In the Know: Professional Development Offers a Wealth of Benefits

Originally Published MDDI January 2002BOTTOM LINE

Stacey L. Bell

January 1, 2002

13 Min Read
In the Know: Professional Development Offers a Wealth of Benefits

Originally Published MDDI January 2002


In the Know: Professional Development Offers a Wealth of Benefits

Savvy executives and their employers are discovering that membership in trade associations delivers both a strong return on investment and invaluable personal growth.

Stacey L. Bell

Accomplished medical device executives agree that membership in a trade organization can refresh an otherwise stagnant career in a variety of ways. Those who have grown professionally as a result of association membership urge medical device professionals to learn the value of participation in organizations that put them in contact with like-minded peers.

One such executive who has learned the value of trade association membership through experience is Virginia Tobiason, director of reimbursement and health policy for Abbott Diagnostics Division (Chicago). Tobiason says that association involvement can help a professional gain a reputation as an industry expert and can make him or her stand out from the crowd, which is essential for those who desire to advance up the corporate hierarchy. "Thousands of people are in mid-level positions," she points out, "but by becoming active in a trade association, your name becomes known both within your company and throughout the industry. You're perceived as having additional skills, knowledge, and ambition."

Tobiason knows what she's talking about. She's earned a name for herself in the medical device industry as chair of the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed; Washington, DC) reimbursement committee. AdvaMed bills itself as "the advocate for a legal, regulatory, and economic climate that advances global healthcare by assuring worldwide patient access to the benefits of medical technology."

"I send out e-mail about policy updates on behalf of the committee to professionals throughout the industry, so people know me," Tobiason says. She adds that promotions are based on "who and what you know," and that her association involvement has played "a key part" in winning promotions.

Chris Chavez, president and CEO of Advanced Neuromodulation Systems, Inc. (ANS; Plano, TX), agrees. "Trade organizations expose you to new opportunities and people that could help you now and in the future," he says. Chavez is active on the board of directors of the Medical Device Manufacturers Association (MDMA; Washington, DC), an organization that strives to further the goals of small entrepreneurial medical technology companies. He also participates on the boards of several organizations in Texas.


Certainly, one of the key benefits of being active in a professional organization is the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with colleagues from around the country and around the world, says Debra Bass, senior vice president of communications and marketing for the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI; Arlington, VA). "You're developing a network in which you're meeting like-minded people from other companies that face similar challenges and who may be able to provide insights into solutions that have worked for them. You may learn of career opportunities, and serving on an AAMI committee is a great way to interact with government officials—such as FDA representatives—who serve on the same committee," she adds.

AAMI manages more than 150 technical committees that develop medical device and sterilization standards followed by manufacturers worldwide. It counts medical device manufacturers, hospitals, academic institutions, government agencies, hospital engineers, physicians, and nurses among its nearly 5500 members.

"Our diverse constituency provides unique opportunities to medical device professionals," says Michael Miller, president of AAMI. "Developers and users of medical technology collaborate to develop standards that address regulatory, technical, and safety issues. So, manufacturers learn firsthand the concerns and thought processes of the people who will be purchasing and using their devices."

That opportunity to learn customers' needs and wishes firsthand, in a neutral setting, is why Sam Finkelstein, vice president of national and corporate accounts for ELA Medical (Plymouth, MN) has been active in the Federation of American Hospitals for more than 23 years. "Having the opportunity to interact with customers at conferences and committee meetings gives me a better understanding of their problems and issues, which I can use to provide more appropriate solutions. Plus, I'm building a rapport outside of the traditional vendor-buyer interaction," he says.

"Networking is certainly one of the primary benefits of belonging to an organization," adds C. Philip Cogdill, director of corporate sterilization and microbiology at Boston Scientific (Natick, MA). "There's a ‘who's who' list of people in any discipline, and those who have the greatest body of knowledge and expertise tend to be active in leading industry organizations. Meeting and talking with them, and getting their perspectives on how they'd deal with a specific problem, can be invaluable. Particularly for smaller companies that don't have tons of resources, aligning with a powerful association can provide access to people and consultants who can help them overcome struggles much more quickly than they could on their own."

