Engineers working with medical devices thrive in a culture of collaboration
"To succeed in this industry you must maintain a passion for making a difference in people's lives." – Verna Rodriguez, Boston Scientific
"You have to keep a firm foot planted in technology design and development or you won't have anything long-term." – Alice Moon, Carestream
By Wendy Helfenbaum
Continuous innovation is vital in the field of medical device technology. It paves the way for scientific breakthroughs, more accurate clinical outcomes, reduced recovery times: in a word, improved patient care. No wonder most engineers in the field get tremendous satisfaction from the good work they're doing.
Another important cause for satisfaction is the steadily growing need for qualified techies reported by leading technology companies.
Chevalier Cleaves is VP of global diversity and inclusion at Boston Scientific (Natick, MA). The company has developed, manufactured and marketed more than 13,000 medical devices to date, and has more than 25,000 employees worldwide.
Cleaves notes that "Boston Scientific seeks candidates who embrace change and innovation and thrive in a culture of collaboration and diversity of thinking; these are the cornerstones of our work environment.
"Diversity and inclusion are key focus areas for Boston Scientific. Our world demographics and markets are rapidly changing; we recognize that a culture that embraces and reflects the world around us is critical to our own success as well as that of our industry," Cleaves concludes.
Verna Rodriguez: taking technology to the next level at Boston Scientific
"To succeed in this industry you must maintain a passion for making a difference in people's lives," says Verna Rodriguez. Rodriguez is director of R&D; sustaining engineering for the San Jose and Fremont, CA electrophysiology and intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) divisions of Boston Scientific.
"My role is to ensure that our currently marketed products within these areas are safe, compliant and maintain our high standards of quality," Rodriguez explains. "I also help the company seek opportunities to expand our global markets for these products."
Raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Rodriguez attended the University of California-Berkeley, graduating with a double major in ME and materials science in 1982. She did R&D; work at American Hospital Supply and Advanced Cardiovascular Systems; after Advanced Cardiovascular was bought by Guidant, she was ME director of its endovascular division for two years. From 2002 to 2005 she was an exec and bioengineer at two small startups.
Then she was contacted by a Boston Scientific recruiter. "It soon became clear that the company offered many additional opportunities for growth and development for engineers like me," she says.
Rodriguez joined Boston Scientific in 2005 as director of process development, moved to director of quality, and then R&D.; "I originally managed sustaining engineering just within our electrophysiology business, but my role recently expanded to include our IVUS area.
"The opportunities are certainly here!" she says.
Rodriguez believes that a lot more than education and training go into engineering success in the medical device industry. "You need to think strategically, communicate well and be accommodating in managing people and projects. Our industry is fast paced and constantly changing, so it's important to be flexible and adaptable to change. Developing products that make a difference in people's lives is the fundamental principle that motivates me and my colleagues to do our best every day."
Recently she managed projects related to a Boston Scientific ablation system and another product within its IVUS business. "Both initiatives supported products that are important to our business and to meeting customer needs, so it was gratifying to be able to contribute," she says.
Because the medical device industry is highly regulated, attention to detail is critical. "Taking technology to the next level is a detailed process that requires time, energy and lots of diligence and patience. After all, patients' lives are at stake," Rodriguez notes.
Carestream Health sees a big demand for medical imaging techies
"The markets we serve are growing and the job markets that represent them are strong," reports Laurel A. Yartz, HR director for digital medical solutions and molecular imaging at Carestream Health (Rochester, NY). Carestream is a worldwide provider of dental and medical imaging systems, healthcare IT solutions and much more. It employs more than 7,000 people in 150 countries, including about 700 engineers working in hardware, manufacturing, process, quality and software engineering.
"We recognize that the greatest asset we have as a company is our people, and we strive to create an open, inclusive environment where our employees are excited about their work and feel empowered to reach their full potential," Yartz says. "We pride ourselves on being a humanistic company, encouraging diversity in all its forms."
Techies in medical imaging must be aware of external factors that impact their designs, like regulatory requirements and patents held by other companies, Yartz warns. "They also need to be skilled at failure analysis to ensure we are designing products with high reliability."
