The non-clinical spotlight series exists to shed light on all of the interesting non-clinical career paths that physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals have taken. Today’s spotlight focuses on Lauren Sheehan, who went from occupational therapist to Field Clinical Manager at NeuroLutions, Inc.
What is your full name and title at your current job?
Where did you go to OT school, and what year did you graduate?
I attended Creighton University’s OTD program and graduated in 2007.
What did you do when you first finished school?
I’ve almost exclusively worked in outpatient clinical practice; however I have worked inpatient rehab, acute, and SNF providing coverage at larger hospital systems, as well.
In outpatient rehab, my focus was almost entirely neuro. I spent time developing skills in vision rehab, wheelchair seating and positioning and managed a driving program.
These specialized areas of practice involving technology piqued my interest in using technology in clinical practice as a tool for improving patient outcomes.
About five years into practice, I became the Director of Rehab for a small rural hospital outside of Seattle, Washington. In this role, I assisted with the opening of a new outpatient clinic, and participated in marketing efforts to increase community awareness.
I continued to practice on inpatient and outpatient with a variety of patient types. The exposure I had to business, strategy, budgets, program development, teaching and mentorship were extremely valuable in growing my readiness to move into an industry role.
After a few years, I transitioned to a larger, urban hospital as a supervisor in an outpatient specialty clinic.
I maintained some private practice clients in home-based neuro-rehab, which is how I came across my first industry position. A client I was working with turned me on to the technology.
At what point did you realize you wanted to do something non-clinical with your background, and why?
After a few years in management, I realized that the red tape of hospital bureaucracy—as well as how slowly things moved in that environment—were not ultimately a good fit for my desire for speed and efficiency.
I enjoyed the team environment; however, constraints of practice started to wear on me. I loved working with clients, teaching and developing programming, but I recognized that there must be a better fit for my skills.
What are you doing these days?
I joined a neuro-rehab start-up called NeuroLutions. We’ve submitted for FDA clearance on a Brain Computer Interface robotic upper extremity rehab tool for upper limb rehab in chronic stroke.
My title is Field Clinical Manager, and I’ve been working on developing strategy for go-to-market and working with our team on User Experience and device development as we get ready for product launch.
As Field Clinical Manager, are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
That’s always an interesting question for me. I don’t like to think that I left clinical practice. I just use my skills in a different way to serve clients.
I’m involved in some clinical research through our company, and I’m regularly involved with getting patient feedback on our product. I don’t “practice” in the same way I used to, but I have plenty of opportunity to put my clinical skills to use.
How did you find out about this role?
I was exposed to the product for my previous company through a patient in private practice. I regularly gave feedback on the product, software, and how the company reached patients and clinicians.
My unsolicited feedback eventually turned into solicited feedback, and then I was eventually able to land a full-time role with the company.
For my current role, I met another clinical manager (Lauren Souders!) through professional networking and the Technology Networking Group of the ACRM. (Shameless plug; find us on Linked In and consider joining!)
What was the interview like for the role?
To interview for the role, I had multiple interviews with members of our team. They were interested in my experience with the product and my previous experience in business roles that lent itself to coming on board.
The sales team wanted to know what my experience was with teaching and training, as I’d be the clinical support for training new staff and keeping the team abreast of new literature and development of protocols for deployment of the product.
Since I was brand new to the industry, and felt pretty alone at first; I reached out to any contacts I could find and asked to interview them based on their experience. I reached out to Clinical Specialists for previous rehab technology I had worked with in practice, and did Linked-In searches for people in similar roles.
I asked for a mentor and eventually created a Clinical Managers in Rehab Technology Task Force of the Rehab Technology Networking Group of ACRM for support.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
I haven’t gotten a special certification but I’ve taken a number of classes online and in person at places like
- General Assembly
- Interaction Design Foundation
What type of courses did you take on these platforms?
I took classes on user experience (UX), User-Centered Design, Social Media Marketing, and Design Thinking and Teaching. They have all been very valuable to supplement my skills.
How did people react to your unconventional career path at first? What about now?
I’ve had some naysayers, but most people have been very supportive.
My favorite is the disgruntled therapist that will come up to me at a vendor fair every so often and ask when I “went to the dark side” or “left clinical practice.”
I calmly assure them that neither is true. There can be a skepticism about industry and technology in the therapy world sometimes. I try to share the message that not all industry is bad, and that my role is primarily to support the team and our users, not to be a snake-oil salesperson.
We’re committed to the science of what we do, elevating research related to rehab technology, and adding to the toolkits of therapists to best serve their patients.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
It’s always SO different. I’m writing this on the plane on a cross-country trip from California to do some research-related training in New York. This next week, I have a few check-ins with our study participants, some meetings on a new user interface we’re working on, and a few marketing calls to work on strategy.
I’ll be doing some writing as we create valuable content to add to the conversation about why our neuro patients are often not getting the intensity of rehab that is needed for functional improvement, and what technology can do to help.
