Careers in Medical Device Manufacturing and Supply Chain Administration
It’s fair to say that most of the world didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the intricacies of facemasks until the airborne SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged from the wet markets of Wuhan and suddenly made the mask you either were or weren’t breathing through a matter of global importance.
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t understand what an N-95 respirator is or why they are so vital to the healthcare community. One Maryland hospital that put $600,000 into PPE in 2019 is on track to drop $10 million on equipment for 2020. That kind of burst capacity, multiplied by thousands of facilities around the globe, doesn’t come easily. But in most cases, not even the doctors and nurses who wear that PPE every day fully understand the heroic efforts that medical supply manufacturers have gone through to get that equipment in the hands of the healthcare workers who need it.
But Peter Tsai, the retired materials scientist who invented the medium that makes the N-95 effective, does. With the medical device industry up against the ropes, Tsai and other dedicated engineers, scientists, and administrators suited up and launched unprecedented efforts to make more masks, find safe ways to decontaminate supposedly disposable PPE, and keep everyone on the production floor and supply chain safe while working 20-hour days along the way.
The medical device sector is involved in a lot more than just disposable masks, gloves and gowns. Everything from tongue depressors to oxygen cylinders to programmable pacemakers to artificial joints and multi-million dollar diagnostic equipment fall within the broad classification for medical devices. All of it rolls out of factories and warehouses every day to be distributed in precise quantities to clinics and hospitals in every corner of the country.
And with new breakthroughs in technology coming all the time, with the big healthcare demands of an aging population and a shortage of primary care providers, that technology will be expected to create efficiencies and treatment options that will fill the gap.
It’s a big industry, with a lot of dollar signs attached… Fitch Solutions forecasts that the compound annual growth rate in the medical device market will hit almost 5 percent, generating more than $200 billion by 2023.
Experienced and expert executives and administrators will have to shepherd that market to maturity, dealing with complicated factors like FDA regulations and approval processes and the suddenly shaky arrangement of overseas supply chains. The field is ripe for innovation, and management careers at medical device manufacturers and logistics companies are set to pay off big-time for those getting into them soon.
COVID-19 may be heading toward the rearview mirror, but medical supply and equipment manufacturers are going to be as busy as ever even after the emergency recedes.
What Administration Jobs With Medical Device Suppliers Look Like
Although administrators working at medical device manufacturers may be just as dedicated to creating better patient outcomes, and happier and healthier populations in general, there’s no question that this side of the healthcare industry is primarily a business. And that very fact helps make sure the ball always gets carried deep into the endzone. There are no non-profits and no government agencies at work here. The profit motive is the primary one, because without it, there’s no business at all.
That means that managers in medical device companies handle many of the same tasks, in the same ways, that managers do in any commercial operation. You can find jobs in:
- Finance and Accounting
- Human Resources
- Research and Development
- Operations and Manufacturing
- Information Technology
- Compliance and Risk Analysis
As with any management job, you’ll spend the great majority of your time reading or producing reports, absorbing information and making plans, and unsnarling all the complicated problems that can only be solved at the administrative level. It’s all part of the process while leading and directing your team to accomplish departmental and organizational goals.
It’s the kind of job that involves spending a lot of hours on written communication, reading and writing e-mail, or out in meetings with either your staff or managers from other departments. In the end, it all falls to you to figure everything out and keep the lines open between managers working directly in the healthcare organizations you supply, your own staff, and with both your own upstream suppliers and any logistics companies you contract with downstream in that final step when clients take delivery and confirm it’s all there.
The Degree You Need For a Career in Medical Device Manufacturer Administration
Because of the business focus, it’s easier in this segment of the healthcare market than any other to get a job and establish a thriving career with only a business administration degree. You certainly need to understand the regulatory aspects of the medical industry, and have a solid grasp of the economics and needs of the healthcare systems you serve. But many aspects of the average medical supply company don’t look a whole lot different than any manufacturing or distribution company. That can make a bachelor’s or master’s in business administration a viable option whether you have some healthcare experience in your background or not.
