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Breaking Into Medical Device Sales: Q&A with an Ex-Trauma Sales Rep

11 min read

Breaking Into Medical Device Sales: Q&A with an Ex-Trauma Sales Rep

In this Breaking Into Device video series we have Wade, an ex-Trauma sales representative at Synthes. Wade is the Principal Distributor and Owner at Knight Surgical, a distributorship that brings innovative foot & ankle medical devices to market. He also is a Career Coach at Breaking Into Device. In this episode, Wade walks us through his journey to break into the industry, what the day-to-day operations are as a trauma rep, and advice he has for candidates looking to break in.

Here are the questions and Wade's answers:

What's your story and why did you get into medical device sales? (00:21)

I'm from Toledo, Ohio and I started school at the Ohio State University studying Marketing in August of 2014. I knew I wanted to go into sales.  It runs in my blood— my dad was in sales. I did some sales competitions in high school and I really enjoyed connecting with customers and persuasively conveying value to them. In terms of Industry I was a little bit lost especially when I was at Ohio State. In my first two years I picked up a Computer Science minor because I thought I wanted to go into technology sales.

I ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina between my sophomore and junior year at a health care purchasing conglomerate called Premier. Premier basically represents a group of hospitals nationwide and negotiates better pricing with manufacturers. I was in operations  so not exactly sales. I felt this deep meaning from my work. I felt that what I did mattered and I could go home with a sense of pride because I knew I was helping patients achieve better outcomes in hospitals and in surgery centers.

After that summer, I wanted to get a little bit closer to the customer. I was fortunate enough to end up at Cardinal Health, which is a large medical device and pharmaceutical distributor (specifically medical consumables). I was working as a Marketing Intern that summer in Skin and Wound. I got a lot of great exposure to the corporate side of the business and I got a lot closer to the customer, but it still wasn't selling. I took the next step upon graduation in May of 2018 at Ohio State. I was once again fortunate enough to accept a position at Cardinal Health within their Sales Development Program out of Chicago, Illinois.

This was a four business unit rotational program where I trained on the corporate side of Cardinal Health  the sales side of Cardinal Health — and after those 12 months I was once again fortunate enough to land a position back in Charlotte, North Carolina as a Sales Consultant selling to Ambulatory Surgery Centers.

I did that for about 11 months. It was great exposure. I learned how to prospect. I learned how to create deals. But, I was primarily selling gloves, drapes, and other consumables. I wasn't necessarily developing the relationships that I wanted to clinically with those surgeons and physicians. That's what most people think of when they hear medical sales. They think of selling to surgeons and physicians, which often times it is. I decided to pivot my career and I moved back to Chicago where I started training. I started a position with Johnson & Johnson within their subsidiary to DePuy Synthes, specifically in the Synthes arm of the business servicing surgeons on orthopedic trauma.

Trauma Sales Rep Qualifications


I gained a ton of knowledge clinically from that. I went from selling gloves, gowns, drapes, and packs and dealing mostly with supply chain administration and purchasing to being in front of surgeons in the operating room advising those surgeons and nurses and techs on the best way to use our products. When you hear trauma, it's a little bit different than you might imagine especially in the world of orthopedics. This is not someone coming fresh out of a car accident and us putting them back together. It's usually once they're stabilized. They usually have fractures — malunions or non-unions — in their long bones. Pretty much anywhere besides the skull, spine, and ribs. If those bones broke, we were putting them back together.

I was in that position for 12 months as a Junior Sales Consultant. I just recently took a huge step in my career journey — I'm going to be an entrepreneur starting my own distributorship. A distributorship is an entity that serves as a selling organization between medical device manufacturers that don't hire their own sales reps and those providers that use that product. I'll be focusing on foot and ankle orthopedics, selling to surgeons with some really exciting lines. Looking back, my journey started in college with an interest in medical sales.

What is a medical device distributorship


For a lot of folks, it's a dream that seems a bit unattainable. I'm hoping through this series and through the Breaking Into Device website I can make that path a little bit clearer for folks who are trying to break into the industry. It's not impossible — you just have to be disciplined and have the right plan. 

