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Live Q&A on Careers in MedTech | Cambridge MedTech Foundation

Learn more about careers in MedTech, what kind of jobs exist, how you can strengthen your profile and how can you prepare for a successful career in the MedTech industry.

Elena Kyria, CEO and Founder of Elemed gave insights into the MedTech field and answered questions about a future MedTech career during this live Q&A hosted by the Cambridge MedTech Foundation.

That is a really loaded question because Medtech is huge. Medtech Europe, an organization representing the European Medtech industry, define it as medical technologies or products, services or solutions used to save and improve people’s lives. They go across all different therapeutic areas or types of technologies ranging from medical apps to surgical tools to big machines used for scanning patients, and all the way to innovative nanotechnology and beyond. In essence, when we talk about Medtech, we talk about medical devices, which are the products themselves. We talk about in vitro diagnostics (IVD), which are the tests, and the whole digital health ecosystem, which is all the apps and technology out there that is now moving us towards the concept of connected health.

There’s so many different areas that medical technologies can be used but essentially they’re used in the prevention of diseases and infections or doing investigation. For example, Pillcam is a product by Medtronic that is used for capsule endoscopy. The patient swallows a little pill which will show on a screen what’s going on inside without any invasive procedure. Right now, COVID is a huge area and the COVID test, which is an in vitro diagnostic test, also falls under Medtech and we’ve worked with clients who have been developing those. So, we definitely see some excellent technology in diagnosis. Monitoring is also another area where Medtech is used. From the typical cardiac monitor all the way to the innovative type of monitoring technology such as skin sensors that checks for vital signs or blood glucose levels. Other areas include treatment, surgeries, robotics, and I could literally go on and on. That is Medtech.

What I love about Medtech is that it’s very broad. As the CEO of a recruitment company specializing in Medtech, I can see the whole spectrum of what the industry looks like. Similar to the people at the Medtech Foundation, I get to see all the different types of companies out there from the small startups that are innovating and disrupting what is going on all the way through to the well-established big corporates.

For me, it has something to do with the true innovation that we see in medical devices and in vitro diagnostics. We do see this in pharma, but the process and development cycle are much slower. In Medtech, depending on the risk classification of your product, you can bring that to market much faster and have an impact.

It’s also an area that I don’t really know much about until I discovered it and realized that everything is basically a medical device. I was in the hospital recently and as I was sitting in a room looking at all the products that were in there, I realized they were all medical devices. Some of them were even the clients that we work with. So it’s really an industry that you can touch and see.

No. The Medtech industry is so vast that you have to actually think about it from a product perspective. The way that companies are built is all around bringing a product to market essentially. So there are typical career paths within certain types of roles in Medtech, but there is no typical career in Medtech.

There is no typical background specifically for Medtech. It really depends on what department you decide to go in. Are you going into the engineering department, working in the clinical teams, in regulatory, quality, product management, sales, or marketing? There’s literally everything. Then what does the career progression look like within those departments?

The great thing to start with is to actually target certain disciplines. Generally, start by getting a good understanding of what a product life cycle looks like and all the different jobs that sit alongside that life cycle. Do a little bit of analysis on these different roles and see what speaks to you. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have a specific background to work in a specific role type. I know some people who have interesting generic degrees but work in regulatory affairs. They leverage their engineering experience and knowledge and apply it to regulatory affairs. So understand the different departments and identify what speaks to you, and then learn how to leverage. Also, have a look at the companies out there that interest you. Look at the top 10 companies, the most innovative companies, and the technologies that you find interesting. Then make some direct applications, reach out, and network because Medtech is all about networking as well.

Yes, I am such a believer in getting an internship in a startup over a large corporate company. There are pros and cons to both, but in terms of the value and experience that you get from joining a startup, it is second to none. You will be part of a small growing company that is truly innovating because startups typically are more innovative compared to the big companies. The latter are so slow-moving and have small teams that innovate but not at the same scale as startups. In addition, because startups are small, you typically get to have more responsibility.

For example at Elemed, since we’re still small and considered a startup, interns who join us have totally different responsibilities compared to interns in a large corporate company. They have access to looking at finance and interfacing with customers. It’s the same if you join a startup in Medtech. You get direct access to the CEO, see what the pictures look like, and understand the whole business case instead of just the products, which is really important. You can leverage all of these skills and package them into a portfolio of experiences as what I like to call it. Then you can apply for a bigger company or your first job. So I really think that an internship is critical and if you can, definitely target the smaller companies.

I absolutely love it because programs like yours are able to give people the experience that a lot of companies always ask for. In a short period of time, the program gives them the skills, understanding and initial knowledge to take to industry. Too often people with academic experience but no internships, no working experience, and no innovation projects like what you’re offering will approach us. And these kinds of transitions are harder to manage because companies will always ask for what they have done past the theory.

