I’ve had a lot of “broad experience” and have resisted specialization. I come from a family of clinicians/physicians, so I was predisposed to a medical career early on, but I also wanted to explore a lot of different options and “see what was out there.” I completed a BS in mechanical engineering and afterward served in various engineering/quality roles, some of which were at medical device companies. Some creative engineering roles seem like they could be fun, but at least in my roles, I found a lot of monotony and lack of excitement.
While working, I started to contemplate medical school, and applied, but was rejected (ostensibly due to lack of volunteering/clinical/research experience). In an attempt to improve a subsequent application, I enrolled in a research-based master’s program in biomedical engineering. This degree allowed me to keep options open both in industry and clinical medicine. However, I began to have second thoughts about medical school. During my masters, I completed a “consulting” internship, which led me to become more interested in the business world. I also completed a 70-page thesis on pre-clinical research related to a medical device. One of the members who sat on my thesis committee was a VP at the company I work for now. He came to my final presentation, and we kept in contact afterward. Three months later, he offered me a job, which he promised would give me exposure to many different departments, roles, and experiences. I am now three years into this job and have learned a great deal.
The primary role of my job is similar to what a "Field Clinical Engineer," or "Field Specialist" would do in the Medical Device industry. There are 100s of different medical devices, and doctors, nurses, and patients all need support when these devices are used during patient care. My team works on an implantable nerve stimulator that's going through a clinical trial. When we enroll a patient in the trial, another team member or I will travel to the hospital and conduct training with the cardiology team and surgical team (they are often separate). I do the administrative housekeeping work to gain access for our device to be implanted in patients at the hospital. On the day of surgery, I will enter OR and serve as a technical liaison for our company, and conduct the necessary "programming" for our device. The device is electronic and needs to be set to the correct settings for each specific patient. After the device is implanted, I will return to the site to continue with "device-adjustment" visits with the patient, to ensure the proper dose of therapy is being delivered. There are also various responsibilities I have when not in the field, such as contributing to marketing projects, helping with product development, data analysis, creating training materials, etc.
It varies by season and by week. Work is remote, with about 50-75% travel. I am on a team that does not have "regions" assigned to field team members, so I travel throughout the US and Canada. There can be little notice for travel, although this is not necessarily typical for the industry. I have had to purchase a same-day flight to be in a city the following day on numerous occasions. When we are not busy, typically, a "field specialist" can be free to do what they want. However, my official title is "Therapy Development Manager," so I have additional responsibilities. I spend about 50% of my time "in the field" at hospitals and clinics, but when I am not in the field, I work on projects in marketing, R&D, product development, etc. For example, one project I've worked on is developing tools and video content for surgeon training. This work-split may not be typical for other field-based roles, but in general, in any career, there are usually many opportunities outside the "core" role.
If you were just a field specialist, you might have weeks pass where there is very little work to do. On the other hand, when things are busy, you can be traveling for weeks straight to many different cities. In a year, it would not be atypical for a field team member to take 50+ roundtrip flights.
It is a fast-paced job with a lot of travel and a chance to work directly with patients and physicians. It can be gratifying to see patients receive needed treatment and improve. There is always something new to learn in the field. I've been able to travel to some exciting places in the US and Canada that I would never have visited normally.
Being in a field role requires a lot of travel, depending on the position and company, and how busy things are. I have had to travel to 4 different cities in a week, but that's unusual. I've also had 3 weeks go by with no travel, so there can be a lot of free time. The travel is different than travel you'd experience in a consulting or other business roles. The trips are usually very brief - sometimes you only need to be at a hospital for 1-2 hours, so there can be a lot of downtime. Sometimes you can fly out to a city and be back home the same day. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on expense reports, travel booking, and administrative tasks, which aren't very fun.
Field roles probably top out at $100-150k, depending on the region. If you are in a sales role, then earnings can increase considerably. In certain products, the sales rep can make more than the physician that is implanting the device.
There are many ways to enter this career. You can study biomedical engineering (probably a master's is preferred), or nursing, or other clinical roles (Operating Room Technician, for example). Also, many folks will enter after being in sales for medical devices. You should have strong knowledge of physiology, anatomy, and preferably some clinical experience in front of patients and clinicians. You should have excellent teamwork/communication skills, and be comfortable with everything that's involved with frequent travel.
Medical Device industry is growing and will be around for decades to come. COVID will change how fieldwork is done, but it will still be needed in person.
"Big Tech" will continue to enter the realm of medical device and clinical medicine in the near future (Apple and Google are getting nearer with the iWatch and FitBit).
If you are interested in this role, I would recommend going to school for biomedical engineering or taking a clinical role first. I'd suggest networking with others in the industry and finding mentors.