What did your day-to-day look like as Trauma Sales Rep? (05:28)

Orthopedics is a beast. It's very different than other types of medical device sales just because there's so much of a service aspect to what we do. When I refer to Orthopedics, I'm primarily referring to Orthopedic Trauma and Extremities, Sports Medicine, Spine, Craniomaxillofacial, and Joint Reconstruction.

Medical Device Sales Specialities


There are three main activities that consisted of my day-to-day work. The first was case coverage. In the world of Orthopedics, specifically in the world of implants — and this is true throughout all medical device sales when you are selling an implant or a system that has implants — it's very important that you service the surgeons and the staff during the procedure. That means physically being in the operating room in scrubs, a hat, and a mask about five to ten feet away from the sterile field.

You're advising everyone on how to use your products. Some surgeons know exactly how to use your products. Others might be a bit newer and you have to advise them on how to use your systems. One of the biggest components, when you're actually servicing cases, is advising the scrub techs and the nurses on how to be best prepared to keep in step with the surgeon. For example, we had at least 50 different systems. Like I said before, we're covering fractures from the fingertip all the way down to your toes — and everything in between. It's a lot for that staff to know with 50 different systems.

In an Orthopedic Trauma we're primarily selling four things. Four implants: plates, screws, nails which are also known as rods, and wires. Wires wrap around bones in different constructs. You have to be in the operating room to service them during usual business hours. Cases would usually start around 7:30AM in the morning. With trauma there's a lot of add-ons, so these surgeries are not scheduled very far in advance. If you talk to a joint reconstruction rep at a different company or at DePuy Synthes, you'll hear "Oh we have a case schedule next week". Very rarely did we get a week's notice. Sometimes we only had a couple of hours.

Medical Device Sales Trauma Products


As a Junior, I worked every other weekend. I was working six days a week. I was helping these surgeons and staff through the surgeries. The next big part of my day-to-day work was inventory management. This was not something that came naturally to me or that I really knew about going into this. I was a sales person —  I didn't understand the amount of detail orientation that you had to have for this career and how focused you had to be in terms of physically putting things together.

Oftentimes we would have something called a tray that we would open up in surgery. It's basically a big box with holes in it that would allow the steam to come in and sterilize the components. The instruments and the implants are wrapped in a fancy blue wrap. When you're done with the case, your work's not done. You have got to go down to the sterile processing department — usually in the basement — and pretty much reassemble these trays to make sure they're restocked. In Trauma, you never know when the next surgery is going to be. Servicing those surgeons in the operating room, inventory management, and making sure those things called trays are restocked are huge in orthopedics.


Medical Device Sales Trays


Then there's logistics. In the world of health care, money can be a bit tight. Not all hospitals have all of the instruments, implants, and trays, that they need for every surgery. Especially in the world of trauma, there are so many different systems. Hospitals can't exactly afford to have every single tray for every single procedure.

After you are done servicing the surgeons and restocking the trays, you may get a notification of another case in another hospital. You then have to figure out, "How are we going to get those instruments, implants, and disposables in that tray to another hospital or another surgery for another case?" There's quite a bit of logistics as a trauma rep.

The most fulfilling part for me and the part that I felt like I was the best at (being more of a natural salesperson) was being in the operating room communicating with surgeons and guiding them through the procedures. Of course, that took some time. Given that I sold gloves, drapes, gowns, disposables, and consumables at Cardinal Health, I didn't have that experience. I had to come in as a junior, even though I was a Sales Rep at Cardinal Health.

Where do you start? An Associate or Sales Representative role? (10:48)

Oftentimes it is going to be as a Junior Sales Consultant or an Associate Sales Consultant. This is because you don't have that clinical knowledge base to be able to start selling immediately.

What advice do you have for me to try and break into medical device sales if you don't have much experience? (10:57)

There's a couple of different avenues loaded into this question. A couple different scenarios. First: you might be a student. Second: you might have graduated from college and have some general experience (maybe related to sales, maybe not). Third: you're a sales professional that has sales experience likely in business to business (B2B) sales but it's not in health care.

Career Paths in Medical Sales


Let's start with the first avenue: you're a student who wants to get into medical device sales. I think the biggest misconception people have is that your major is extremely important in terms of landing in the industry. Of course, it helps to have a background in business, a background in science, or a background in healthcare. It's not completely necessary. What's important is to show interest while you're in school and that you can gain transferable skills that would make you a good medical device sales representative. That means trying to get as many healthcare or medical device related internships as you possibly can. It could even be business to consumer (B2C). Some sort of sales experience.

