If you’re someone who is in robotics medical device sales, you are right in the cusp of the future of medicine as you’re constantly dealing with things that the majority of people still don’t realize are possible. Things like robotics and augmented reality are what Valerie Davis deals with every day as a specialist in this cutting-edge field. If there is one thing she learned from her dynamic career in this fast-paced space, it’s that you need to learn something new every day if you are to thrive as a medical devices sales representative. Join in as she walks us through her dynamic journey in robotics medical device sales with Samuel Adenyika.
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We have another special guest and she goes by the name of Valerie Davis. Who is Valerie Davis? She is a mom, an outdoorswoman, and a family woman that happens to be a medical sales professional. She works in the space of augmented reality in orthopedics. Need I say more? I know your curiosity has been piqued. I know you are reading this and saying, “I want to know more about that augmented reality in orthopedics and how this woman is making these things happen.” This is going to be a treat to read. It’s so nice to bring cutting-edge technology to the forefront and share it with you all. Tune in, enjoy the episode, and as always, thank you for reading. I do hope you enjoy this interview.
Valerie, how are we doing?
I’m good. How about you?
I am fantastic. No complaints. Why don’t you tell the audience who you are and what you do?
My name is Valerie Davis. I’m working in the orthopedic space. I’m working on the technology integration side, so I’m working with any augmented reality, robotic, and technology integration that we have with joint replacements. It has been a passion of mine for a long time.
You can’t say augmented reality, joint replacement, virtual anything and not probably have piqued everyone’s interest right now that’s reading. Can you tell us what that space means and address it from someone that doesn’t even know the industry? They hear about things like, “I want to be a robotics medical device rep or I want to work with those goggles.” To give us a reality here, what’s the actual role, and what’s happening?
It’s evolving so quickly that it’s become such a standard in everything we do now, both in video games and technology for my kids and their schools, all the way up to surgery and training and remote telepresence options for people wanting to do more. One of the biggest things to learn is that augmented reality is something that’s augmenting the current reality that you’re seeing. The reality that you’re in, you’re not often some cartoon world where you’re not in the live space that’s in front of you.
You’re still able to see. That’s the standard. It’s a Microsoft HoloLens. There are a lot of different lenses out there that are allowing immersive touch into the world that you’re in currently. If somebody’s wearing a goggle, you can still see the table. You can still interact with everything with a screen, much like your phone or your TV superimposed over that live world.
Virtual reality, one of the standards, to drop a name, is Osso VR. Everybody’s heard of Osso VR that’s in the medical device space currently. They’re using an off-the-shelf model of the Oculus. It’s now rebranded as Meta. They’re using the goggles piece to immerse you into a world that is a digitized, very realistic fake world. You’re able to immerse yourself into training technology or real-life situations inside a world that exists in a goggle where you’re not interacting with the world around you.
In your position, you’re dealing with both or augmented?
We’re doing both. We are integrating augmented reality with live surgical cases. We do have training opportunities with our virtual reality and then robotics. The good old fashioned that feels now, even though it was new not too long ago, robotics, where you have a physical robot that’s interacting with the surgical space.
Let’s talk about the different sales reps in these spaces for those that are reading that either want to transition to something like this or they’re not even in the industry and they want to get into medical sales and they’ve always thought they’ve been drawn to robotics. There’s a sales rep that sells the actual device, the robot itself. Are there sales reps that sell the virtual equipment, like the goggles and things like that?
There are a lot of different spaces and ways to get into this world. There are capital reps. Those are people that historically would’ve sold hospitals or sold surgery centers. It’s the device itself, like a big robot, whatever disposables that go along with it, and items that might be used on a one-off case-by-case basis. As it’s evolved, I feel like you’re starting to see some overlap between people who maybe are doing with companies who have both.
They have a robotic piece or a capital expenditure piece and say a joint replacement. It’s the metal that goes into the patient. There’s starting to be some overlap there, but there’s still standalone a bit. Once you get into the augmented reality and the virtual reality space, it starts to become software-based. What happens is a company who maybe customizes solutions, so say we’ll use Osso VR because our current company uses it. We contact them or they contact us.
