Sometimes it's a good thing when the news is so similar to that of previous years that it sounds like a broken record. Once again, the medical device industry is showing strong growth in job creation and compensation. Opportunities are widely available, and strong performers are taking advantage of them. That's the picture that emerges from the results of MD&DI's annual salary survey and from interviews with corporate recruiters that specialize in the medical device industry. Consider these assessments:
“There are definitely more openings compared with last year,” says Joseph Mullings, president and CEO of the Mullings Group (Delray Beach, FL). “The dollars are starting to flow.”
“The biggest problem in the medical device marketplace is that there are plenty of job openings but limited [qualified] candidate availability,” says Ron Herzog, president of FPC National (New York City). “The candidates that are getting offers are getting multiple offers, and when making offers, companies seem to be taking their time in making their decisions. The best candidates are getting better salaries, sign-on bonuses, stock options, and if they're willing, good relocation packages.”
“The market is as good as I've seen it,” says Dan Murray, owner of Medical Search (Michigan City, IN). “It was really good a year ago and it's probably even stronger now.”
Contributing to the robust market is the lack of candidates—62% of the survey's 494 respondents said they are not considering a new job, and only 8% said they are actively looking. And contributing to the lack of candidates may be the high levels of job satisfaction found in the survey results. Only 9% of respondents said they are somewhat or very dissatisfied with their current position. By contrast, 68% said they were very or somewhat satisfied, and 22% were neutral.
High Demand, Low Supply
However, for a number of reasons, there are a lot of positions that need to be filled, and the nature of the industry requires that they be filled with people who are highly capable.
“The big companies are finally expanding into other areas,” says Mullings. “The big device companies had been putting so much money into stents and other top-selling cardiovascular products. Now that those have played out, bigger companies need to look to projects in areas such as OB/GYN that have not been as much of a focus. That means they need people with expertise in those areas. And there are long-term opportunities at smaller companies. If there is real value in their technology, we are seeing them go to IPOs. That wasn't happening a few years ago. And that means they need to bring in people for the long run.”
“There are lots of start-up medical device companies receiving funding right now, and they are looking within the industry for expertise that will make their enterprises more valuable,” says Roger Brooks, president of Leading Edge Medical Service (Boulder, CO). “As long as you have good ideas, there is money available.”
Regulatory Skills Are Coveted
Of all the medical industry professions showing salary growth and providing strong opportunities, regulatory affairs professionals are doing particularly well. Among respondents to the MD&DI survey, those in regulatory and legal affairs earn more than those in any other industry profession except general and corporate management. This has also been borne out by a compensation study conducted for the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS; Rockville, MD). Among other trends, it showed that base salaries for U.S. regulatory professionals rose 9.8% from 2003 to 2006, compared with 7.6% for other U.S. workers over the same time period. The publicly released portion of the study does not isolate device professionals from those in other FDA-regulated industries, but a RAPS spokesperson says that there is virtually no difference among the industries.
“For qualified regulatory people, especially those with knowledge of science and engineering, quality, or business, their combination of skills is well compensated,” says Sherry Keramidas, PhD, CAE, executive director of RAPS. “In looking at trends over the past 10–12 years, we are seeing an expansion of the scope of practice. Not only does that mean regulatory professionals are working on multiple product lines, but also that they have greater involvement through the preclinical, clinical, and postmarket compliance stages. Some have responsibilities that even stretch into reimbursement. So they are playing a greater role in regulatory strategy and business strategy. There is definitely an increased understanding of all that the regulatory professional brings to the organization, and that may be contributing to the positive salary trends.”
Mullings and Brooks agree and believe the same trend applies to those in the clinical field.
“Regulatory and clinical professionals are getting very, very favorable offers,” says Mullings. “I've worked with many candidates in those fields who have had to sort out multiple offers. There are not as many good ones out there as there are in other professions. The reason is that candidates don't pop up in the job marketplace often. They want to see a PMA application or a clinical trial through before looking for something else. They feel an ownership of those processes. They only poke their head up in the market when in between products. That drives demand up and causes a bump in the pay structure.”