I am mentoring a doctoral student from my alma mater in her exposure to industry for her DEC. I spend time reaching out to clinics to share information about our products, run demos and educate the team on current trends in industry.
Can you describe some of the rewards and challenges of your role?
It is a VERY self-directed role. If you’re not a self-starter, intrinsically motivated or entrepreneurial, it wouldn’t be the right place to land. That said, there’s a fair amount of flexibility in the role.
I really enjoy the travel to conferences, interfacing with clinicians and patients, constant learning and research—as well as the teaching I get to do in my role.
How do you think working as an OT prepared you for this role? Which skills transferred?
My clinical skills, as well as my business and management background, prepared me well for the role. Understanding clinic budget cycles and processes, regulations and hospital systems as well as billing and reimbursement have been very useful in providing guidance to the company about how our technology fits into a clinic setting.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
I’m salaried, so that probably goes without saying. My schedule is flexible, but there’s a lot of work to be done, particularly working with a company that has a product just getting off the ground.
The pay is better than it was when I was a clinician—but I’m a strong believer in the fact that you only get paid what you think you’re worth, and I’ve advocated for my salary.
I work for a company that understands the importance of my life outside of work, and I feel very supported in (attempting to) maintain a balance between life and work.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
As I mentioned previously, someone who is a self-starter, self-directed and has “ideation” toward the top of their list of strengths is a good fit. I have to use a blend of higher level strategy and thinking (looking at the big picture from a 30,000-foot view), but need to also delve into details of planning and deploying.
Someone who is a good communicator and is able to manage a detailed and often-full schedule is important. For the role in supporting sales and clinical training, being able to develop rapport quickly and make connections has served me well.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
Both…I go into the physical office a few days a week, and am otherwise traveling or working from my home office.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
I am ALWAYS learning. One of my favorite books is Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products by Nir Eyal.
I’m currently enrolled in a Technology and the Brain course through the International Design Foundation.
I use online platforms such as OccupationalTherapy.com and Medbridge to ensure that I am up on the latest in neuro-rehab.
I’m regularly doing literature searches and working with OT programs for assistance in delving into the research (work smarter, not harder 😉).
I have taken UX courses at General Assembly and Marketing and Social Media courses through Lynda.com and Coursera. In today’s world with so many options for online learning, there is so much accessible knowledge!
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
I’ll be on the industry side for a while. I’d love to continue to contribute to the research and development of new rehab technologies. Ultimately I’d like to teach in an OT program and encourage the development of OT students as product designers, UX experts and inventors of rehab technology!
Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
Read about my tips of “how to land a job in rehab technology”. The biggest pieces of advice I can give are to hone your clinical practice, expose yourself to rehab technology or devices through personal experience, investigate the industry online and though the vendor fairs of reputable conferences, network with those in the industry, ask for mentorship and then contribute to the body of work by giving back!
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
There are quite a few things I’d like to change.
For therapists, I’d like to change the support that clinical settings are able to give toward professional development and skills outside of clinical skills for therapists that eventually want to change course in their careers.
I think we need far more managers who care about (and are given the time and resources) to truly develop their people.
I’d like to see the clinical setting place a higher value on the mental health of their caregivers, offering greater flexibility to support the wellness of their most important assets, their people. I’d like healthcare and medicine to see the value of not only using technology to save people’s lives, but place (monetary) value on the improvement of quality of life.
I’d also like to eradicate the antiquated view that after a period of time, patients who have had strokes will stop making improvement. What we know about neuroscience and plasticity is changing that every day.
I’d like to see neurologic patients have greater access to rehab for a longer period of time to keep them engaged in their long-term recovery. I would like to see more OTs, specifically, take an interest in research and a stake in contributing to the body of evidence that will allow our profession to grow, be recognized and supported by reimbursement. Just those little things…😉
[Editor’s note: I highly recommend listening to Sarah Lyon’s new podcast about OT research.]
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
Take time investing in yourself as a clinician.
You entered the profession for a reason. Come back to that reason regularly to cut through the challenges of the clinical setting that can weigh you down.
If you want to see something in practice, create it! Spend time investing in developing your skills, inside and outside the clinic and then express your VALUE! Who needs your skills and why? Be of service to your communities and to the greater community of therapists…we’re better together.
Do you have any special advice for other clinicians who want to follow in your footsteps?
Read my upcoming article about how to land a job in industry. Hone your clinical skills FIRST! I’m always a little leery of therapists that go into teaching or industry roles without having at least five years of clinical practice under their belts. The clinical skills are your superpower and what sets you a part from the team in an industry role.
Being a good clinician is very important to your future non-clinical role. Be a USER of rehab technology if you want to work in the industry.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is available in the space related to your clinical practice?
- What do you wish existed?
- What modifications of currently available technology would better serve clinicians and end users?
Thanks for your insight, Lauren!