To give yourself the best chances of landing one of those jobs, you definitely need a first-rate business education, but with a good dose of healthcare administration training in there too.
This could mean either going with a business admin degree, namely an MBA, with a concentration in healthcare administration… or a healthcare administration degree, namely an MHA, with a focus in finance or with another relevant business concentration. The choice you make between the two will ultimately reflect the strengths you bring, whether that’s a decidedly business-centered approach or one that leans more toward healthcare concerns. In either scenario, you get a curriculum that offers some blend of coursework that helps you connect the work you do with what clinicians and patients end up experiencing, along with all the core business courses you need to confidently step into a leadership role.
The gears of the medical supply industry turn at every level, from the top-floor executive suites down to the front-desk receptionist. That means there are jobs available at every level of education in the industry, from a basic two-year associate degree all the way up to big-brained master’s and doctoral studies.
Undergraduate Degrees for a Career in Medical Device Manufacturer Administration
Two-year associate programs are the ground floor credential required for staff work in medical device company administration. With the kind of essential accounting, communications, English, and business concepts you need for a foundation in any kind of general business work, you’ll be qualified for foot-in-the door entry-level positions with a medical device manufacturing or logistics firm. And most associate degrees are also designed to be used as the first half of a longer bachelor’s program, through transferability to four-year universities. You’ll want to check with the school you intend to transfer to in order to make sure a clear transfer agreement exists that will allow all of your associate credits to be accepted.
At the bachelor’s level is where the ball really gets rolling for device manufacturer administration careers. A four-year degree will give you the credentials you need to be able to compete for mid-level management positions in the industry.
That’s because these degrees include not only business administration and leadership concepts, with a dash of healthcare industry training, but also work hard to develop your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
It’s a degree that gets you ready for crucial management positions, where all the hard problems end up on your desk—someone filled out your FDA 483 factory inspection form wrong? Guess who gets to apologize to the Feds and figure it out. Yep… that’s you. So your problem-solving and people skills will have to be on-point on top of the managerial talent you’ll be expected to bring with you.
You’ll have courses well outside your major area, but those required liberal arts classes offer the kind of well-rounded education that hiring managers like to see in new hires with real leadership potential.
Advanced Degrees for a Career in Medical Device Manufacturer Administration
All the top executive and C-suite positions at any major medical supplier, and many smaller ones, are going to be filled with people who have master’s degrees or higher… MBAs or MHAs for the most part, but also those with degrees in finance, accounting, HR, or other specialized subjects depending on the department. Of course, few degrees are better tailored to fit this kind of job than an MBA with a concentration in health and medical services management or similar focus.
The most advanced may have exotic degrees like the DHA (Doctor of Healthcare Administration)—not a medical doctorate, but instead a business and healthcare management focused three-year program that represents some of the most in-depth study and cutting-edge applied research in the field.
Master’s programs typically take two-years and also involve original research and some degree of self-directed study… you will pick a thesis topic or capstone project area in which to demonstrate the skills you have absorbed over the course of the program, exemplified in a publishable paper or real-world business project sure to impress potential employers.
Specialty Accreditation Considerations for College Degrees for Medical Device Manufacturer Administration
All of these different types of degrees do have something in common: they involve fairly specialized areas of study, ones that have their own standards in the business and healthcare community.
That means picking a school with just a basic general accreditation isn’t really good enough. Although that general accreditation, offered by one of the seven different regional entities recognized by the Department of Education, is a large part of what makes American colleges reliable and respected worldwide, it doesn’t dive into the details of specific programs in business or healthcare administration, the ones that medical device manufacturers and suppliers care about.
For that, you will need to explore programs that have achieved accreditation from specialty, programmatic accreditors that look at individual programs, not just the school as a whole.