Trade association involvement, which executives say consumes an average of two to three hours of personal time each week (more if they're playing a pivotal role in association business), can assist in building other meaningful relationships as well. "It's hard to get the attention of people who work for Medicare, FDA, and other government agencies, especially if you're a small company," says Lynn Saccoliti, senior director of government relations, reimbursement, and strategic alliances for VidaMed (Fremont, CA). "Advocacy is very important to our company, so I understood the value of belonging to organizations that focus on government programs. Both MDMA's and AdvaMed's lobbying muscles are tremendous. These organizations are in constant communication with regulatory and legislative staff. They have relationships that VidaMed, as a member, can draw upon. They can set up formal introductions, ensuring that members get the proper attention. By participating on committees with people who affect coverage and payment decisions, I'm no longer just another manufacturer when I contact them. I'm a colleague."

Trade associations can open doors to help a company resolve its issues, concurs Tobiason. "If my company has an issue with Medicare," she says, "Medicare may not meet with us because it doesn't always want to meet with individual companies. But through our trade association membership, we're part of a larger group. There's power in numbers, and we have a stronger voice that lets our positions be heard."


Most associations offer educational programs, news bulletins, publications, and other tools to help professionals further their industry knowledge. This is another reason professionals choose to become members.

"I joined a number of organizations for professional development reasons while I was working at my first job out of college," reports Cogdill. "The American Society for Quality [ASQ] has a certification program for quality engineering, which was recognized [by my then-employer's company] as a tool that prepared individuals for taking greater responsibility in the field. So I joined ASQ and took the certification course both for professional development and to win a promotion and higher salary."

Cogdill, who now chairs AAMI's International Standards Committee, continues, "When my company wanted me to implement its first sterilization-products program, I got involved in AAMI's Sterilization Development Committee. Being active in AAMI gave me the knowledge I needed to develop an in-house program, and it set the course for my career. I not only got access to information that wasn't available publicly, I got firsthand knowledge of the industry guidelines the regulators were using, and I worked closely with regulators to set up systems that would comply with their guidelines and regulations. Those experiences and relationships put me in line for senior management positions."

Saccoliti agrees that being involved in associations early in one's career can set a path for future success. "At the beginning of a career, trade organizations can fill in the missing links for you—they can interpret rules, intentions, and, most significantly, help interpret how new regulations affect future business strategy," she explains. "Later, when attending conferences and industry meetings, you share best-business practices for manufacturing, marketing, and customer-care areas—it broadens your perspective of your own job and ultimately makes you more valuable to your current and future employers."


Trade organization participation can pay off in additional ways for both professionals and their employers.

Increased credibility. "The world of reimbursement can be complicated, and companies may struggle to understand all the nuances of and differences between government and commercial coverage and payment processes," says VidaMed's Saccoliti. "This is a significant area in which trade organizations can help. Associations provide regulatory information and interpretation, and they offer a forum where you can learn about what other manufacturers are experiencing. This global industry view is empowering and lends credibility when explaining seemingly nonsensical changes to your organization's leadership, board of directors, and investors. Associations provide insight into and unification of the industry as a whole—and a quantity and quality of information and outcomes measurement you wouldn't otherwise have access to."

A streamlined workload. "In today's highly regulated global marketplace, being able to influence a standards process that will be accepted by regulators and marketplaces around the world can be a huge win and time-saver for companies," says AAMI's Miller. "Many AAMI documents are used as the foundation for ISO documents, and they become international standards. So rather than going through a standards-setting process with 200 different countries, companies can conserve their resour-ces and focus their efforts in one far-reaching involvement."

Additionally, Miller says that "when manufacturers interact with FDA staff on AAMI standards committees, they get firsthand information about that agency's perspectives on technical and regulatory issues related to standards. Standards are, of course, used in the United States and other countries as a foundation for many regulations."

Trade organizations also compile industry concerns when government agencies ask for public comment on proposed rules and regulations. "That action saves us some time," notes Abbott's Tobiason.

Strengthened negotiation skills. There's value to working with one's colleagues from other companies—including competitors—to determine positions on various issues, says Tobiason. "Researching and properly stating your stance and learning how to build a consensus all force you to look at the big picture and to make certain your arguments and thinking are reasonable. It's a good skill to acquire, and it will serve you in many areas throughout your career," she adds.