Carestream's Dr Alice Moon: "Technology keeps my job interesting"
As screens development manager in Carestream's digital medical solutions group, Alice Moon, PhD supervises a team of engineers and technicians who design, develop and manufacture phosphor screens used for both computed radiography (CR) and digital radiography (DR).
"I manage R&D; staffing, annual budget, intellectual property, technology development and new product concepts," Moon explains. "I also manage several product commercialization programs." Moon grew up in Beaver, PA, and graduated from Lafayette College (Easton, PA) in 1985 with a BSChE. After a few years working in R&D; at General Electric she completed a PhD in ChE from the University of Minnesota in 1992. Then she joined the Kodak Health Group, which was renamed Carestream in 2007.
"Working in the healthcare industry has been a dream of mine since completing my graduate work on wound healing," says Moon. "Most people don't think of wound healing as being a ChE area," she explains, "but it really is, when you think of the forces that cells generate and interactions of those cells with material in the body. I was interested in measuring how cells could generate forces and close the wound, and how you could add various things to those cells to help them get stronger."
Moon cites materials knowledge and coating technology as the two engineering skills most needed in her field, as well as both R&D; and project management abilities.
"I really enjoy developing and executing a strategic technology plan, something that extends beyond immediate commercialization needs, is realistic and ties in with future product roadmaps," says Moon.
"The most challenging part of my job is finding and maintaining the balance between the immediacy of commercialization and future-looking technology development. The immediacy of commercialization often wins out, but you have to keep a firm foot planted in technology design and development or you won't have anything long-term."
Moon's team recently designed and launched a new CR mammography screen that significantly enhances image quality, says Moon. "We're always proud of any product that helps physicians do a better job, and particularly one that can improve women's health."
The experience she's gathered across various engineering disciplines has served Moon well over the years. "There are opportunities for a number of engineering disciplines as well as software development within the medical device industry," she notes. "But someone with depth in one area plus broad experience across a number of disciplines will be ready for any challenge in the field!
"I started out deep in ChE, but through various paths and my project management duties I've acquired a taste for a lot of areas, and I'm still trying to grow."
Multiple opportunities at Smith & Nephew
The job market for medical device techies is very good, says Pamela Cherry, HR manager and diversity and inclusion council lead for the orthopedics business unit of Smith & Nephew (Memphis, TN). Smith & Nephew specializes in orthopedic reconstruction, trauma and clinical therapies, endoscopy and advanced wound management. The company employs about 2,100 people in the Memphis area; some 460 of them are engineers.
Smith & Nephew has multiple opportunities for engineers with the right skills, Cherry notes. "We're interested in developing a strong pipeline for our manufacturing engineering, and a diversity structure and strategy to deliver better business results. We offer access to leading technology, opportunities and great work experience for engineering professionals."
Mary Anthony: research and technology development at Smith & Nephew
"I was introduced to Smith & Nephew's orthopedic trauma and joint reconstruction products in my high school physics club. It was the impetus for my interest in biomedical engineering," says Mary Anthony, group director of research and technology development at Smith & Nephew's Memphis, TN location.
Anthony was born and grew up in Memphis, and got her BSME from the University of Memphis in 1992 and a master of engineering management from Christian Brothers University in 1996. In college she interned for Smith & Nephew's spinal product development group and found the work exciting.
She's been with the company for eighteen years now, and is currently responsible for research programs in the U.S. and Europe that focus on developing and evaluating technologies for orthopedic medical devices.
"Our researchers have worked on new bearing materials and fixation surfaces which have been incorporated in our joint replacement products," Anthony explains. "Our job is to evaluate technologies with potential value to the customer, and develop materials and processes to let these technologies be incorporated in our products."
Anthony notes that problem-solving skills are the core of her team's expertise. "Whether evaluating the safety of a device or the potential of a new technology, our job in research is to identify the potential risks, design experiments to evaluate safety, and innovate materials and processes to address patient needs," she explains. "Research work requires discipline, curiosity and creativity, and engineers must learn to balance the possibilities of a technology with the realities of the marketplace need."
Working on products that improve the quality of people's lives constantly inspires Anthony. "I love having technical debates about likely causes and outcomes with team members. It's rewarding to see a project you worked on make its way into the market, and it's challenging to anticipate all the requirements and constraints of the human body in a laboratory environment."
