For a lot of us, winding up on a medical device development team is an accident. How many people in our day sat there in high school and said, “I would like to develop intravenous catheters and neurovascular devices”? Not many. On the other hand by the time we hit late college or graduate school, some had the suspicion that this would be a cool thing to try. Today, the “kids” are more plugged in than we were, so it would not be surprising if a rising number of undergraduates and high school students indeed look to the future in medical device development. After all, it is a sound investment: the Healthcare industry (along with Education) tends to avoid most of the ups and downs in the larger economy.
Starting fresh or switching into this career first requires knowing in what portion of the development you could take part. For those with STEM degrees, it is likely to wind up either in Engineering, Research, or Quality. Conversely, there are also spots on device teams for those with business acumen and education as the Marketing and Finance functions. If someone has a medical background such as an RN or MD, the Clinical Research function is quite suitable. This is not to say that one must pick a function and retain it forever.
Switching functions, i.e. from Research to Marketing, has been done (by me) but it requires already being part of the “family”. For your first entrance, it is good to get in with something close to your degree’s application.
So what are some things that can make someone more likely to fall into this career?
1) Get educated. If your university offers courses in medical device development, be sure to take those. They make great electives. If not, you can find courses online. Personally, I have contributed to both outlets by teaching general courses on medical device development at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and putting my courses up for anyone at Medical Device Courses.
2) Get seen. There are innumerable conferences and trade shows. Going to a show like Medical Device Manufacturers (MDM) which is held all around the world at least ten times per year in one form or another helps, but only if you do it frequently. Showing up and cruising the isles and talking to people leads to the next item.
3) Get friends. Even introverts are not barred from being successful and getting out there. Interaction is a learned behavior, and the old cliches of how career success depends on who you know are all true. Network! Network well! When people see you often and remember your jovial demeanor, they will be inclined to work with you, and this can pay dividends.
Certainly you can (and should) troll the job boards for positions, but keep in mind that if you are new here you will probably need to go for the lower titles to get a foothold. If you have 10 years experience as an IT professional and a Director title, you are unlikely to land a position as a Director of Product Development, for example. Taking courses will help bridge that gap, but you will most probably need to start out as a regular engineer. Newly minted engineers out of school will likely need to start off as techs. Getting employed for exactly what you set out for happens, but often you are competing with more seasoned professionals from the field. Taking the lower job makes it easier for you to get educated, get seen, and get friends which lead to jobs that are more your speed.