Medical Device Salary Survey 2012: More Work, Fewer Perks for Medtech Employees

Salaries are stagnant, bonuses are down, and employees are working longer hours—welcome to the medical device job market in 2012.

Jamie Hartford 1

December 10, 2012

10 Min Read
Medical Device Salary Survey 2012: More Work, Fewer Perks for Medtech Employees

It has been a tough year for U.S. medtech companies, and employees are feeling the pain. Plagued by a sluggish economy and questions about healthcare reform, medical device and diagnostics manufacturers collectively laid off more than 5000 workers in 2012.

Those who managed to keep their jobs were not immune to the pressures facing the industry. MD+DI’s annual salary survey provides a clue as to how challenges—from the lagging effects of the recession to overall uncertainty—trickled down to employees across six job descriptions: general and corporate management, product design engineering, production and manufacturing, quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC), regulatory and legal affairs, and research and development (R&D).

This year’s data revealed that, like the devices they create, medtech employees are being asked to do more.

Slow Hiring 

Both sales and staffing are down at medical device and diagnostic companies this year. Median sales fell nearly a quarter from 2011, while the average number of full-time employees dropped 8.4% this year, according to our survey.

That’s not surprising, says Bob Jeffers, founder and CEO of Allen-Jeffers Associates Inc. (Laguna Niguel, CA), an employee placement firm that specializes in the medical device industry.  “The industry is contracting by and large,” he says. “There are a lot of demands put on it now that have not been in the past.”

Among those challenges are the struggling global economy, the healthcare market’s focus on cost containment, and healthcare reform in the United States, the world’s largest medical device market. No one knows how these factors will play out, and that uncertainty has not been good for the job market.


The survey sample of 1635 was selected in systematic, stratified fashion by UBM Canon and Readex Research from MD+DI’s domestic circulation in the categories of finished medical device manufacturers and/or in vitro diagnostic manufacturers, representing 27,058 recipients at the time of sample selection.

Data were collected via mail survey from July 17 to August 29, 2012.  The survey was closed for tabulation with 457 usable responses—a 28% response rate. As with any research, the results should be interpreted with the potential of nonresponse bias in mind. It is unknown how those who responded to the survey may be different from those who did not respond. In general, the higher the response rate, the lower the probability of estimation errors due to nonresponse, and thus the more stable the results.

The findings highlighted in this report are based on the 374 individuals who indicated they are involved in the industry and work full time in firms manufacturing finished medical devices and/or in vitro diagnostics, representing approximately 22,000 MD+DI recipients.

The margin of error for percentages based on 374 usable responses is ±5.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error for percentages based on smaller sample sizes will be larger.

“I think there’s a lot less hiring going on,” says Tom Johasky, general manager and president of executive search and recruitment firm Medical Device Recruiters (Fort Lauderdale, FL). He says he sees around 40% fewer job openings at medical device companies than he did before the recession.

Interestingly, despite the tough job market and recent layoffs in the industry, some employees seem to be optimistic about their job security. While two-thirds of our survey respondents said they feel about the same about their job security, 16% reported feeling a higher level of job security than they did 12 months ago—an increase of one percentage point over 2011. Likewise, the share who feel less secure about their jobs fell by two percentage points, to 16%. 

“It’s wishful thinking more than anything else,” Jeffers says. “Several major players have indicated that they’re not going to increase domestic operations or positions available, and they’re either going to have layoffs or attrition.”

Johasky agrees. “I think that maybe they’re hoping that a lot of the major layoffs and reductions are past them, and that they’ve lasted this long, and they’re hoping for the road ahead to be a lot rosier than it has been,” he says.

Longer Hours

When companies can make a hire, Johasky says many choose to bring back employees who were previously laid off. But some vacated positions are not being filled. “They’re not replacing people who have moved along or have been moved along, and they’re expecting to get the same amount of work out of a fewer number of employees,” he says.

There was evidence of that in the salary survey data. Respondents reported putting in a median of 50 hours of work per week, two more hours than last year. “The 40-hour work week in the medical device industry is a thing of the past,” Johasky says. “Because of economic conditions, companies are asking their employees to do a heck of a lot more than what they’ve ever done.” 

Though medtech companies are asking more of their employees, they don’t appear to be rewarding them with increased compensation. This year both median salary and median total compensation remained flat, at $100,000 and $120,000, respectively, according to our survey.

Respondents reported a median raise of 3%—the same as in 2011—but more employees than last year said they have not received a raise at all from their current employer. A lower percentage of respondents also reported receiving bonus compensation over the past year. While nearly two-thirds reported getting a bonus in 2011, just 58% said they got a bonus this year. The median amount of bonus compensation dropped as well, to $7500—down 20% from 2011. More than one-third of respondents said they did not receive a bonus over the past 12 months.