So, I think someone who is limited on time should look at programs like yours, get involved, and build some experience there. I promise you will learn so much about yourself and how the industry works. Immerse yourself in the industry by listening to medics’ talks or podcasts as it’s really insightful to listen to executives talking about their careers and you also get more sense of what the industry entails. Because when you eventually go to an interview, you’ve already got one foot in the door if you can show that you know what you’re talking about.

It depends on the role that you’re applying for. There are some job types that will really favor a PhD. Right now, medical writing is a big area that is great to get into with limited experience because of the huge demand. Medical writing is all about reading literature, doing literature searches, and putting together a scientific argument about the way a product may work in order to submit it for approval. It’s very high level. They typically look for PhDs because the type of arguments that you would be writing and the experience that you would get from your Ph.D. doing that would be very easily cross-transferred.

But for roles like quality, it is not necessary. So it is a benefit if you have a PhD, but if a company has a choice between somebody with a PhD and no experience and somebody with one year of experience but no PhD, they typically will go for the latter. So think of doing little projects that will build your portfolio of experience. Also consider that a PhD will always help you later on in your career. For example, it will give you an edge if you want to take that jump from a manager to a senior director role. So look at a PhD as a longer-term investment. Don’t expect that it’s going to give you the immediate edge in your first job.

This is a really good question. Whenever I’m recruiting for a startup, the absolute one thing that they always talk about is being hands-on. The ability to be a sponge and to just jump in and learn as you go is critical to survival in a startup because there are always challenges coming up. You don’t know what you don’t know until you have a challenge in front of you and you have to deal with it. So that kind of fearlessness or willingness to be a sponge or to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations is what startups absolutely love.

Curiosity, the ability to ask questions, and being a fast learner are also really important. Not to mention those who are able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and then work on their weaknesses and play to their strengths. These are some of the key soft skills that we see with all the startups.

What you’ll find about startups, or joining a startup, or being a founder is that you typically will have a very strong sense of purpose. If it’s your company or your products that will literally keep you going through. But if you’re joining a company, you have to really understand what your purpose is in that company. What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What are you aiming for? And what is the impact of what you’re doing? Truly keeping sight of that purpose is what will drive you because we all have bad days, challenges, and difficult situations to deal with. Understanding what it’s all for and what you’re driving towards will help you see the big picture as opposed to the small bump in the road along the way.

First of all, immerse yourself in the industry. Try to really understand what in Medtech is something that you want to do. Is it specific technologies that interest you or specific role types? Why and what are the benefits? After you have a good sense of what’s going on, do the things that you’re doing in the foundation to get some working experience. Attend free webinars, connect with people on LinkedIn and have virtual coffees with people. Say something like, “Hey, I noticed that you’re working in clinical in this company and this is an area I’m thinking about pursuing in my career. But I’d love to learn more about it and what you love about it. Would you be open to a chat?” A lot of people would say yes to that if you approach it in the right way. So go past just Internet research, try to speak to people, join networking hubs and attend as many virtual or in-person after COVID conferences or seminars to really get a feel into the industry as much as possible.

When medical device companies are running their clinical trials, they’re partnering with hospitals in order to do that. So from that perspective, there’s an opportunity to get more involved. You’ll get a chance there to go deeper into your clinical area of expertise. There are opportunities to get really involved in up-and-coming technology and that’s when you’re already working as a clinician.

Alternatively, if you’re interested to do something on the side, there are positions that are not too technical, as well as opportunities for clinical review of documentation by manufacturers. This is absolutely essential and critical in order for their products to get approved and be sold. That’s why they look for clinicians who are actively working in hospitals or have a deep clinical knowledge of a certain therapeutic area, disease, or type of technology that they’re working with in order to review the documentation and assess if the product will work in a clinical setting. So there’s some consultancy work involved alongside what you’re already doing – reviewing this type of document, giving your clinical opinion and basically signing that off as a clinical professional. Not a lot of people know that there’s a demand for that, but there is. That’s something that you can look at.

Ultimately, medical doctors that have worked in a clinical setting then switched to industry are really hard to find. They’re few and far between. So there’s definitely an opportunity to leverage your working experience from a clinical context into industry. Medical affairs and product safety roles are the ones that I would recommend.

There are roles in industry that I have recruited where being a medical doctor is a hard requirement. So if you’ve already done it and you’re halfway in, I know it’s a hard slog but it will give you an advantage. It ultimately depends on what type of roles you apply for, but there are roles that would specifically require you to be a medical doctor in order for you to apply for that role. Those are the ones that are very highly paid and where you can leverage that clinical working knowledge into industry. So unless you’re absolutely 100 percent certain that you don’t want to go back to it, I would recommend that you seek something like that out.