She notes that she recently met a patient who was excited to be receiving some of the new technology her people had worked on in his upcoming knee replacement. "It was very satisfying to see our work in the laboratory translated directly to the patient."
Cook Medical: inclusion fosters creativity and innovation
Since 1963, Cook Group companies, including Cook Medical (Bloomington, IN), have developed healthcare devices for endovascular therapy and procedures, critical care medicine, diagnostic and interventional procedures, bioengineered tissue replacement and many other uses. Cook employs more than 300 engineers worldwide, about half of them working in the Bloomington area.
The current engineering job market is definitely improving, says Katie Smith, an HR generalist at the head office of Cook Medical. "The number of opportunities in the engineering department is increasing as the company continues to grow."
Cook values diversity at all levels, Smith notes. "We strive for full participation from all groups, and we think that inclusion fosters creativity and innovation and makes Cook a stronger organization."
Sarah Reeves: making a difference in patients' lives at Cook Medical
"The medical device field is a rewarding career. I would encourage anyone who thrives on making a difference to work in this ever-growing field," notes Sarah Reeves, an engineering team leader at Cook Medical. "There are plenty of opportunities available!"
Reeves coordinates development efforts between engineering and other departments like regulatory affairs and marketing. She was born and still lives in Cory, IN, and got her BSME in 1999 from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, IN), part of the first class that included women.
At a school biomedical lecture she met up with the founder of Cook Medical. "I was very impressed with the company's message of putting the patient first," she recalls.
Reeves lists problem solving, innovation, organization, communication and planning as key skills needed for her work. "I'm happy that we're improving patient outcomes every day," she says. "We are giving grandparents more time with their grandkids, helping athletes continue to participate in sports they love, providing options to patients who were previously thought to be untreatable."
She finds that the most challenging part of her job is "adapting to the ever-changing regulatory environment and satisfying the various regulatory bodies and requirements throughout the globe." That's why she was proud when her team recently gained regulatory approval for a new micro-catheter, used in interventional and diagnostic procedures. "This project took several years, and included coordination of several departments and individuals," she explains.
Siemens Healthcare: diversity of experience and interaction
"We want to hire people who want to answer the world's toughest questions," says Wendy Burkhardt, a senior recruiter at Siemens Healthcare (Malvern, PA). Burkhardt works at Siemens' Iselin, NJ location, conducting much of its engineering recruiting. She's also a member of the Siemens diversity council.
Siemens Healthcare makes diagnostic imaging and therapy equipment and healthcare IT systems. It employs about 48,000 people worldwide and dedicates some 10 percent of its worldwide revenue to R&D;, which creates a constant need for engineers, Burkhardt notes. "The job market is very active," she says.
The ideal candidate is someone who already has a few years' experience in R&D; in an organization that makes technical equipment or systems. Of course, if the experience is specific to healthcare that's better still.
"Because we manufacture imaging equipment, we look for people who understand image processing or have experience designing small analog circuitry, digital signal processing and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Experience working in a regulated industry with knowledge of EMI requirements is very helpful."
Siemens considers diversity a strategic business imperative that creates a competitive edge, she adds.
Dr Girish Bal: on the cutting edge with an MR/PET scanner at Siemens
Girish Bal, PhD got interested in medical imaging as a high school student in Bombay, India, when he first visited his surgeon brother's hospital. "I went to see the new magnetic resonance scanners, and it was really exciting to look right inside the patient without even cutting the body!" he says.
Today Bal is a senior engineer in the molecular imaging business unit at Siemens' Knoxville, TN office. He recently helped develop the company's new Biograph mMR, which he says is the world's first whole-body integrated molecular magnetic resonance/positron emission tomography (MR/PET) hybrid imaging system. The machine recently received FDA approval. "We do image reconstruction, and it's all about being more proactive and trying to detect diseases before they become a big problem," says Bal.
He completed his BS in biomedical engineering (BME) at Bombay University in 1996. He went on to work at the University of Pennsylvania in clinical and small-animal single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging after receiving his PhD in BME from the University of Utah in 2003. He spent three years as a lead research scientist for GE's global research division before joining Siemens in 2009.
