On her transition from R&D engineering intern to Associate Product Manager at Abbott

A Needed Pivot

I decided I wanted to be an engineer the moment I attended an all girls engineering summer camp in high school. Us STEM kids commonly refer to it as “nerd camp.” The camp allowed me to envision myself designing the next life saving medical system and becoming CEO of a medical device startup. I was absolutely fascinated with being able to use my brain to help others. Therefore I spent my undergraduate experience learning all the physics, programs and skills it took to successfully engineer my dreams. I worked as an R&D engineering intern every summer at medical device giants and tiny startups. I built prototypes of cerebral protection nets, designed tests for ischemic stroke catheters and participated in PMA design validation testing.

But I didn’t really enjoy the work I was doing. I didn’t like the intensive SolidWorks, calculations and device building. It didn’t excite me to solve technical issues and I struggled to think creatively in design work. Yet, I loved learning about the technologies. It was inspiring to be surrounded by medical innovations and a drive to better the world. I get giddy talking about the newest heart valves on the market and which companies lead the stroke market. My R&D experiences reinforced that I wanted to be in the healthcare sphere with so much patient impact and sense of wonder and innovation.

While I loved my biomedical engineering undergraduate experience, it made me think I had only two career options: R&D engineer and quality engineer. I had a mid-college crisis when I realized I didn’t particularly like engineering and pictured myself doomed to be in a lab for the rest of my life. I even researched all the requirements for me to switch to nursing to escape.

Fortunately two summers ago I interned at Imperative Care where I met Kirsten Carroll, who inspired me to think bigger. She was VP of Strategic Development and had a biomedical engineering background such as myself. Yet she wasn’t on the bench, but rather led the company’s market research, looking into where they should next innovate, who to connect with and where the opportunities lay. Her passion and knowledge made me want to be her one day. After hearing her speak again this past year in one of my MTM classes, I was reminded that I still do. Kirsten made me realize I could do more with my engineering degree. With a baseline knowledge of the technical skills to create a product, I would help construct the company from a higher seat. The issue was I didn’t exactly know how to get from point A to B.

It was at a Biomedical Engineering Society meeting where I heard about MTM for the first time. Moose, the Executive Director of the MTM, had made the trip down to San Luis Obispo to pitch the program. It was the answer to my lack of a career roadmap. The thought of combining engineering with medical knowledge and business strategy seemed like a great opportunity to pivot away from the straight R&D work I didn’t enjoy. I looked up the MTM website after the meeting and got so pumped looking at the possible curriculum. Finally I was excited about school. I didn’t have to take mechanics of materials, fill up 10 pages of engineering paper then still not properly understand what shear stress was. Instead, I would be designing clinical studies, constructing regulatory strategy and pitching my capstone device to investors. After starting the program, I realized much of my cohort also attended their version of “nerd camp,” got an engineering degree and experienced the same gap in applying their technical side to a desirable career. MTM taught us that you don’t have to be an engineer to be a part of medical device construction and delivery.

A full year later, I am doing just that. I recently got hired to work at Abbott, a huge global medical company, in its high voltage therapies division. As an Associate Product Manager, I’m working in the ideation of Abbott’s next generation of implantable cardioverter defibrillator. I’m going to be interviewing physicians and sales reps about their pain points and translating those into the next generation of technology. I’m coordinating with regulatory, finance and R&D to see what is feasible, profitable and physically possible.

After spending the past 5 summers in R&D labs, I have finally found the spot I belong. My technical base allows me to speak the language of the STEM side of medical device development while the MTM program developed my business and clinical skills. I feel grateful to no longer feel lost in my career and I’m so excited to still be part of insanely amazing creations, but from an angle that makes me happy.

Connect with Mia on LinkedIn.

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