“The characteristics in highest demand are people with experience in the clinical and regulatory functions who have worked on PMA-track devices, especially implantables,” says Brooks. “There has been significant growth within organizations that are developing new implantable therapies to treat cardiovascular and neurological disorders.”
Other Professions with Promise
Certain kinds of technical jobs are also in high demand, leading to higher offers for those with the right skills, says Ted Ginsburg, consulting principal of Top Five (Cleveland).
“We do a lot of work with companies involved in laser eye surgery and we're seeing it there,” he says. “It seems that the technicians who service and work the equipment are in high demand, and their price is going up.”
Murray notices that “a number of companies are looking for a very defined type of engineer—someone who has at least two or three years of hands-on experience in the industry with something like a Solidworks design background. If I had 10 of them, I could place all 10. They are in high demand and are rare.”
And Ron Cassie, president of the Cassie-Shipherd Group (Toms River, NJ), says his firm has seen significant demand from device companies for business development, sales, and marketing personnel. “If you've gotten into the $5 million– $15 million [annual sales] range, you've got to start offering broader services to customers,” he says. “And a lot of young companies are starting to cross that threshold.”
When people do decide to make the jump to a new job, says Herzog, “it has more to do with career opportunities than being motivated by money. I also find that a lot of people are looking for a better quality of life. Money is probably third on the list of priorities.”
Sometimes a move has to do with necessity, Murray says. “From year to year, there are a number of companies that fail or have cutbacks,” he says. “And some people feel limited where they are. They may want new responsibilities or to work with a different technology. Or they may not get along with someone in management; that's no different from anywhere else.”
But the vast majority of the MD&DI survey respondents feel secure in their jobs. Of 494 respondents, 16% said they feel more secure in their job than they did a year ago, and 70% said they feel equally secure. (The rest feel less secure or did not answer the question.)
Although companies in all of industry's geographic hotbeds are hiring at a healthy rate, some regions are particularly active, recruiters say.
“New England is as good as I've seen it,” says Mullings. “The main reason for that is that there has been a huge exodus from Boston Scientific as a result of the less-than-intelligent acquisition of Guidant. That's opened up hiring for small growth companies in the New England area. California's Bay Area is also seeing quite a bit of hiring, now that venture capital has come back to life sciences again.”
“Southern California has really come back,” adds Cassie. “It was really down in terms of industry hiring for about three or four years, but it's come back strong in the last two.”
Changes in financial accounting have begun to play a role in device companies' hiring decisions, forcing some of them to get creative to land the people they want.
“One thing I think will play out in the future is something related to Sarbanes-Oxley that will change the hiring environment with publicly traded companies regarding the level of stock-option grants they are able to give,” says Brooks. “Privately held companies could offer more-significant stock options, which could steer more talent to private companies and start-ups. Public companies can't compete on the same level right now.”
Another compensation factor, says Ginsburg, is that some companies are starting to replace stock options with restricted stock as a result of an accounting rule change called FAS123R. The change means that options must be counted as expenses as soon as an executive has the ability to exercise them, not as soon as he or she actually exercises them.
Not just anyone can become a professional in the medical device industry. The stakes are too high and the risks too great for the important jobs to be left to those who aren't qualified. The market recognizes this and rewards accordingly. And in times like these when the economy is healthy, corporate profits are up, and venture capital money is flowing, the rewards are quite handsome indeed.
A copy of the full MD&DI Salary Survey is available. It contains tabular breakdowns for the industry as a whole and previously unpublished tabular breakdowns for the seven surveyed job functions.
Copies cost $150 each. For more information or to place an order, contact the MD&DI editors at 310/445-4200, fax 310/445-4269, or by e-mail at [email protected].
Salary Survey Categories
- General and Corporate Management
- Sales and Marketing
- Product Design Engineering
- Production and Manufacturing
- Quality Assurance and Quality Control
- Regulatory and Legal Affairs
- Research and Development