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Have you wondered how a careers in both the medical and engineering fields could be combined? In this interview, a product design engineer who designs medical devices such as joint replacements shares how this career excites him, knowing he is designing tools that are truly bettering the lives of patients around the globe.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I am a Product Design Engineer, working in the orthopedic implant industry. I have over 5 years of total experience, though some of it was in other Biomedical design industries. I would describe myself as Creative, Hard-working, and team-oriented.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am a white male, which has probably been reasonably neutral in terms of hurting or helping me. I've never been discriminated against, and never seen anyone else discriminated against, either. At any major company, I believe it's pretty rare for anyone to be treated poorly on account of their ethnicity or gender; only poor work due to bad work-ethic and an unwillingness to learn will earn the ire of your peers and superiors.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A:I am a designer of implants and instruments for human joints. Hips, knees, fingers, toes, and everything between is fair game for replacement. I spend a lot of time interfacing with surgeons to find out what products on the market work and which do not. Using this information, I find out what key components and features are lacking from competing items, and build them into my design. It's extremely gratifying when I make a design that a surgeon sees and says, "this is exactly what I've been wanting!"

Some people think that being an engineer is no fun, and all we do is sit around "crunching the numbers." In fact, a lot of number crunching is done by computer programs that calculate all kinds of mechanical forces for us. We make the cool designs, the program lets us know if they'll probably work. That said, there are still a whole lot of testing protocols we must follow to ensure that the products are safe for the recipient.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: I would rate my job enthusiasm as a 9. The only reason why I am not giving it a 10 right now is because the economy is down and the whole business is a little bit slow right now. During better economic times, there would be more projects going on, and more fun things to work on. Once the economy picks up again, I will likely be at a 10 again.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: Every day, the things I do affect people down the road. If I design a great new knee, someone will be able to walk that wasn't able to before. There is someone out there who has a new shoulder because an engineer designed it. The thought that something that I designed will actually be implanted into someone, using other instruments that I also designed, makes every moment that I work completely worth it. It is most definitely my calling.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: There's nothing particularly unique about me; I got my degree, and I found a job.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: When I was in middle and high school, I knew I wanted to do some kind of engineering. I also took Anatomy and other sciences, and found that I enjoyed a "hands on" approach, as opposed to a purely mathematical one. Biomedical Engineering was just starting to become a popular major, and I decided to pursue it.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I thought as a student that the workplace was well organized, and that everyone worked together well on a team. I have encountered situations, however, where a person working in manufacturing and a person working in quality have completely different opinions about how to design a part. I went back and forth between them, trying to find a solution. Finally, I forced them both to meet in a room together until they came to a decision.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: I've finally come to grips with the old saying that life isn't fair. I do my job well, and I come to work every day ready to contribute everything I have. That hard work did not stop me from being laid off at one point. I quickly found a new position, but I realized that no amount of loyalty is going to keep you in your position when there are business decisions being made. Business is business, and you are disposable in almost all cases. Make yourself valuable as much as you can, but realize that the leader of the company probably cares more about profit than about any particular employee.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: I was told at one point that a surgeon may throw something at me if he didn't like my design.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: As I mentioned before, the idea that everything that I do impacts a real person makes my work worth it every day. I launched a few products that are already being used, and when I see the sales numbers climbing, I'm incredibly proud.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: The main challenges are dealing with the economic downturn. When business is down, funding for projects is down. Even though I may be ready to move forward and go on to the next phase of a project, the company may not be ready for it, and so I am stuck waiting.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: My job is not terribly stressful. I believe this is mostly because I enjoy it greatly. I have a fantastic work-life balance, based on the fact that I work hard when I am at the office and get my work done without having to stay late.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: From junior to senior designer, the range could be as wide as $50,000 to $100,000, depending on geographical location and company size. I can live comfortably within my means, so long as I remember it's important to save my money and not to spend it on unimportant things.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: Most engineers begin with 10 days at firms like mine. I take all of mine every year, and though I feel generally relaxed about it, more would always be nice.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: You likely need a degree, but mostly you need problem solving skills and a knowledge of human anatomy.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: Work hard in your classes, and get an internship so you are exposed to the workplace before it is your full-time job.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I would enjoy doing what I'm doing right now, but with a bigger project budget, a higher salary, and more vacation.