It has been 5 years since I turned in my pager — a staple for every cath and EP lab tech, and one which I carried for almost 15 years. It has been 5 years since I last had to figure out a holiday call schedule, worry about ACC data collection, wonder I correctly scanned in my inventory from my case, or make sure that the ever-important patient satisfaction survey was on the chart. It has also been 5 years since I left my job at a cath lab for a job as a rep. I had spent years saying I’d never do that. I held the opinion that people who make that transition tend be chasing money rather than what truly should be the focus of healthcare — the care of the patient.
So what changed? The biggest drive for me was the thought of using my experience working in the lab in a completely different way. The idea of being challenged professionally was intriguing. I had other friends and colleagues that made the same move, and while they shared their struggles, none of them regretted it.
Over these last 5 years, I have been asked a number of questions about making the move from the lab to industry. If I could offer a few tips to those out there considering making the move from the lab, it would be the following:
#1: Higher Education
Almost all industry jobs require or strongly prefer a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. Some are even moving to a Master’s degree as preference. There are numerous post-B.S. degree schools that are preparing students without lab experience for jobs with device companies, and those students come to the field with high levels of education. Therefore, enroll in classes for a Bachelor’s degree — most hospitals will help pay part of the tuition. Classes can be taken online or in the evenings, so you can still work. I attended night school as part of an adult graduate studies program. It was difficult, but I completed it, and so can you! (My two kids were in elementary school when I graduated, so my advice to the working parents out there is that it can be done!)
#2: Engage Your Local Reps
Many reps or vendors who work in teams are often asked about potential new candidates from their boss. If you show an interest to reps, show your potential in being a viable candidate. The next time that company is hiring, those local reps will likely advocate for you.
#3: Take Part in Educational Offerings by the Company You Want to Work For
There is nothing more encouraging than seeing a possible candidate for a new job who is looking to expand their knowledge in their field. By contrast, there is nothing more frustrating than having a possible candidate for a new job ask about possible positions at your company, and then say they won’t come to a Saturday morning education session because “they don’t get paid for that.” Most reps are salary and aren’t necessarily receiving compensation for teaching a class on the weekend. It’s about the passion we have for educating others and about our field that drives us to offer these. If you don’t share that same passion, you may not be right for the team.
#4: Be Prepared for Your Role Changes More Than You Think
After 15 years in the lab, I am proud to have worked with and on some of the best teams out there. I loved that team dynamic. Moving to industry, I am still a part of a team; however, the level of autonomy within that team was not something I was prepared for. In my previous role in the lab, we all ate lunch, shared daily experiences, and shared personal and professional successes (and failures) together. Now, most of my team interactions are via texts, conference calls, or emails. That shift in team dynamic was not something I was prepared for, and was a struggle for me. Being an outsider is an unfortunate but necessary part of transitioning out of the lab. The other aspect of your role changing within the lab is during the procedure. Your focus is different. The best example I can give was the first time a patient coded during a procedure I was supporting. Watching the staff performing CPR and running for equipment and drugs, I felt completely useless knowing I could help, but was not permitted to. That change was another struggle for me, and also not something I was entirely prepared for.
#5: Think About Your Actions in the Lab with the Physicians
Electrophysiologists run the entire spectrum of personalities. Some are easier to work with than others. As reps, those physicians are our customers. While in the lab, think about your interactions with your physicians — are they positive or negative? Are you able to deal with difficult doctors, or do you shy away from that kind of challenging situation? Industry jobs are heavily reliant on building professional relationships with all physicians. If you are able to deal with a variety of personalities, you will likely be more successful in industry.
There are more things I could add here, and I’m sure others who have made a similar switch could add their experience as well. It is my hope that this brief list will at least spur meaningful thought and conversation for those considering this career path. As for me, it was a choice I never considered and also never regretted!