We decide that this is a system we would like to use to either train our reps or our surgeons and use it as a sales tool to demonstrate our procedures. They sell the product to us and then our clinical team works with their software and engineering team to develop the solution in tandem. We own the product and brand it as if it’s ours. There is a couple of different ways.
In terms of augmented reality and different solutions that are out there, bigger companies might be either purchasing smaller companies that have already developed augmented reality solutions or smaller companies are working as distributors for companies that already have products that exist. There are a lot of different avenues to work with, either a small company or a big company that can incorporate solutions into surgery and day-to-day operations.
From your position, you’re managing all of these different relationships?
I’m working on the integration of all of these technologies that we’re using into the field. We work with the distributor network, unlike some of the bigger companies that have a maybe direct-to-corporation set of reps that are selling. We work with multiple distributorships that have different things in their bag that they’re carrying on a day-to-day basis in different specialties. I work with them and with our internal team being fluent in all of the technology aspects that we have.
You were a rep once and now, you’re in a leadership position and you’re managing reps. You’re managing different departments within the company that are helping these reps. You’re managing everything that has to happen between the account and the rep and all the in-between. What would you say is the biggest difference as far as being a performer? Think back to when you were a rep and you were performing. Think to now and what performance looks like. What’s the biggest shift that you had to take on?
I feel like I’ve been doing this for a while. I got in obviously pretty early and back then, it was about mastering what the procedure was and covering that to the best of your ability. That scaled as you worked with either busier surgeons or busier areas or what your strengths were as a rep, but you were responsible for your performance.
You’re like, “If I have my day organized and my act together, then that’s what I’m responsible for.” Is my day-to-day going well? Once you start to scale up and get a bigger footprint that you’re managing or responsible for, you start to have to see the bigger picture and everybody’s day needs to be together or helping on a bigger scale. You’re helping more surgeons, more reps, more day-to-day, more geography, and making sure that those day-to-day operations are going on a bigger scale.
When you were a performing rep and you saw a rep that maybe, as you so eloquently put it, doesn’t have their stuff together, I’m sure you had some feelings and you had some thoughts on what issue differently and what have you. In your position now, has that changed?
It hasn’t changed. There are certainly people in general in life and we’ve all experienced the people who are more driven and the people who maybe are doing the least amount possible. Over the years that I’ve been doing this, I feel like the people who work harder are the ones that are still here. You start to phase out people. On the other side of that coin is as the pace starts to drop, maybe, for the people who were the grinders of the previous world, they maybe are getting into other avenues because maybe they’re getting paid more to do a little bit less finally. It’s a catch-22 in this industry.The people who work harder are the ones that are still here. Click To Tweet
Let’s go back because everybody wants to know. Take us back to college. You were about to enter the business market or the working market. Tell us what did you study in college? How about that?
I was pre-Med at Michigan State University. I did a Kinesiology Emphasis with Physiology because I didn’t want to Major in Biology and have to become a teacher or something like that. I didn’t see myself doing that long-term. In college, I worked in the Strength and Conditioning Department, so I worked with them. I trained on the football team, a meathead in the gym.
I’ve always come to the fitness and medical fork in my life and in my career. It is a precursor to orthopedics, which we’ve already alluded to I work in currently. From there, out of college, I couldn’t decide exactly what I wanted to do immediately. Do I go to PT school? Do I go to PA school? I needed to get some experience if I was going to go to PA school.
Clinically, I didn’t see myself going right into med school. I didn’t see myself continuing to work in the college athletic scene from a strength and conditioning perspective. It was fun and engaging at the time, but I didn’t see myself long-term. Everybody always asks you, “Do you see yourself in five years?” I’m like, “No. I’m not still doing this at the same place.” I took a little bit of what most people would see as a blip in my resumé. I had been bartending through college. The actual pays-the-bills job versus the internship hours in the weight room.
I used to house-sit for somebody that I worked with while she was down in the Caribbean doing business. I went down to Saint Croix, the US Virgin Islands, and got licensed in real estate. I worked as an assistant in Saint Croix, US Virgin Island. I learned a ton about finances. I grew up in Michigan, not in an affluent area. I was from a single-parent family. I didn’t learn about investing in that. It was great for me to get immersed in that immediately. From there with a small island culture, the word got out quickly that I used to work in fitness and in medicine.
