Whether as a clinical specialist or support manager, your determination and passion will lead you to greatness. Seize the chance to make a difference in patients’ lives, and let your journey inspire others to reach for the stars. In this episode, Lejla Sarajlic, Director of Marketing, Lung Cancer, takes us on her incredible journey from being a clinical specialist to reaching the pinnacle of her career in medical sales. In the spirit of World Lung Cancer Day, Lejla talks about her role as a Clinical Support Manager and what it takes to excel in this dynamic industry. She discusses her first-hand experience rising through the ranks of the industry. Lejla discusses how to break into the medical sales world without a sales background, proving that with determination and the right strategy, you can land your dream role as a clinical specialist or support manager. If you’re someone who’s exploring medical sales avenues but needs some help getting started, then this episode is for you.
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How To Become A Lung Cancer Clinical Specialist With Lejla Sarajlic
In this episode, we have with us another special guest. She goes by the name of Lejla. This is a very timely episode because, in the spirit of World Lung Cancer Day, I couldn’t have had a better guest than Lejla to explain her role and what it means to be someone who wants to work in the clinical support manager role at an organization in medical sales. I’m not going to spoil the episode. You’re going to have to read. As always, we do our best to bring you guests who are doing innovative things in the medical sales space. I do hope you enjoy this interview.
Lejla, how are you?
I am doing well. What about you?
I’m fantastic. No complaints. Why don’t you tell the audience who you are and what you do?
Of course. My name is Lejla Sarajlic. Specifically, I focus on the lung cancer sector of our business. My portfolio covers technologies that are used to both diagnose and treat lung cancer. I don’t know how much the audience here knows about lung cancer, but it starts as a small nodule out in the periphery of the lung. As it grows and spreads, it gets into the lymph nodes of the patient’s body.
In order to be able to effectively provide treatment to that patient, you have to get tissue from both the lymph node and the lung. In the business that I’m in, we sell both the capital equipment and the disposable devices to drive out to that area of the lung and effectively sample that tissue. It is so that we can provide treatment and hopefully, help stage shift and save that patient’s life.
Give us a little bit about your role. The majority of our audience are sales reps or people who want to be sales reps, but I would even say clinical specialists, which you’ve been. What’s your role in connection with the sales team?
I started out several years ago in a clinical support role. It was specifically focused on research. I was traveling probably 80% of the time all over the country. I was starting new programs at hospitals. I was installing the equipment that we had. At the time, it was thoracic navigation. I installed the equipment, trained all of the staff, and did initial procedures and it was all for research purposes. It was at those big academic institutions running those clinical trials.
From there, I decided to go ahead and move into training. I had such a big passion for training not only the external customers we had, our physicians and staff, but also internally, which are our sales reps. As part of the training, I got a chance to touch each and every sales rep within the organization. I developed a curriculum to help make sure that they were able to succeed throughout their new-hire training.
Fast forward, I’m in marketing. Honestly, marketing and sales work hand in hand every single day. Without sales, there would be no marketing. As part of marketing, I help set strategies that drive what sales do day in and day out. We have a revenue number that is our target for the year for the sales reps to meet. It’s marketing’s responsibility to develop those strategies that help drive those sales reps to make sure that not only do they hit their number, but they surpass it through organic growth as well. Every single day, I touch base with sales reps and the regional vice presidents to ensure that we remain in communication and collaborate towards the same goal.
It’s a very expansive role. Let’s dial it back to when you started. For a lot of our audience, it’s good for them to see everything because they have ambitions. To see someone start off as a clinical specialist and climb the ladder, everybody needs to know that’s possible. Let’s go back to the clinical specialist. Let’s talk about what’s the difference between a clinical support manager and an associate sales rep. Shed some light on what those differences are for our audience.
As a clinical support specialist, what we did at the company I was at, which was a startup medical device company, was we had a team that was based out of St. Louis and that team helped cover installations and evaluations. If there was a new product that was launching, we would help support that as well. We worked hand in hand with the sales reps in the field. We have capital reps and disposable reps that are regionally located within the country. We would communicate with those reps. When they needed a clinical expert there, we would attend and help them run that initial procedure, evaluation, and installation.
The clinical support team is a great place to start because you become the clinical expert of the product. You are not so focused on selling strategies. You’re part of the team that sells because without you, they can’t do what they do in their day-to-day, but you are more focused on the product itself. You make sure that it functions appropriately. You make sure that you support the staff during the procedure. Customer support is the best way that I would phrase it. It’s a great place to start. You learn about the industry and the product. You get a chance to see a little bit of what sales is about. From there, you make a decision about whether that is the right place for you to take your next step.
Talk to us a little bit about as a clinical specialist, what your day-to-day looks like. How is it different from what a sales rep does?
