lumenis (Salt Lake City, UT). Lumenis develops medical and aesthetic lasers, and Griego follows his products from design to manufacturing production.
"I was hired for my design and 3D CAD engineering skills," he says. "I come up with a concept for a product and work on the design aspect, but always keep the assembly and manufacturing process in mind. When you are involved in the product early on, you have a strategic advantage when you know how you are going to manufacture it. This leads to creating products that are innovative and cost-effective."
Currently Griego is working on a laser photocoagulator that will be used for ophthalmic surgery. This was his first project at Lumenis; it will debut late in 2010: exciting, fulfilling stuff!
When he's not working, Griego, who is the father of two sons, likes to restore old vehicles and homes. It fits into his belief that today's engineers need to be multi-talented.
Douglas Cain: technical engineer in McKesson's health IS
After ten years in the Marine Corps Douglas Cain was ready for a career change. His military background was in electronics and he liked computers, so he finished his degree at DeVry University (Atlanta, GA) with a 2007 BSCIS about the same time he was preparing to leave military life.
At DeVry he met a recruiter from McKesson's Alpharetta, GA location. "I was invited to an open house at the company and shortly after that I got an offer," he recalls with pleasure.
He began in a rotation program and after a year moved into his current position as a technical engineer. He works with customers to figure out hardware and software needs and requirements for health information systems, and is also in charge of troubleshooting and working closely with customers and McKesson employees on the application side.
A health information system, Cain explains, is software that handles patient information, scheduling and other patient-related data. Cain takes care of the initial installation of the system and handles updates.
It's a job that requires people skills as much as it does technical skills, he says. "When I was in the Marines my day was structured. I knew what was going to happen. Being in corporate IT, working with customers and servicing the software, every day is a new adventure!"
MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES LOOKING FOR DIVERSE TECHIES
See websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Alcon Laboratories Inc USA
(Fort Worth, TX)
|Vision and eye health products
|Baxter (Deerfield, IL)
|Products to treat hemophilia, immune disorders,
infectious diseases, cancer, kidney disease and trauma
|Cardinal Health (Dublin, OH) www.cardinal.com
||Serves hospitals, pharmacies, physicians' offices, clinical labs; operates a network of radiopharmacies
|GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI)
||Medical imaging and IT, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, disease research, drug discovery
|Gen-Probe (San Diego, CA)
|Molecular diagnostics and nucleic acid tests
|Lumenis (Santa Clara, CA)
||Medical lasers and light-based technologies
|McKesson (San Francisco, CA)
||Health IT systems and pharmaceutical
|Medtronic (Minneapolis, MN)
||Cardiac rhythm disease management, spinal and biologics, cardiovascular, neuromodulation, diabetes, surgical technologies
|Praxair (Danbury, CT)
|Atmospheric, process and specialty gases
|Quest Diagnostics (Madison, NJ)
||Laboratory and diagnostics testing and services
|Roche Diagnostics Corp (Indianapolis, IN)
||Diagnostic instruments and tests for disease detection and monitoring
|Smith & Nephew (Memphis, TN)
||Orthopedic reconstruction, endoscopy, advanced wound management and biologics
|SynCardia Systems (Tucson, AZ)
||Artificial heart technology
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