By then, I was already an EMT and so I got recruited. The oil refinery down there needed EMTs that could work full-time. The way the island worked is like you were either a government employee working as an EMT or you could work for this refinery. You couldn’t do both. You could do part-time, but they needed full-time people.
I took a job as an EMT inside an oil refinery. Everybody always asks me if I was like on a rig, like out in the ocean. It was an on-land refinery. Extremely long story short, I worked as an EMT for a long time and got to do rescue, high angle rescue, confined space rescue, and cutting cars open. It was an exciting, fun way to do everything because while I was down there, I got to race for the triathlon team and in cycling. My combination of sports and medicine kept going. I came to my normal fitness medical fork and was like, “It’s time for me to either go to PA school or do what my next step is.”
That’s where medical sales came in.
Not quite. I got to give you one more step to understand how medical sales came. From there, I traveled to Seattle for a long time. Apparently, I only make big moves. Michigan, Saint Croix, Seattle. I had traveled there a lot. I had decided that I want to go to the University of Washington PA school. Most people, if you’ve researched PA school at all, you know that the cycle opens up in April every year. You have to take the test. You have to go through all of that.
I moved in April and established residency and got a job at an orthopedic practice for my athletic training background and all of that. I had experience, so I could do all the casting and the orthopedic tech job. I had a real job relevant, gaining clinical paid hours to get into PA school while that next cycle came around and I established residency.
That was on the East side of Seattle. I worked there for a year, got to jump into surgery, and got to learn a lot more about joint replacement. I got to be the gatekeeper for the reps coming in to talk to my surgeons. It was a 13-surgeon practice at the time and now it’s like 22 surgeons in practice. I was the gatekeeper for the reps. I became that and my surgeon did not like reps coming into his practice.
You got a whole flavor of reps.
I was the one that was giving them my cell phone number like, “You need to text me before you show up here because this is not going to happen.” I got to experience that coming in with DME, coming in with sports medicine, and coming in with that. I observed surgeries with one of the joint replacement surgeons and I was like, “Who’s this person telling the surgeon step by step what to do? I want to know more about this role.”
I started talking to the reps. I started talking to the Biomed reps. I started talking to Pacific Medical, which was the big DME rep at the time. They had a lot of sports medicine, allografts, and stuff like that. I started talking to all of them. I didn’t find the right fit right away because they were like, “You can be a DME rep. You can start here.” I’m like, “I’m a little past bringing ankle braces to the clinics,” and then enter MAKO Surgical.
One of the surgeons at my practice started doing MAKO cases. He had to commute to Seattle to do it because they were the only hospital that had a robot at the time. He was like, “Why don’t you check this out? Your clinical experience lines up with it. I know they’re hiring and go from there.” That was how I got my first shop with MAKO Surgical.
I escalated quickly because, at the time, they were looking for people that could sell the robot. Those people aren’t necessarily the right fit clinically to be in the OR and to help people learn about taking people through a range of motion, stressing the joints, and balancing only partial knees at the time and then eventually hip and then total knee.
How long ago was this?
That was December of 2011. January 2012 is when I started with that. It was a long time ago.
So much has happened since then. Give us your take on how challenging it is to get into this industry now from years ago to what you see now.
Fortunately, I had access to a lot of people, the reps. I feel like that part has stayed the same. That’s maybe the one piece that is easier. If you find fill-in-the-blank company rep X, Y, or Z and they seem personable on LinkedIn, they’re probably going to take a message from you. You can probably reach out. I encourage that. Just about anybody I’ve seen on your show is like, “Message me. Introduce me. Let me know if you heard from me.”
That’s an important step that maybe didn’t exist before. That’s one piece where I’ll say that maybe it was harder back then, but then now I would say that maybe it’s known more as a career path. It’s been glamorized across certain aspects as a, “Look at me. I’m in sales. Anybody can do it.” I’m not saying anybody can’t, but they’re sure competitive and doing it immediately out of college. That’s not the right fit for everybody.
