Aging Boomers Boost Medical Devices Industry The Buzz


The medical devices industry has seen much growth in recent years. It offers many job opportunities to those hoping to venture into this field.

The aging of our society appears to have an impact on this field. As people get older, they generally need more medical care.

In the U.S., there are 76 million baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). And the number of Americans age 65 and older will double over the next 30 years. That's according to figures released by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

"The aging baby boomer population should be a big bonanza for the health device and supply industry," says a report by U.S. Business Reporter. "Medical devices have a tendency to be used more by the elderly in disproportionate amounts."

The report also points out that longer life expectancies are having an impact. "Women have an average life expectancy of 78 years, while men have a life expectancy of approximately 69 years. This bodes well for medical device [and] equipment companies because they can generate more usage for their products with the longer life expectancy."

Frost and Sullivan is an international market consulting and training company. One of its reports links the recent growth of the industry with an aging society.

"Demand in the medical device industry continues to increase due to the aging baby boom population and the ailments associated with getting older," says the report.

"In addition to the population getting older, people are becoming more aware of the importance of remaining physically fit. As an increasing number of people are participating in sports and fitness programs, the number of injuries resulting from this has risen as well. This will sustain the growth of the market for medical devices."

Kevin Murray is the vice-president of regulatory affairs for a medical devices trade association. He agrees. "As people age, they obviously become more susceptible to disease, injury and that type of thing," he says.

"So there is a demand for medical treatments. And with that comes the demand for more use of medical equipment and devices. So it certainly has provided an opportunity for the industry. And it has also provided an opportunity in the development of new types of devices to treat disease and other types of medical problems that we are seeing an increase in because of our aging society."

Roy Wallen is the marketing director for a medical device manufacturer. He says the aging boomers will impact the medical device industry in several ways.

"The bulk of experience in the field is with people that are starting to work their way out of the workplace, so having qualified workers is a challenge," he says. "In addition, as people are aging, it provides more opportunity, a bigger market, for health care related systems."

Wallen stresses that the number of older people in our society is increasing and there are more medical device systems available. But there are fewer workers. That means a greater reliance on technology. "There are more patients with fewer people to take care of them," he says.

"In the medical device area, technology is evolving pretty rapidly now," Murray says.

"We are seeing tremendous developments in products that we hadn't seen before. And we are seeing some really interesting treatments being developed. I think it potentially could be a pretty exciting area to be involved in. And certainly on a global level, there is a growth opportunity."

He says growth is limited by cost constraints in Canada, the United States and Europe. "[But] there are also emerging countries that are expanding the market, like China, a lot of the Asian Pacific countries, South America and Latin America," Murray says.

"Those countries will probably outpace Canada, the United States and Europe in terms of growth and market opportunities. The future is going to be in a lot of these emerging countries, like China, whose population is over one billion."

There are a number of job opportunities within the medical device industry field. Bob Stiefel is a director of clinical engineering services. He oversees the technicians and engineers who work with the medical devices in that facility.

"The technicians inspect, calibrate and repair medical equipment in the hospital and help users in the safe and proper use of some of the more sophisticated equipment," he says.

"Engineers evaluate equipment, design changes or new equipment and help in planning for new types of technology to be introduced in the hospital."

Stiefel says these two fields of work exist within the whole medical device industry. "The same types of folks [technicians and engineers] find jobs in teaching, in manufacturing and in regulatory agencies, all dealing with medical equipment. So there are many aspects to how technical people are employed in the medical device field."

Those looking to enter this field should major in some form of engineering. "Electrical engineering is very popular, although biomedical is probably the most appropriate.... Mechanical engineering is also very important," Stiefel says. He adds that pre-med is also an option.

There are also opportunities in marketing. In that case, business classes would be needed, along with a scientific background, according to Murray. "Also, more devices will depend on computer technology. So there may be more positions in software design or writing original code," he says.

For high school students, strong mathematics skills, the ability to work with computer systems and strength in the life sciences areas are all important, Wallen says.

There are other things high school students can do now to begin to prepare for a job in this field. "The thing that immediately comes to mind is to volunteer for a few weeks or a couple of months in a hospital and, in particular, in an area of the hospital where medical technology is being used or serviced," says Stiefel.

For those who do decide to pursue this field of study, Stiefel says, there will be jobs waiting for them. "The field is wide open. There is a demand for all types of people in technical fields," he says.

"These days, we are almost constantly looking for more people for the department. The same is true in other departments, literally around the world."

The higher-level jobs in this field require extensive education. "But there are a lot of opportunities in laboratory medicine or in entry-level positions that don't require a high level of education," Wallen says. "So there really is a range of opportunity for people, depending on what their skills or desires are."

The rewards of working in the field are an added bonus. "I think that applying one's interest in technology to medical technology provides a double reward," Stiefel says.

"For me, it satisfies my interest in technology and it satisfies my desire to contribute to society. It is hard to find an area where you can contribute to society better than in health care."

Links

Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation
A resource for those in the industry

Medical Device Manufacturers Association
Encourages the development of new medical technology

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