As a clinical specialist, every day was a little bit different because you had to be flexible. When I took that role on, mind you, I was fresh out of my Master’s program. I was single and was ready to travel. I was on the road about 80% of the time. I was living out of a suitcase. I left for the week on either Sunday or first thing Monday and came back either Friday night or Saturday morning. I did my laundry, repacked, and did it all over again.
I would remember specifically getting calls from a manager while I was in the airport saying, “This case canceled. I need you to go somewhere else.” This was a clinical support specialist for the entire country, so you didn’t have a region. You had to be ready to make adjustments as needed. Me being a planner and a control freak, that was initially very difficult to get used to. I didn’t know if that would be the right fit, but as soon as I gave it a try, I loved it.
I got a chance to meet people from all over and build my network. I have still amazing mentors from all over the country through that role specifically. It allowed me from there to figure out what the right next move would be for me. For somebody who’s looking to get into sales, that would be a great place to start because your day-to-day can vary depending on what industry you’re in. That’s one part of the role. The other part of the role is we would rotate and take customer support calls in the office as well. Probably about a week or a month, we would do that and the other three weeks, we would be on the road rotating, covering those cases.Your day-to-day can vary depending on what industry you're in, essentially. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk about customer X. You’re there for utilization. You’re there driving the use of the products. You still have your sales rep. Problems happen. I’m assuming the customers go to you first before they go to the sales rep, but they go to both of you. How does that work?
We had two different applications. We still have the same route of communication at the company I’m at. We have a phone number for the customer to call that gives or leads them directly to the customer support team, which would be the clinical support specialist. There’s that avenue. We would give accounts little iPads that they could use to call for virtual support and it would go straight to that clinical support team that was based out of the home office. Customers would naturally go towards that avenue prior to calling the sales rep.
With that type of protection, for lack of a better word, that’s what you guys were then. You guys were the protector for the sales team because they can focus on getting the business and you guys are managing all customer issues whatsoever.
That’s correct. The best part about it is the home office team, we communicated on a regular basis. We knew all the issues that would come in so we would be able to quickly resolve whatever the customer was asking about. As opposed to if they called the sales rep, they would probably go through multiple avenues to get to them.
That is awesome. Let’s talk about this first. What makes an amazing clinical specialist from your perspective? Feel free to give it to us from even your expanded perspective because you’re pretty far removed from that. Give us the top three things that make an amazing clinical specialist.
First of all, you have to be flexible. I know I mentioned that from the get-go, but your day-to-day will change and you have to be okay with that. That’s one thing. You have to be a good communicator. A big part of a clinical specialist’s role is education and training. If you are not able to explain the product effectively to a customer from beginning to end, then the role may not be for you. It’s about taking a difficult concept, breaking it down in your own language, and then being able to disseminate that information to your audience. That’s key as well.
The third one would probably be comfortable being uncomfortable. I know that’s not necessarily a trait, a talent, or whatnot. It’s something that you learn as you grow. I will tell you that’s something that I learned within the position that I’m in. I’ve been in training for about six years or so and I got comfortable doing what I was doing. I was very good at it. It’s the same thing with the clinical specialist role. I was good at what I did. At that point, it became difficult for me to try something new to venture out of that comfort zone. Be comfortable being uncomfortable because that’s a lot of what the role is going to be.
You went from a clinical specialist and went to training. What drove you into training? What was the impetus there?
Training is my passion. I love education. I love taking something difficult to understand, breaking it down, teaching it to somebody else, and then watching them apply it. That’s what sales training was. I taught them something and then saw them apply it in a real situation and then hit their revenue number for the year or their quota. That was so wonderful for me to see. That’s what drove me within the space. That’s where I noticed that I get the most pleasure and joy out of what I do on a day-to-day.
Honestly, sales training allowed me the opportunity to have a hand in every sector of the business. If you think about sales training, you’re building out the sales process. You’re involved in product launches. You’re in procedures. You work on KOL development. You go to conferences and courses. You have a hand in everything.
From there, it’s a great opportunity for you to decide what the next step is. There are a lot of sales reps who are in the sales rep role for a few years and then they decide they want to go into sales training because they don’t know what the right next step for them is. Being within that position for a couple of years gives you that clarity in terms of, “What do I want to do next with my career path?”
That is fantastic insight. Can green professionals in medical sales go into sales training?
Sales training requires honestly that you have a little bit of background in sales. If you think about it, you’re going to be training the salesforce. Sales reps need somebody who has credibility to teach them what they’re going to be doing on a day-to-day. A sales training position will require a little bit more experience. That being said, there are training coordinator positions that are a step down that help the sales training manager with their day-to-day. That is a good way for green reps to get involved in something like that if they want to try a different avenue.