"Working on image reconstruction and analysis requires a strong background in math and CS," says Bal. "My PhD work in bioengineering included many classes on human anatomy and physiology. The combination of bioengineering and CS backgrounds helps me design better scanners, as I have a good feel for the clinical applications of the scanner."
Bal notes that the concept of using simultaneous MR/PET for clinical applications is brand new. "The engineering aspect of putting together a simultaneous whole-body clinical MR and PET system hasn't been done before. I can't think of any other company that has a working simultaneous MR/PET scanner for the human body, so Siemens is way ahead of the curve by actually building this. It's exciting to be part of the team that designed and built such an amazing machine!"
GE Healthcare seeks creativity, innovation and tenacity
"The job market in the healthcare industry is a competitive one but there are many opportunities," says Harmony Lussier, a strategic staffing leader at GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI). The company provides medical imaging and IT, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, drug discovery, biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies and more, employing some 8,000 engineers and scientists globally.
"Ideal skill sets depend on the specific job, but GE Healthcare always looks for creativity, innovation and tenacity," says Lussier. As a global company with operations in more than a hundred countries, "Diversity is the reflection of our business," she says. "Every day GE Healthcare works to ensure that all employees have an opportunity to contribute and succeed."
Diversity brings out a variety of ideas, adds Tanya Quiles-Moreno, a marketing leader with GE Healthcare Systems' patient care solutions. "We're immersed in a global economy, and a mix of ideas helps us develop better products and services for our customers."
Engineers today need to know more than science and mathematics, Quiles-Moreno points out. "They need to know about business practices, budgeting, project planning and time management, and be able to develop products that will truly result in sales."
3M is looking for top engineering talent
"The healthcare industry continues to be a strong driver in the job market, and includes roles in sales, marketing, lab, tech service, regulatory and clinical research," says Jim Prescott, lead recruiter for talent acquisition for 3M (St. Paul, MN).
In the health field, the company provides innovative products and solutions not only for medical and oral care but for health information management, drug delivery and food safety. 3M employs about 80,000 people worldwide. It has operations in more than sixty-five countries and offers a large variety of engineering roles, from process engineers to new-product development in the R&D; labs.
"There's a high demand for top talent in the medical device field and for engineers who are specialists in their own areas," Prescott says. "Our R&D; labs often seek PhD engineers for the development of new products, while engineers in the manufacturing plant may be trained in Lean Six Sigma manufacturing methodologies."
Diversity is definitely a must-have, adds Susan Myles, diversity analyst and specialist. "We value diverse opinions, viewpoints and ideas from our employees, to reflect the makeup of our diverse customers worldwide."
Maria Ruiz: guiding changing regulatory affairs at 3M
Maria Ruiz works in international regulatory affairs for 3M's Skin & Wound Care (St. Paul, MN). She works out strategies to help ensure that the development teams' work results in a product likely to be approved by global regulators. She also makes sure company activities are conducted in accordance with regulations.
"A typical day might include meetings with colleagues from manufacturing, development, quality, supply chain and marketing," Ruiz explains. "We discuss new product designs, scaling up the manufacturing process, materials to be used, tests to be performed and how we want to position the product.
"It's up to me to provide guidance on what they have to keep in mind as they develop the product so we meet requirements in the U.S., Europe and other places where we intend to market our product. It's up to me to understand the technology and science behind the product."
Ruiz grew up in New Mexico and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2000 with BS degrees in both biochemistry and ChE. She began as a technical aide for 3M's medical division. "I chose 3M because it provided opportunities to work across many businesses and divisions," says Ruiz.
Good communication skills and the ability to interact with regulatory agencies are crucial to her job, Ruiz notes, and so are good organizational and analytic skills and being detail-oriented and able to provide guidance. "I have to remain flexible to meet the changing regulatory landscape," she adds.
Ruiz' team recently got an award for outstanding performance and contribution to her division. It was based on fast and successful global registrations for a new device/drug combination product, she explains, and that pleased her very much.
Becton, Dickinson & Co: diversity is key to business success
The medical device area is a growth industry that offers great opportunities for engineers at all stages of their careers, says Thomas Ruddy, VP of talent management for Becton, Dickinson & Co (BD, Franklin Lakes, NJ).
