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Non-Clinical Careers For Physicians In Medical Devices

Physicians are playing key roles in the medical device industry.

Physicians looking for non-clinical careers may be seeking better work-life balance. Some may have years of experience in clinical practice but are looking for something new.  They still want to make a difference in people’s lives—but may be disenchanted with the business of medicine.     

The medical device industry could be a viable option for physicians who are ready to jump the clinical track.  The device industry is one of growth and innovation—and physicians are playing key roles in design, development, and marketing. 

Historically, practicing physicians have worked closely with medical device companies to develop and market new products. Device firms—and the physicians that work with them—have learned that these relationships are essential to device innovation.  Some have raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest in these collaborations. Critics worry that payments to physicians could influence their decisions about which devices to use and when. So now, more than ever, companies are recruiting physicians to help them navigate these issues, creating a variety of career opportunities.

Physicians often provide important knowledge about technology and medical practice that becomes incorporated into new devices.  Involvement in activities such as clinical trials and testing is one of the ways physicians can both learn about new technology and pass information about technology to commercializing companies.

The medical device arena is highly dependent on clinical development and is capital-intensive. Medical device companies spend about 10-12 percent of sales revenue on research and development (R&D), somewhat less than some of their pharmaceutical counterparts—but on average, much more than companies in the manufacturing sector. Leading medical device companies generate the majority of their revenues from products that are only a few years old, due to competition from fast followers. The life cycle for new products in this industry is relatively short, making new product innovations crucial for firms. The key challenge is to manage all the moving parts of the commercialization process: come up with new product ideas, anticipate market demand, manage product development, gain regulatory approval, and encourage adoption of new technologies and new generations of existing technologies. 

Device firms that identify and acquire information that resides outside the firms have the most success in maintaining their innovative edge. In the medical device industry, practicing physicians are an important source of knowledge regarding unmet needs, customer preferences, and potential market opportunities.  Their knowledge can be used for either refining existing products or creating new products that would be well-received by healthcare professionals. Physicians in corporate roles are in the best position to help companies gather this information, prepare business cases, and design protocols for clinical studies.     

Physicians may contribute directly to the commercialization process by inventing medical devices themselves or participating as a member of the product design team. Doctors often have the best knowledge about unmet medical needs and the clearest sense of the most feasible solution to a particular problem. They can provide unique insights about market needs, product modifications, and new products. Their knowledge comes from using devices—so they know what is problematic, which improvements are most critical, and which solutions are preferable from the perspective of the end user.  The depth of their knowledge is based on their clinical experience and may be difficult to convey to industry executives without strong communication skills and relationships of trust and respect. 

Corporate physicians could also play a role in other aspects of commercialization. For instance, they could help manage strategic partnerships with external physicians and suppliers. Clinicians who invent new devices or modify existing devices typically have little or no experience in manufacturing and marketing the devices themselves. Corporate physicians who have experience in these areas could help facilitate the tech transfer throughout the commercialization process. 

Depending on their background and experience, corporate physicians could also participate in regulatory submissions, sales training, and corporate compliance as well as licensing deals and mergers and acquisitions. 

For more information about career opportunities, check out the websites for these leading medical device companies: Johnson & JohnsonGE Healthcare, Medtronic, Baxter International, 3M Medical, and Zimmer Holdings.  This could give you a framework to explore specific opportunities or extend your network to other firms in the industry.


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