That’s a really interesting one. Definitely the role that I mentioned earlier, which is medical writing. We’ve recruited people all over the world to do this for companies because it’s a single contributor role. It’s about reading study reports and literature and being able to put together scientific text in order to demonstrate how that product is safe, effective and efficient. So typically something like that is a greatly remote role. Regulatory and marketing are probably good for remote work as well. We also recruited quite a few of clinical study managers that are remote. The actual people running the clinical trials themselves obviously have to be on site, but the people running them as program manager can work remotely. So, there’s quite a few but not so much in operation. Anything to do with manufacturing the products, quality testing them and getting them out there are not remote.

You have to just have a general sense of direction. What is it within Medtech that speaks to you? Is it the whole thing around digital health and AI? If so, know what’s going on there and just keep yourself informed. Look at AdvaMed, Medtech Europe, or Medtech Foundation. Do a Google search when you’re applying for a company. At minimum, you need to know who they are, have they been in the news recently, what’s special about them, what differentiates them against their competitors, what they are playing in and what their product is. If it’s a startup, they’re one product but if it’s a big corporation, what do they play in? Is it predominantly cardio or is it an orthopedic company? You don’t need to go into the really granular detail, but if there’s been something disruptive or if a company has just had their products approved, that will be on their news. They would do a big press release about that. So if you’re applying for a position at that company, make reference to that to show that you’re well informed, not just about the industry as a whole, but actually about them.

I always say to everybody, interviewing is like dating. So you’re sitting across the table with your interviewer but imagine that you’re sitting across somebody who you are dating. And they say, why do you like me? If you’re on a date, you’re never going to say “because you’re female and you have brown hair”. That is too generic. You need to give something tangible and specific about why that company or why that role. You need to understand what is going on in that company and give concrete answers that speak to you instead of generic information that you found on their website. That’s going to make a major difference because so many people don’t do that when they apply for jobs. They just send out generic applications to as many people as they can. So instead of sending 30 applications, send 10 really targeted good ones where you’ve put time and effort into making each application. I guarantee you, you’re going to get much better results.

When I do interview coaching with candidates, even the experienced ones, when a company asks, “why did you apply for this role?” their answers are all about them. They want to get a promotion, get a salary increase, or want to develop their career and learn something new. And all the company is hearing is that the candidate has no experience, needs investment, and will not solve my problem.
So when you’re in an interview, talk about the value that you add instead. Let them know about your skills that you want to leverage and bring to their company. Show them that you’re very willing to learn, but you also have knowledge or experience to bring to the table. Always talk about what you can bring, not what you want to take.

Yes, there are clusters. What you tend to find is little clusters around universities because typically that’s where the innovation comes out and then there’s a startup that eventually grows. In the U.K., there’s a cluster in the Cambridge Oxford Triangle and in London. Then we have in some of the major markets that we operate in. In Germany, we have in Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin. In Switzerland there’s Zurich and Lozan, and in France, there’s Paris and Lyon. In Norway, they’re typically everywhere.

For the second question, definitely yes. Especially if you’re just starting out in Medtech and you have to look for a startup because that’s where you can get really valuable experience. The clusters are all networked. They all studied together at uni or they know someone and it’s all about referrals. That’s how they get consultants, business advisors or the angel investors to help them with their business. They’re all connected. So it’s great if you can get into those clusters and start having conversations with some of them and understand who the players are. If they haven’t got anything, ask who they can recommend you to. That’s a really great network to be part of and get into.

I feel the best way is a direct approach. That means going on to LinkedIn and having a look at some of the companies. You can search by location, filter by industry, and by company size. Know who those companies are and who the CEOs are. With startups you always need to go straight to the CEO and send them a message. But the way you send the message needs to be really specific. Just sending a CV and asking if they have any internships is not going to get you a good response. Have clarity around what type of internship you’re looking for, what skills you can bring to the table and why. Try very specific approaches and talk about what specific type of roles and areas you would want to get experience in. And if they don’t know anyone, ask who else in their network they can recommend you to or where you can find more people within this space. That’s what I would recommend

I’m really interested to see what Elon Musk is going to do with Neuralink. Digital health really excites me and what tech companies are going to do to the Medtech industry in particular. What we’re seeing right now is a trend of big tech. They’ve disrupted every other industry and now they’re starting to truly disrupt the medical industry. So Apple, Google, what are they doing to this industry? We’ve seen some really cool advancements. Companies like Babylon, which I really love in the U.K., and their partnership with the NHS, with GP at hand, which has completely changed the way doctor’s appointments are done. They have an AI that is able to do triage, and AI is going to be a big topic in Medtech that I’m watching. I really think that is going to be an exciting space to be in in the next few years.

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