BD designs, develops and manufactures medical devices including drug delivery and blood-sample acquisition tools as well as instruments for medical diagnostic tests. Founded in 1897, the company serves healthcare institutions, life science researchers, clinical labs, the pharmaceutical industry and the general public. It employs some 29,000 people in fifty-plus countries, including more than a thousand engineers across the U.S. and many more around the world.
"Our markets are very competitive," says Ruddy, "and we look for a steady influx of new talent to maintain our competitive advantage. We look for candidates who will be strong contributors to BD's growth and innovation."
BD's diverse workforce helps maintain innovation, says Ruddy. "It's a key component of our current and future business success. We work to build an inclusive culture, and offer training courses that integrate diversity and inclusion concepts."
Ruddy notes that the high regulation of the medical device industry adds greater complexity to the equation. "Because of that we look for motivated candidates with advanced technical degrees and a strong business sense who are able to work collaboratively in a fast-paced environment," he says.
Johanna Torres Ulloa: collaborating with BD experts
"I was fortunate to join a company that believes in my leadership and technical potential," says Johanna Torres Ulloa, a senior engineer and technical lead working in BD's biosciences segment in San Jose, CA.
"BD supported my progress by selecting me for early career development programs," Torres Ulloa notes. "I've found a profession that lets me make a difference in people's lives and health, and I love the way that makes me feel at the end of each day."
Torres Ulloa leads a cross-functional team from mechanical, electrical, firmware, software and reliability engineering, operations, procurement, quality and marketing. "My focus is on developing an automation system for life-science clinical research through flow cytometry, which includes research, diagnosis and monitoring of blood disorders like HIV/AIDS, leukemias and lymphomas. We're all collaborating to ensure that the design meets cost targets and customer needs."
Torres Ulloa is a first-generation Mexican American from Oxnard, CA. In 2005 she graduated from the Pratt School of Engineering of Duke University (Durham, NC) with a BSME and a certificate in market and management studies.
She joined BD just a few weeks after graduation through its technology leadership development program (TLDP), designed to introduce high-potential young employees to projects in BD's medical, biosciences and diagnostics business segments. She spent three years rotating through medical technology and R&D; projects. "The program challenged my technical aptitude and leadership abilities and provided constant coaching," she recalls.
Leadership skills and technical aptitude are essential for Torres Ulloa's job. But the most challenging parts of the work involve deciding how much risk is acceptable and how to manage expectations against aggressive milestones. "The medical technology industry is a competitive environment, and we're under pressure with aggressive R&D; timelines."
BD has always embraced diversity, she says. "This is evident in the way my peers and I interact every day.
"I started here as a young Mexican American woman leading a group of predominantly Caucasian men who had been in the workforce longer than I had, but I didn't let my initial intimidation prevent me from succeeding," Torres Ulloa says. "Instead, I developed the confidence that helped me become the leader I am today.
"I've also seen the diversity of my colleagues increase over the four years that I've been with the BD biosciences segment, and I find that encouraging."
DIVERSITY-MINDED MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|3M Co (St. Paul, MN)
|Products and solutions for medical and oral care, health information management, drug delivery and food safety
|Abbott (Chicago, IL)
|Medical devices, diagnostics, nutrition products,
|Becton, Dickinson & Co (Franklin Lakes, NJ) www.bd.com
||Medical devices for drug delivery and biological sample
acquisition; instruments for medical diagnostic tests
|Boston Scientific (Natick, MA)
|Medical devices for interventional medical specialties
|Carestream Technology (Rochester, NY) www.carestreamhealth.com
||Dental, medical and research imaging systems; healthcare IT solutions; X-ray film and digital X-ray systems for nondestructive testing; advanced
materials for precision films and electronics markets
|Cook Medical (Bloomington, IN)
|Products for endovascular therapy, critical care
medicine and general surgery, diagnostic and interventional procedures and more
|GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI)
|Medical imaging and IT, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, drug discovery, biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies
|Siemens Healthcare (Malvern, PA)
|Medical equipment and IT systems, diagnostic imaging and therapy equipment, laboratory diagnostics
|Smith & Nephew (Memphis, TN)
|Orthopedics, including reconstruction, trauma and clinical therapies; endoscopy and advanced wound management
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