Depending on the path, the company, and where you had, both in street credibility with surgeons, physicians, and busy physicians that you’re working with. Fast forward to that, access to physicians and getting into offices. Gone are the days that you show up at a scrub sink. Not that’s ever been my style because of my history and working in a practice and seeing what it looks like and seeing the, “Can you read the room? We are busy.”
That’s never been my style but gone are the days of taking the time to insert an awkward elevator pitch. That piece takes the right personality and knowing the right people. It takes a lot of grit to stay motivated and to understand that you need to grind a little bit before you’re going to get to the point where you’re making decisions about your own career. Be willing to move, to relocate, and to put in to move up.That's be willing to move, be willing to relocate, and be willing to put in the work to move up. Click To Tweet
Let’s jump back into history. You were a specialist for eight years.
It ebbed and flowed a little bit. Stryker acquired MAKO back in 2013. I started in Seattle. I relocated to Northern California prior to the acquisition due to some personnel changes and the amount of volume coming from Northern California. We couldn’t put somebody new here in terms of who was covering. I had already relocated to Northern California when Stryker acquired MAKO.
For me, that was a big culture change from MAKO to Stryker. It was fine. I still have great relationships with all my Stryker counterparts. I fit in. I fit into the bro culture. I fit into the polo shirt, bench press, and weight room culture and I love it. I love these guys, specifically Northern California. I absolutely love these guys and love working with them, but not everybody did. It was an interesting dynamic shift with the culture between MAKO and Stryker as it absorbed it.
There were two silos. When Stryker acquires people, they bring them in and then figure out how the organization’s going to work after. For us, there was a separate MAKO silo essentially, but I worked very collaboratively with my Northern California counterparts. I got absorbed in quickly because we didn’t want to risk losing me and me losing them and any disconnect. I became a rep essentially on paper, still managing the MAKO but also learning about the joint replacement side of the business manually because, at this point, I had no exposure to it.
The first ever joint I put in was robotic, which says a lot. I went back and forth working closely with my Stryker counterparts and then I took a manager position which was technically reporting back into the MAKO side of the business. I used that term loosely because it went back and forth a little bit. That was what was important for me to be having communication from the robotics division and then communicating that and working collaboratively with my management team here. I went back and forth between a clinical specialist, then a rep, and then a manager with direct reports that were clinically responsible for the robotic.
You have such a dynamic experience. You were allowed to do a lot of different roles. It makes sense how it led you to the leadership you’re in now. Talk to us a little bit about that. You’ve gotten to see a lot of the progression of what it means to be a medical sales rep, how you’re assisting the surgeons with devices like a robot. I was talking about this with someone. There’s always been this impression that as we continue, especially after COVID, there’s going to be a necessity for fewer reps. They’re not going to be needed.
I remember many years ago, they were saying that the reps were done by 2000 and then I heard that in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they were saying, “Reps are going to be done in the next five years.” Reps are still around, and if anything, the industry’s grown. From your position and all that you can see, maybe over the next ten years, what do you think is going to happen as far as the role of a medical device sales rep?
We’ve started to see it pre-COVID and COVID amplified the fact that we need to be less open to having entirely too many people in an operating room. That comes from a surgeon site visit all the way down to new reps training and going up. What’s closer to being gone are the days of senior rep expert selling, and junior rep box opener covering.
It almost reminds me of the Wizard of Oz where you have somebody that’s manning computer screens from a remote proctoring standpoint. Maybe you do have a junior rep or a new person who doesn’t know as much, but they have continuous access to somebody who can pipe into their room. Maybe that person who is the expert isn’t driving 2,500 miles a month grinding, getting to all the ORs for the ten minutes that they need to be in there to help the case go well.
I think that we’re there in the technology, allowing it with your proximity, your avail, your rods and cones, your AMA XpertEye. There are all these different companies that are doing all of these things that like are allowing exposure to that. I believe that’s where it’s headed. You can’t plug 20 years’ worth of experience into that new rep in 6 months and expect them to be ready to go and answer any surgeon’s question to get there.