“Typically, bonuses are connected to the overall performance of the company, so if they are not generating a profit, no one receives bonuses,” says Cindy Johnson, CEO and president of Chozen Inc. (San Ramon, CA), a professional search firm specializing in the medical device industry.

Benefits have also suffered. A smaller percentage of employees reported receiving perks including health insurance, 401(k), stock options, educational benefits, and profit sharing. Jeffers says that could be a result of more employees striking out on their own. “There are more consultants now than there were in the past and more temporary workers than in the past, and as a result they have to pay for their own benefits or they don't’ have them,” he says.

Happy to Have a Job

Still, despite stagnant salaries, fewer raises, a decline in bonus compensation, and dwindling benefits, medtech employees seem to be more satisfied with their jobs. Job satisfaction ticked up almost 3% over 2011, and more than two-thirds of our survey respondents said they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” in their current positions. 

“They are seeing far too many of their coworkers being laid off, and they’re buckling down and keeping their heads low,” Johasky says. “They’re just happy to have a job and happy to have a paycheck, whereas five years ago they would be making a lot more noise.”

Important Links

Want more?  Download the full salary survey results, including data for each of the six job functions and the industry as a whole, for free. All you have to do is register.

Not surprisingly in this tough job market, fewer employees are trying to leave their current company. Employees actively looking for a new job or considering a job search are down five percentage points. 

The housing crisis could also be contributing to that, Johasky says. “Opportunities that are arising for some of these employees are going to require relocation,” he says. “But if they’re underwater on the value of their real estate, they have no choice but to stay where they are.”

That’s especially true because companies overall aren’t as inclined as they have been in the past to offer relocation assistance or signing bonuses, Johnson says. Some companies make an exception for executives, though, says John McLean, managing director for the central region and coleader of the life science practice at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer (Oak Brook, IL). He says some firms provide perks such as interim housing to lure executive hires who might be hesitant to relocate when housing prices still haven’t fully recovered in many parts of the country.

Where the Opportunities Are

While it might all sound like doom and gloom, there are bright spots in the medtech job market. Median salaries and median total compensation rose for employees working in production and manufacturing, QA/QC, regulatory and legal affairs, and general and corporate management roles this year, according to our survey. Only R&D and product design engineering jobs showed declines. 

At 14%, general and corporate management roles saw the biggest relative median salary increases. Production and manufacturing salaries grew by more than 7%, and QA/QC and regulatory affairs salaries increased by around 4%.

Segments of the industry expected to see strong job growth include cardiovascular, neurovascular, and orthopedics—“areas where the population is aging,” Jeffers says. Globalization in the industry has led to fewer domestic jobs in production and manufacturing, Jeffers says, but the experts agree that companies in the U.S. have a demand for professionals in regulatory affairs. 

“I think the [regulatory] microscope these past few years has been stronger in medical devices and diagnostics than in the past,” McLean says. “As a result, firms are ramping up their ability to be ahead of the curve in terms of regulatory issues and quality issues, and that drives the need for that particular role.”

The problem is finding candidates to fill those jobs. “I see that there is a great demand for those people, but I see a lack of people available and qualified to fill those positions,” Johasky says.

Employers typically look for candidates with at least 3–5 years of experience, Johnson says. But with older employees putting off retirement, there have been fewer opportunities for entry-level employees to get their feet wet in the industry. One-third of the medtech employees who responded to our salary survey are aged 55 or older, whereas just 5% are under 30 years old.

“You’ve gone through four years of flat or reverse growth, so it’s hard to find more people at lower levels to do the jobs that need to be done,” Johasky says.

Predictions for 2013

Some of the challenges the medical device and diagnostic industry faced this year show no signs of abating, and more are appearing on the horizon. One that will likely have an impact hiring and salaries is the 2.3% tax to be levied on medical device sales starting January 1, 2013. 

Industry leaders have said the tax will force them to slash R&D budgets, but that can’t last forever. “I think companies will be getting stronger back into R&D—that’s their life blood,” McLean says. “But how long it will take, I don’t know.”

 Others are also cautiously optimistic. “I anticipate steady growth,” Johnson says. “Nothing over the top, but if we can keep the same pace and not slip backwards, that is a good thing.” She predicts hiring will hold steady or increase slightly in 2013 but does not expect much change in compensation. 

Uncertainties with regard to the economy and healthcare reform continue to be barriers to job and salary growth in the industry.

“A lot depends on whether Obamacare stays as the rule and whether we fall off the fiscal cliff as may happen as of January 1,” Jeffers says. “The biggest problem is the unknown; money doesn’t like uncertainty.”

Some questions were put to rest with the results of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, and 2013 will bring more answers regarding how provisions of the Affordable Care Act will play out for medical device and diagnostic manufacturers. 

“We’re going to be turning the corner in terms of the certainty issue, and I think it will have a nice effect on the industry as whole,” McLean says.

Jamie Hartford is the managing editor of MD+DI.

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