Tell us a little bit more about the opportunity for people who are reading. They’re thinking to themselves, “I’m not quite there as a sales rep. I want to be in medical sales. I want to be in the business of medicine. This role that I’m reading about that Lejla started in sounds very attractive.” Give us a little bit more that they can weigh through to see if it’s something that they should pursue or not.
Prior to the clinical specialist role, my background was in pre-med biology. I’ll take you way back then to give you a little bit of an idea of what the other paths that you could take within that process. I was pre-med biology like the majority of the med device sales reps. It wasn’t until about my junior year that I had a mentor of mine who approached me and said, “Do you want to be a doctor? Are you sure that that’s the right next step for you?” I was like, “I want to help patients at the end of the day. That seems like the natural next fit for me.”
That mentor of mine, thankfully, reminded me that medicine isn’t what it used to be. The pay isn’t the same as it used to be, so if you’re doing it for the pay, that’s the wrong reason to do it. Malpractice is a big thing to worry about. If you want to help the patient, forget about it because you’re going to be charting the majority of the time. You won’t even have time to spend with that patient. It forced me to take a step back. I still finished the pre-med route, but I ended up switching my major to nuclear medicine technology, which a lot of people are not familiar with.
What inspired that?
While I was going to St. Louis University where I attended college, I did an undergraduate research position all four years in nuclear medicine out of all places. I got a chance to work with data, analytics, write manuscripts, abstracts, and things like that with the residents and the physicians. I got a chance to learn a little bit more about imaging and the medical space in general.
My mentor at the time was the professional director of the nuclear medicine program. He got me into the program. Honestly, though, that’s a great place to start. Having a background in healthcare opened up the avenue for me to see what else is out there. I was specifically in imaging. There are a lot of reps in imaging. When you look at the different CT machines, MRI, and nuclear medicine gamma cameras, there are a lot of different reps from Siemens, Philips, and whatnot. I got a chance to explore the industry side a little bit to know that is for me.
If there’s an individual out there who doesn’t know if the medical device is for them, doing some imaging type of a role or a role within a hospital to get acclimated to that space in the industry, would be a great first place to start as well. I know a lot of times people are very quick to say, “Try to find a sales role.” Sales is part of it, but the healthcare setting is an even bigger part because, at the end of the day, it all goes back to the patient. You’re going to be in those procedures. If you can’t stand the sight of blood and you can’t stand in the OR for 4, 5, or 6 hours, it might not be the space for you.
Not only that but being a clinical support manager, you don’t have to have that sales background that almost serves as a prerequisite. We don’t believe in that here. We know that people can get positions without having that as a prerequisite, but a lot of the industry has that belief. As a clinical support manager, you don’t have to have that. You can show up and have some healthcare background and you’re very much eligible to get that position.
Honestly, at the end of the day, it’s all about how you sell yourself. If you feel like you can do the job that’s in front of you and you can make the person across the table from you believe that you can do the job, you will get the job.At the end of the day, it's all about how you sell yourself. Click To Tweet
Those are the facts. The kind of thing that we do here, what’s your take on that to have an opportunity to work with a team of professionals who are all focused on helping you get the position?
That is so important. When I got into medical device, I, by chance, landed within the industry. That doesn’t happen. I didn’t even know medical device truly was an industry. I applied through Indeed for an image-guided surgery position. I remember still it says that on the application. I got a call from a recruiter the next day. At the age of 22 years old, you don’t even know what a recruiter is. You think it’s a scholar thing. Fast forward a couple of weeks later, I got the job.
I’m very fortunate that it was the first job I applied to and the only set of interviews I went to and I landed my dream job ideally that got me to the place that I am at. I did that without knowing anyone within the space. I say that because it’s difficult to land a job like that without building your network around you. If I can be of assistance to anybody in terms of taking that next step into the medical device world, I would love to do that because I didn’t have that for me. I see how important that is in day-to-day in terms of not only getting the role but also accelerating throughout your career path and getting that next step within the job.
Give us the other side of Lejla. There’s the professional side where you have an amazing career and then there’s the personal side, which is family and kids. Give us a little bit about how you make it all work.
Work-life balance is extremely important. Before I get into that, I’m going to share a little bit of a personal story. I’ll give you a little bit of an insight into who I am. I am from Bosnia. My parents immigrated here to the US in the ‘90s. There was a war going on at the time in Bosnia, so they thought the next natural step would be to come here to the US to give me and my brothers an opportunity for a better future. Everything that I’ve done up until this point is to show them that their sacrifices were worthwhile.
That being said, in my personal time, because I am not from here, I love to travel. I gave myself a bucket list of places to go every year. I have been to about 4 or so continents and 20-plus countries within the last couple of years or so when I first started to make some money so I could travel. That’s a true passion of mine. Honestly, work-life balance is so important because you have to take a pause and do the things that you love to do. I love to travel. I’m going to take a week or two off a year and go travel. That’s what I committed myself to doing and I plan on doing moving forward.Work-life balance is so important because you have to take a pause and do the things that you love to do. Click To Tweet
This is solo travel?