If you decide that BBA, MBA or other undergrad or graduate level business degree from the prestigious business school you’ve had your eye on is the only thing that will do, it’s wise to make sure it holds accreditation from one of these three agencies:
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
- International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE)
- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
If the MHA is what you’re after, then there’s only one true accreditor you need to consider, though another agency is also in the mix, certifying health administration degrees that are up to their standard:
- Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) (only healthcare programs; only master’s degrees)
- Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) (only healthcare programs; technically not accreditation; offers certification, without a site visit)
Each of them has the expertise and goes the extra mile to ensure that the curriculum, instructors, resources, and professional networks those programs have in place line up with the expectations of the healthcare and business community for graduates.
Why an Online Program Could Be the Best Choice
There are still a lot of traditional degree programs in every field that are offered in old-school, on-campus formats, but since COVID-19 swept across the world, even many of those have begun offering some of the curriculum online.
Whether or not going all-in on the online experience is right for you really depends on you as an individual, and how you prefer to learn, not to mention your scheduling needs. Online programs have become every bit the equal of traditional ones in terms of the quality of the education you get and the student experience you come away with… and they are head and shoulders above on-campus options when it comes to flexibility, and sometimes even cost.
That’s because online programs are often available in asynchronous formats, which allow you to time-shift your classes to any hour of the day or night. For some people, that’s a huge convenience; for others, especially master’s students who are still holding down a regular job while going to school, it’s a feature that can make earning a degree a reality even under circumstances that would otherwise make it impossible.
Simply not having to move to be close to your school also really opens up your potential. You can pick the best program, the one that suits your financial situation and personal learning goals, without regard to where it happens to be located and what the cost of living or relocation might be. Even degrees that do include some element of on campus work, called hybrid programs, often compress it into a weekend per semester or an intensive week per year, to keep you from having to grind out a daily commute.
Career Outlook and Salaries in the Medical Device Manufacturing Industry
As goes the healthcare industry, so goes the prospects of medical device manufacturers and suppliers. It’s a trickle-down effect, with overall patient demand translating into demand for an estimated 4 million new jobs in the sector by 2026 according to a report published by consulting firm Deloitte in 2020.
Deloitte sees outsourcing and care model innovation as critical to keeping the healthcare industry from becoming overwhelmed by the growing demand for services, and names the exact areas where medical suppliers happen to be key innovators as being part of that solution: medical devices and wearables, external device authentication, and telemedicine are all named among the top five areas of opportunity for healthcare organizations. That means in the coming years, medical device companies will be solving efficiency problems that no one even expected them to.
For healthcare managers working in the medical device industry, that ability to solve problems translates into an estimated 32 percent job growth rate in the ten-year period leading up to 2029.
BLS data from 2019 is also clear about the highest paying industries for those positions. Three of the top five slots for salaries in the BLS category for health services management professionals are in medical supply and manufacturing:
- Scientific Research and Development Services – $169,240
- Wholesale Electronic Markets – $162,880
- Electromedical and Control Instruments Manufacturing – $159,910
Of course, healthcare managers are not the only ones bringing home big paychecks in these organizations. Robert Half’s 2020 Administrative Salary Guide lists typical 2020 pay rates for average, experienced, and advanced professionals in a variety of common positions at medical supply firms:
- Customer Service Manager
- Median – $47,000
- More Experienced – $54,750
- Most Experienced – $69,750
- Provider Relations Specialist
- Median – $37,000
- More Experienced – $42,250
- Most Experienced – $49,000
- Facilities Manager
- Median – $63,250
- More Experienced – $72,500
- Most Experienced – $92,250
Working your way up the ladder gets a lot easier once you get some experience in the industry, so many senior executives start off in such positions before going back to school and heading for the C-suite.
It’s a lucrative career path for anyone who enjoys working in the fast-paced healthcare industry, but who prefers the regularity of a traditional business environment over the blood and body fluids of the hospital floor.