MBA for R&D in healthcare

I am responsible for the team of people who design and develop home healthcare products and their packaging components. We do product development for products including bandages, athletic and therapeutic braces, and thermometers. Although some of the actual manufacturing is done in house, we outsource a significant amount of the products.

I am in meetings about 50 percent of the time, with a variety of people, including project teams, other R&D people, and marketing and market research staff. I attend some tradeshows and supplier visits, and I travel as I determine necessary, which is about 20 percent of the time.

E-mail is a big part of my life; I spend around 20 percent of my time e-mailing between the groups I meet with and with the sales representatives who have questions about packaging or customers (for example, retailers selling home healthcare need to know dimensions and materials, etc.) I spend at least 10 percent of my time on personnel issues with seven of my direct reports, who are scientists and engineers.

Currently we have an SAP implementation under way company-wide—I am the contact for the data for the packaging area, so that’s an ongoing project taking a lot of my time.

What I Enjoy Most

The completion of a new product and/or new packaging is quite thrilling. I love to finish something and then see what I have helped to create for sale on the retail shelves. I can say, “We did that.”

What I Enjoy Least

I deal with the minutiae of creating specifications. It is standard for most engineering-related professionals to write their own technical specifications—it’s the making and knowing that is fun, not the documenting part.

Why I Chose This Career

I have always loved taking things apart, discovering how they work and figuring out how to put them back together—that is, reverse engineering. In addition, I have always had an interest in medicine, but not enough to want to go to medical school followed by residency. Instead I’ve been able to combine two interests into a career developing medical products.

Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career

For R&D management, you need creativity, attention to detail, a willingness to see things from other viewpoints, good people skills for the team product development approach, and an understanding of the need for accurate and honest timelines.

In order to move up past middle management, I believe that you also need to see the financial and strategic impacts of everything you do. The MBA is changing how I look at things—especially the financial considerations I hadn’t been exposed to before within R&D. I now have new methods for analysis, so I don’t have to rely so much on the internal people. If I do, I am better equipped to interpret what they are telling me.

Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

My advice is to be flexible and keep your options open—avoid becoming pigeon-holed as just an engineer or just a one-technology wonder. Stay up-to-date on the latest technologies, and always look for new things to learn to expand your skill set. The MBA for me was my most recent effort to broaden my skills so I am a well-rounded manager of R&D and a prospective manager in a broader context.

I have always been in product development. I started as an entry-level engineer right after college and have progressed into management. I spent four years in my first job at a small company, engineering feeding tubes. Because of the smaller size, I got exposure as a development engineer to quality assurance (QA), and got experience in]regulatory issues in manufacturing, and even some marketing.

Then I came to my current company, starting as a development engineer on some needle products in the consumer division. Then, with the opportunities afforded by being part of a large, global company, I moved to the sample collection business as QA engineer and then to the safety technology division, doing new business development. Eventually, I returned to the consumer division in my current R&D management role. I have been with this company 13 years now.

About 15 years into my career, I knew I wanted an MBA to enhance my established career. But my career was advanced enough and my family life complicated enough (with two kids and a spouse also getting a part-time MBA), that a full-time MBA program didn’t make sense for me. An interactive MBA degree with a lot of opportunity for self-study made the most sense for my situation.

It enabled me to get the degree within a few years, while maintaining my job and industry presence—an important consideration in technical professions, where it may be unwise to be out of the technology loop for a two-year period of time. The MBA has not changed my responsibilities much yet since I just finished a few months ago.

However, the courses of study helped me learn how to do things differently along the way, especially with regard to how I view financial feasibility and reasoning for decision making.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)