No. It’s with friends. I have a trip coming up here to going to Hawaii. I’ve not been to Hawaii yet. It has been a combination. It’s been with friends and family.
That’s fantastic. You said you had brothers?
I do. I’ve got two brothers. They’re both engineers.
If they wanted to, they’d make fantastic medical sales reps.
I think so, too. Engineers make great med device reps.
It was such a pleasure having you with us. Is there anything more, like a personal philosophy or something you want the audience to leave with after reading this episode?
Yes. If I have to give advice to somebody wanting to either enter the space or grow within the space, there are probably three things I’d leave them with. One, always make sure to have goals in front of you, attainable goals with a timeline, and make sure to refer to them on a regular basis. That’s the only way that you’re going to keep climbing within this industry.
Once you land your job in medical device, make sure to start building your brand and start building it early. Make sure people know who you are. Ask questions. Have your camera on during calls. That’s the only way that someone is going to know who you are. When an opportunity presents itself for a promotion or whatnot, you’re going to be the first person you know that comes to mind. Build your brand and build it early.
Lastly, networking. I mentioned this already. It’s very important that you have mentors within the space that help guide you and that you surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed. When it comes to a mentorship perspective, I always recommend having three mentors, somebody who is superior, somebody who’s equal to you, and somebody who’s in a different industry for perspective purposes. Those are the three things that I would recommend somebody put into action as quickly as possible.
That right there is sage advice. I love it. We’re going to do one more thing. This is called the lightning round. I’m going to ask you 4 questions and you have less than 10 seconds to answer them. Are you ready?
I am ready.
Question number one, what is the best book you’ve read in the last couple of months?
Talking about goal setting, it would have to be The 12 Week Year. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that.
I’ve read that.
It’s a good one. It redefines goal setting. You’re looking at it from a twelve-week perspective as opposed to a year perspective.
It is a very inspiring book. I like that one. What is the best movie or TV show you’ve seen in the last couple of months?
Only because I’ve been watching it on a very regular basis, Suits has been a TV show that’s been on TV regularly.
I’ve never seen it. I’ve heard so many things about it. In one sentence, why should I watch it?
There’s a lot that goes on within Suits. You leave each episode wanting to know more, the great cliffhanger.
I’ll take it. Alright. What is the best meal you’ve had in the last couple of months? This can be a restaurant. Go ahead.
Aside from my mom’s cooking, St. Louis has really good ethnic food. There’s a Turkish place called Aya Sofia that has these lamb meatballs that are good.
Where is this again?
St. Louis, Missouri.
Lastly, what is the best experience you’ve had in the last couple of months?
That’s an easy one. My brother got married back in May 2023. They had a destination wedding over in Mexico. That was an awesome experience with the entire family, getting to see him marry the love of his life.
That’s beautiful. It was fantastic having you on the show. We can’t wait to see the wonderful things you do out there in the medical device sales world.
Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.
That was Lejla. What a fantastic story. What I love about Lejla’s story is she really did ride the blessing. She was introduced very early and rode it all the way to the top. Even though she got there so quickly and took on so much responsibility so quickly, her first motivation is to give back and help others. That goes a long way. That speaks to the type of character that Lejla is. I was so happy to have her on the show.
I bet you’re reading this and wondering to yourself, “How do I get myself into a position like Lejla? Maybe I don’t have a sales background. I don’t necessarily want a sales role, but I want to be in medical sales. What does it look like for me?” Maybe it’s a clinical specialist or like Lejla, a clinical support manager. If that’s where the direction of what you want leads you, then guess where you go next? That’s right. Check out my episodes.
You know exactly what I’m going to say. I’m going to say you need to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com. Let us help you get to where you want to go. Visit the website, fill out the application, speak to one of our executives, and let us get you into a role with a program that can do that. As always, we do our best to bring you innovative guests who are doing things differently in the medical sales space. I hope you tune in next time for another episode of the show.
About Lejla Sarajlic MS, CNMT, RT(MR)
Dynamic and driven medical device professional with over 10 years of experience in sales, marketing, and training, specifically in the lung cancer space. My healthcare background in molecular imaging and research ultimately led to my first position as a clinical research specialist, where I was responsible for driving the success of new and ongoing clinical studies.
Through this role, I developed a passion for education and was quickly promoted to Senior Manager, Global Sales Training – Respiratory. I spent the majority of my professional career in sales training, prior to advancing into downstream marketing. As a member of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, I stay up-to-date with the latest trends in healthcare and technology. I am also a certified MRI and Nuclear Medicine Technologist with a passion for continued growth and development.
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