Not every person who is a student is in the right time frame to do those things. For example, if you're interested in medical device sales and it's your freshman year, you've got plenty of time to adjust your major, to look at internships, and to get some sort of sales experience. Let's just say it's your senior year and you're graduating and you haven't done those things. Don't worry. Not all is lost.

It's important for you to target specific types of medical device firms. If you don't have sales experience or any healthcare internships, your best bet is likely going to be looking at a smaller distributorship. I discussed this in one of my questions earlier. It's what I've actually started.

It's going to be very difficult for students to come right out of school and land at some of the larger more well-known firms if you don't have a little bit of work experience. For example, I had to work at a healthcare consumables organization, Cardinal Health, before I actually got into "true" medical device. I earned my stripes that way. I had a couple of internships that helped me get to Cardinal Health, but I still had that business to business (B2B) sales experience before I could get more clinical. Distributorships are often smaller geographically and are looking for younger talent coming right out of school to jump into their organization. They're a little bit harder to find than just maybe Googling "Johnson and Johnson Associate Sales Consultant" on Google, Linkedin, or Job Boards.

Our best practice is actually typing in "Medical Device Distributorship" into Google and then also typing in your target area or the city that you're looking to live in. It could be the city you're living in now or it could be a place that you'd like to move to. That's generally the best way to find these distributorships.

Medical Sales Distributorship Job Search Tip


The next two scenarios we're going to look at are Experienced Hires. I broke it into three avenues we're going to combine the last two. You graduated from school, let's say you're out of school for a year, you could be out of school for three years, you could be out of school for 10 years. There's no wrong time to try to get into medical device sales. Really there's not. It's not necessarily pertinent that you have business to business sales experience, but it really helps in some scenarios. Often times you can actually jump the associate stage if you have five to ten years of business to business sales experience with a great track record at a well-known company.

Many folks are forced into an Associate role (like I was) before they become a full-on sales representative. What's important at this stage is that you demonstrate a strong desire for the right reasons to be in medical device sales. A big thing that draws folks in is compensation. It's important that you let prospective employers know that you're motivated by compensation. That's important in any sales job because the more you're motivated by that, the harder you're going to work for the organization. It's also important that you communicate that you want to get into medical advice sales to ultimately help the patient. That is what these organizations are founded on. It's their mission. You need to align your personal mission with that of the organization that you're applying for.

One piece of advice I have for people from all different avenues trying to break into medical device you need to network very aggressively and very strategically. It can feel a little bit uncomfortable  but you need to be assertive. You need to have a high quantity of touches and you need to get in contact with people. One of my least favorite phrases is that "to get into medical device sales you have to know someone". I'm not a huge fan of that because I didn't know anyone in medical device sales. What I did though was get to know people in medical device sales. There's this misconception that your brother or your uncle or your dad or your best friend or someone has to be a hiring manager at a medical device sales company, and that's how you sneak in. I would say about 90% of the people—maybe 95% of the people— getting into medical device sales without experience do it by being fanatical networkers.

This starts on Linkedin. It also starts with a bit of a commitment on Linkedin. I strongly encourage folks to get Linkedin Premium to be able to target as many people as possible. I understand that this isn't within everyone's budget, but if you look at the thirty dollars a month you spend on Linkedin Premium it pays off dividends when you're making six figures down the line in a successful medical device sales career.

Fanatical networking is the way to land a position in medical device sales. Be concise. Be yourself. Have a high quantity of touches with people in the industry. This is one of my favorite pieces of knowledge you only need to really get lucky once. It's going to seem like a lot of people are ignoring you or a lot of people don't want to talk. You're just another person trying to get into the industry any way they can. But, someone will connect with you and you'll develop a deeper connection with this person through talking on the phone and meeting in person. They'll serve as your coach or your champion. You don't necessarily need to be reaching out to the hiring manager every time  that's helpful as it shows initiative but also reaching out to people in your target companies that might be in different roles, people on the team that you might be working on, or people that have had experience in the past at the company.

It's a very small industry and the more aggressive you can be in reaching out to folks primarily on Linkedin, the more successful you'll be in breaking into the industry.

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