Ashley Seeklander has an interesting job as a microbiologist. Important work. Good company.
But, when she thought about what else she might want to do with her career, medical technology kept grabbing her interest. “I’d like to get into medical devices, or conducting clinical trials,” the graduate student from Big Lake said.
This week, St. Cloud State University hosted a medical device job fair, bringing together representatives from nearly 20 companies with more than 40 graduate students. It is the fourth year of the job fair, which was held exclusively for students in the St. Cloud State programs. “In the early days [at Medtronic], I’d train them in myself. But there is so much to learn,” said Chuck Swanson, a retired Medtronic executive. “We need people who understand the regulatory side of it.”
A series of graduate-level programs focusing on medical technology through St. Cloud State gives Seeklander and other working professionals a chance to earn master’s degrees and forge new careers in regulatory affairs, applied clinical research and medical technology quality. The program is unique in its depth and breadth of offerings, said Swanson, the director of the program.
Regulatory affairs started first in 2007. Then came applied clinical research in 2010 and medical technology quality in 2012. In all, the programs have had more than 120 graduates, with the quality program graduating its first class of 20 students later this year.
During the job and networking fair Thursday at St. Cloud State’s Twin Cities Graduate Center in Maple Grove, students and representatives of several area med-tech companies, including Medtronic Inc., Boston Scientific Corp. and St. Jude Medical Inc., spent their time getting to know each other a little better.
At the table for IMRIS, a Minnetonka company that makes high-tech operating rooms that bring scanning technology to the patient on the table, Michael Schnabel, the company’s director of quality, sat chatting with Karissa Holcomb, a student in the program who also works for IMRIS.
The St. Cloud State program gives Holcomb a broader range of skills, she said. She is part of IMRIS’ regulatory affairs staff. Schnabel said the collaboration — and the job fair — is good for the industry, as well as the students.
“Networking works both ways,” he said.
In another room, Dean Bruhn-Ding, vice president of regulatory affairs for CVRx, a Minneapolis firm that makes technology to lower chronic high blood pressure, was hoping to find an eager, energetic candidate to join his company.
“I am the only regulatory affairs person in the company now, so I am looking for some help,” he said of the 62-employee company that is in the midst of clinical trials in the United States and Canada and is selling in Europe. “Anyone we hire, they’re going to hit the ground running with me.”
That’s the idea, said Patty Feulner, associate director of St. Cloud’s applied clinical research program. Considered one of the top jobs in the U.S. right now, trained associates in clinical research are in demand. “It’s a point of entry for some people into the industry,” Feulner said of the program that has had 25 students graduate in three years.
The overall program is designed to allow students to earn a master’s degree in two years, attending class on weeknights and Saturdays. But students like Seeklander and her friend and co-worker, Uyen Le, are attending part-time. Le expects it will take her four years to finish. She was a biology major in college, then moved to pharmaceuticals. Now she wants something different.
“I don’t feel I have enough training for me to grow,” she said.
Joel Penoski, who is finishing his first year in the St. Cloud State program, has worked in the pharmaceutical industry. He, too, is drawn to med tech, he said. He spent time chatting with Nicole Stanchina, a Medtronic regulatory employee who works with neuromodulation. That, Penoski said, is what makes this area so fascinating.
“I want to see what exists in the arena,” he said, as he moved from one company table to another. “I am excited by the possibilities.”
The University of St. Thomas is the only other area school offering a master’s program, Swanson said, but does not teach as many disciplines. About 15 graduate programs in the country focus on developing students to meet the needs of the medical technology industry, he said.
A Medtech Industry Advisory Board, made up of top industry officials in the areas of regulatory, clinical and quality have helped shape and develop St. Cloud’s program, said Brian Rembish, associate director of the quality program. “I believe the success of this has been the collaboration between academia and the industry,” he said.
Advisory board members include executives from Covidien, St. Jude Medical, Medtronic, 3M and Velomedix.