Broadened knowledge. "My trade association involvement has definite-ly furthered my career by triggering in me an interest and involvement in broad aspects of the medical technology business. I wouldn't necessarily have known about or been interested in these broader aspects if I'd had to seek them out in a traditional way," says ELA's Finkelstein. "I better understand my customers and their problems and how to create solutions they'll value, because I've expanded my skill set and intellectual base through conferences and seminars. Associations present the mood of the industry, identify trends in business for 12, 18, or 24 months from now, and give participants more in-depth information on industry issues sooner than they'd get it by looking on their own."

Enhanced recognition. Both individuals and their companies gain greater prestige when employees take active, visible roles in trade organizations. "When I am asked to speak at industry events, it is to share VidaMed's process for solving a particular reimbursement challenge," says Saccoliti. "My involvement in MDMA and the Medical Technology Leadership Forum (Washington, DC) has created great opportunities and exposure for me and my company, and we've had the privilege to affect policy. The benefits of working with your peers and lending a voice at a congressional level are invaluable. I think as an industry we have a wonderful opportunity to contribute through these organizations."

"Even if you're working at a relatively small company, you can have a large impact on the industry's future by playing a role in a trade group," adds Cogdill. "In AAMI, you're shaping standards that are used by the entire industry nationally and worldwide, which fosters company recognition and visibility. You'll be recognized by regulators even while you're working to reduce manufacturing costs and create products that better meet your customers' needs."

Increased tenure opportunities. "People like to work at companies that give back to their communities and also to their industry," says ANS's Chavez. "Companies that wish to succeed will promote a learning culture throughout the organization and encourage and support their employees in being active in industry groups and community charitable organizations. It's a win-win situation: Employees who are up-to-date on issues and are networking with contemporaries across the nation to solve problems will gain new wisdom, which will be reflected in the job they do every day. Further, employees who are constantly learning are happier and more likely to stay at a company if that company is supporting their efforts."

A refined competitive edge. "Association activities can give you an edge," says Cogdill. "You're getting expert information, insight, and perspectives on what the industry is working toward—basically, you're getting the early edition of the industry's future. So you can take that vision home to your company and position yourself and your company to take advantage and be rewarded accordingly when that future arrives."

Finally, Chavez adds, "If you find a cause worth fighting for, a project worth promoting, a passion you must pursue, you'll be much more valuable to both your employer and your industry. Associations play a major role in making our communities and world a better place and in ensuring healthcare is available to everyone. If you're not actively involved in making things better, you have no right to complain."


Most medical technology companies seem to encourage employees to be active in trade organizations, but it can be challenging to find the right fit. "The best way to decide which organizations will best suit your purposes—whether that's earning a promotion, contributing to the industry's betterment, or some other goal—is to understand who you are, what your job responsibilities are, and what your company is trying to achieve. Then, find an organization in which you can make an impact," says Chavez.

Saccoliti warns that a new association member might feel a little overwhelmed in some groups that combine members of both large and small companies. To cope with such a situation, she advises individuals to consider both personal participation goals and the specific needs of their respective companies.

Young entrepreneurial companies may be best served by joining organizations that are sensitive to smaller manufacturers' specific needs. Other organizations focus more on long-term policy review, patient advocacy and access to care, or other issues of concern. And, of course, some organizations foster professional development in core competencies.

Some learning comes from sharing knowledge within your professional discipline, Chavez points out. "I encourage ANS employees to be involved in industry-related and function-related organizations. For example, if you're a marketer, you may belong to MDMA and to the American Marketing Association. People need to grow in their skill area as well as in industry knowledge."

Some device industry personnel also may wish to join a professional society where they can have a voice as an individual rather than as a company, says Stacy Leistner, director of communications and public relations for the New York office of ANSI. "Professionals at firms facing strong budgetary pressures may choose to participate in a group that has a direct association with their product line. For example, if your company makes dental products, you may become active in the American Dental Association to get the most bang for your buck."

Return on investment is even more important in difficult economic times. "Good business means not sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term gains," says Tobiason. "The right association will provide significant payback for your investment. To choose your ‘right' group, look at the association's record. What has it done? What does it offer? What do its members say?" Do your homework, she advises. "This is one investment that will definitely pay off."

Illustration by RICHARD GOLDBERG/Laughing Stock

Copyright ©2002 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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