You also don’t need those twenty years in a basic, straightforward joint case. You need that in your hinge case where you’re pasture learning. I feel like a combination of technology integration plus incentivizing the elder reps. I include myself in that, so nobody take offense. Incentivizing your elder reps to be more available via a call schedule or whatever it is to help get people through as that eye in the sky.
You see the future’s going to bring, maybe the number of reps will remain the same, but they’re going to have that much more support and this diverse array of support to make sure these things happen successfully as far as the cases.
We’re still in a weird spot with the hospital pushback on people but also their pushback in becoming fluent in things. It’s like, “We’ve set you up to be successful. All the implants are there. You don’t want us here anymore.” This is nothing against circulating nurses because some of the hospitals are so short-staffed that they have travelers. Maybe they don’t know the hospital they’re in. The dynamic there from a staffing perspective is that nobody wants to own that liability of something getting open. That’s why I don’t think the reps are gone. We do have the ability to not need Person A in the room anymore.
We have a couple of different people reading this. We have people that want to enter the industry. We have people that are currently in the industry and we have people that are leading the way like yourself. What’s one word of advice you’d give to those that want to enter the industry? Speak specifically to your field, which is medical device sales, robotics, and augmented reality. You’re doing all the cool stuff. To anyone that reads this and is thinking about the field, what’s a piece of advice you’d give them?
Be willing to research anything and everything. There are so many learning pathways. Every day, I still take some time to learn about what’s new and what’s coming out there. People who are younger now have grown up with a lot of technology that’s been on their faces. Be fluent in that. I don’t want to say everybody goes out and plays video games all the time, but I joke that my 6-year-old has been using a virtual reality headset since he was 5.Be willing to research anything and everything. There are so many learning pathways. Take some time every day to learn something new. Click To Tweet
That piece is important. Stay versatile in your education, both in medical procedures and knowledge. It’ll surprise you. I never in 1 million years thought I’d be doing any engineering and I won’t tell you that I’m an engineer. Troubleshooting robots in technology as it goes into surgery has been something that’s become a huge passion for me. I would say don’t close any of the doors. If something piques your interest in the medical field, in the medical device space, chances are you can find a way in.
For those that are in that are trying to excel in their careers, they’re thinking about their next five years, maybe even leadership, what would you advise them?
Don’t settle. It’s easy. At least I’ve seen there are a lot of unknowns in the world right now. It’s easy to maybe collect a paycheck and sit somewhere that doesn’t feel right for you. The growth happens in the uncomfortable. It feels a little uncomfortable where you’re stretching, starting to grow, and starting to hit those edges. That’s where the growth happens. That’s where you’re like, “Had I not done this. Had I not taken this chance.”
Take the leap. Take the interview. Take the conversation with somebody. We all get contacted a lot by recruiters and by stuff like that. There are some of them that have an opportunity that could be the right fit for you. If somebody’s reaching out, take the call, take the interview, take the chance and you’ll thank yourself for it. Your later self will.
Last question. There are all these resources out there. Our company has them too. What we’ve seen is that these positions have become so competitive. Even succeeding in your role has become competitive. Sometimes the company you work for, because they’re prioritizing whatever they’re prioritizing, people might not be getting the training they want. People that want to get into the industry are not able to understand all that’s required to get the position they want. What is your take on programs like ours that help you get into the industry and help you perform within the industry?
It’s important. I’ve referred a couple of people where I, as somebody who is in the industry, maybe can’t help. I don’t know much about pharma. I could probably find somebody that’s in pharma and message them on somebody’s behalf and introduce them. That does work. It’s so nice that there’s something that is organized and is a pathway to success for somebody who’s looking to get in versus a like plug and play. “We’ll work on your resumé and then good luck.”
You allow opportunities for even somebody like myself. I’m somebody who’s completely underutilized LinkedIn. I’m somebody who is going to put that on a bullet point for me. Understand that coaching is not what it used to be. Coaching is learning on your own time. I’ve made it a priority in my life to continue to reach out and be constantly striving for success so that I don’t get stagnant in my resumé, my career, and my knowledge of anything in life. You can constantly get better. These resources being available for new people and existing people is huge.
Valerie, this was great. Thank you so much for everything that you’ve shared with us in the audience. Are you ready for the lightning round?
Hit me with the lightning round. Let’s do it.
Four questions and your goal is to answer them within ten seconds. First question, what is the best book you’ve read in the last few months?
I reread The Go-Giver. I like that book.
That’s a classic. No more needs to be said. For anyone reading, if you haven’t read it, you better go read it. Simple as that. What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the last few months?
I’m bad about movies because I have two speeds. Go and sleep. I’m bad about this one. I’m going to get timed out on this one. I don’t think I’ve watched a movie in which I haven’t fallen asleep.
Is it bad that I don’t watch TV either?
No, this is good. You’re focused. If you got downtime, you’re reading, doing something active, or sleeping.
I’m usually a podcaster. I have to pick a kid’s movie because that’s probably the only thing that’s been on in the background because I have two kids. I apologize. I’m going to be bad about the movie one.
You’ve helped me add a new question to my arsenal. The question is, what is the best podcast you’ve listened to in the last few months?
I do have to give a shout-out to Jules on your show. I learned a lot more about a colleague that I didn’t even know and it was great to get to know her a little bit more. I listen to my trainer, which is the Boom Performance Podcast, and then Andy Frisella. I did 75 Hard, so I’m kind of on a kick here.
I jumped in and out of 75 Hard. I haven’t gone the full 75 days, so I’m going to be challenging myself again. I love getting into that. It works. Last two questions. What is the best meal you’ve had?
We were in Seattle and we got some amazing sushi with friends. We’re sitting on a patio overlooking Lake Washington and it was the right vibes. I’m usually a sushi person.
What is the best experience you’ve had?
Probably anything with my kids. One thing that’s super random, but I’ve been coaching hockey with my older son. I use the term coaching loosely because they’re young. It’s fun. Ice skating and being around the ice, sticks, hockey, and all of that. Honestly, it is the most freeing time. As a medical device person and as a high-energy person who’s doing a lot anyway, I have to put my phone down, ice skate, and get to do that. It may sound simple or cheesy to some people, but they look at me like I’m crazy because I have this ear-to-ear grin every night I’m on the ice. It’s so much fun. It’s cheesy, but it’s me. It’s real.
I’m curious. When you’re not working and not with the kids, what fun things are you doing with your free time?
I’m with the kids a lot. It’s a balance. Jules referenced a balancing act between the kids with her husband. That resonated with me big time because my husband is also military. We have a balancing act as well. I would say ice skating. I’m pretty active. You’d see my gym and my Peloton treadmill. I’m pretty much active being outside, getting to the mountains. It’s pretty easy for us to jump over to Tahoe or to Truckee, and be in the mountains. We have a little camper. Get outside. Make sure you’re enjoying it.
Valerie, it was wonderful having you on the show. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We look forward to hearing more from you. Thank you for being on the show.
That was Valerie Davis taking us into the world of augmented reality orthopedics. Fascinating stuff. Some of you might be reading this, thinking to yourselves, “This is the career I want to have.” Don’t wonder. Don’t wish. Don’t hope. Take action and go to EvolveYourSuccess.com, select Attain Medical Sales Role, fill out our application, and let’s have a conversation and get you into one of these positions.
These types of careers are meant to be lived. One of the reasons why we do these episodes is because we want to show the world what medical sales really mean. What lifestyles are people having? What careers are people enjoying? What technology are people getting in front of? What impact are people making? One thing that’s very important to us is helping all of our readers experience this if they so desire. Make it easy for yourself.
If someone is looking to get into the industry or looking to make a transition, visit EvolveYourSuccess.com, select Attain A Medical Sales Role, fill out that application, and have a conversation with someone from the team. As always, we do our best to bring you innovative guests that are doing things a little differently, setting the example, trailblazing, pioneering, and experiencing things that we can only dream of, and this is what we do here at the show. Make sure you tune in next time for another episode.
Val Davis is a tenured medical device pro/technology fanatic in orthopedics! She’s a Mom and outdoor activity junkie living in Napa with her husband and two boys, a menagerie of bicycles and all the craziness that goes with it.
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