This week’s non-clinical spotlight features an Australia-based physiotherapist who now works as a Product Specialist in Joint Reconstruction at Depuy Synthes!
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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?
Jeff Caulfield, Physiotherapist
Product Specialist in Joint Reconstruction, Depuy Synthes (Johnson & Johnson)
Where are you located?
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
University of Central Lancashire, UK. 2011.
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
After high school, I studied construction management for a year and then changed to physiotherapy.
After university, I worked for 2 years in a rotational physiotherapy role in a large teaching hospital in Dublin, Ireland.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
In Ireland, I completed rotations in respiratory, neurosurgery, geriatric rehab, cystic fibrosis, in and outpatient orthopaedics and rheumatology. I also did some evenings/weekends in MSK private practice.
After two years of that, I moved to New Zealand and worked casually in medical inpatients and private practice at a ski field, which was great!
I’ve volunteered for a month at a hospital in Tanzania in paediatric oncology, which was totally different to anything I’ve ever experienced.
I bounced between Ireland and the UK doing casual/locum roles for a year before moving to Australia and working in geriatric rehab and orthopaedics. So, a bit of a mixed bag really!
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
I really enjoyed learning and being part of a great team. In the first couple of years, there was so much room to grow and develop clinical knowledge and skills.
I worked alongside fantastic therapists in Dublin. People who were really passionate about their jobs. Everyone was supportive of one another and the level of clinical knowledge was excellent. It really was an enjoyable place to work.
I didn’t enjoy the stress of the public system in Ireland. I graduated when public health budgets were massively cut because of the global financial crisis.
We were very short staffed and as a new grad, that was not something I practiced for in Uni. It was not uncommon to have a list of 20 inpatients to see. This led to many patients being “prioritised out”, meaning they were not a high priority and therefore didn’t receive physio.
This was not only physically demanding, literally running from ward to ward to try to see as many patients as possible, it was also emotionally taxing as many people who really needed physio were simply not seen.
What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?
As mentioned above, I did many locum roles in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia. I also spent a couple of years travelling and seeing the world while working odd jobs in vineyards, cafes, bars, hostels etc.
When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?
My role isn’t strictly non-clinical. I still engage daily with surgeons to clinically reason what implant choice is best and provide teaching and support to surgeons and nurses.
But I decided I was not going to be in physio forever when I was in New Zealand in 2015. That was where I got my first senior role and when I realised the next step up was management—I knew I needed something with more growth opportunities.
What are you doing these days?
I currently work as a product specialist in joint reconstruction for Depuy Synthes, which is the orthopaedic company of Johnson and Johnson.
Other companies call the equivalent of my role a “Territory Manager.” Basically it’s a sales role where you’re responsible for a number of surgeons in a territory.
My day-to-day can involve any of the following:
- Being in theatre supporting a surgeon using our implants
- Meeting with surgeons to update them on any developments in our portfolio
- Running training sessions for scrub nurses or registrars
- Lots of travel
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I rarely see patients. I do enough hours to keep my physio registration.
How long have you been working as a product specialist in joint reconstruction?
I started as a clinical specialist in Jan, 2021. This role had no sales targets and is where I would recommend anyone considering the industry to start.
My role was to support surgeons in theatre and run in-service training. It gave me time to learn the instruments and implants without the pressure of a sales target.
I started in my current role as a product manager, joint reconstruction on October 1st, 2021.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
Not really. I had my own small physio business which helped develop my skills in sales and business development.
It’s not uncommon for physios to transition directly into orthopaedic medical devices in Australia.
How did you find your clinical specialist role? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
It was a bit random, but I got chatting to one of my patients and mentioned that I was considering getting into medical devices.
Coincidentally, his partner worked in the industry!
He introduced us and he ended up recommending me for a role. I am a strong believer in the power of who you know, rather than solely what you know.
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?
Yep. I revamped it! I used Canva to make it more inviting and on a single page.
What was the interview like for the role?
Thankfully, the HR team and hiring manager were excellent at helping me navigate the hiring process.
There were three separate interviews. The interviewers were friendly, and the process was not as difficult as I imagined.
I also completed some psychometric testing, which is common in the industry. I know some companies have strict interview processes and I have heard some horror stories from friends in the industry. Don’t let that scare you off, though!
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
Overall, people have been very supportive. My close friends and family all encouraged the move as I had been contemplating a career change for a few years.
Some of my old physio colleagues brand people that move into medical devices as “sell-outs.” I really don’t see it that way. Perhaps because it’s sales and not direct patient contact, or maybe some have negative connotations with the medical device industry.
The way I see it is that I am an advocate for the patient. It was the same when I was a physio. Every decision I make in planning a case with a surgeon or in theatre, I make to optimise the outcome for the person on the table. At the end of the day, we’re all in healthcare to help people.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you as a product specialist in joint reconstruction?
It depends if it’s a day I’m in theatre—and also what time the surgery is planned to begin—but a day can look like:
- Wake up
- Check emails
- Drive to the hospital
- Check all implants needed for the cases that day
- Check all instruments are there
If something is missing, I will liaise with operations to get it delivered ASAP
- Plan the case with the surgeon
This involves looking at X-rays or digital plans to determine the most appropriately sized implant
- Get the scrub nurse set up
All the equipment used in the surgery is sterile, so company reps can’t touch it in theatre—so, I would advise the nurse how to put the equipment together and what order the surgeon will need what tools. During the case, I also ensure the scrub knows what’s coming next and answer any questions from them or the surgeon. I see the surgeon, scrub nurse and company rep as a team in theatre and we all have our parts to play to ensure the operation runs smoothly.
- After the case, I’ll grab a coffee and chat with the surgeon
Sometimes it’s about orthopaedics/products, and other times we just have a general chat while we wait for the theatre to be cleaned
- Then it’s the same set of procedures for the next case
I usually get time for lunch and check emails between cases. Some days you could be at a couple of different hospitals between cases. As I mentioned before, there’s lots of variation between days but that’s a rough outline of a typical day.
What are some of the rewards and challenges of being a product manager in joint reconstruction?
I like the variety that the role brings. I lose enthusiasm doing repetitive tasks, so I like the mix of time in theatre, planning cases, sales calls, teaching, and learning new products.
I like working in a customer-facing role, where you can really add value to the surgeon, nurses, and patients. It’s nice when you know your input will have a positive effect on the patient’s outcome.
The salary is definitely better. Even the base salary is better than being a senior physio in Australia. On top of that, there are bonuses if you hit targets—and there are perks, like car and health/fitness allowances.
There are more career development opportunities compared to physio. I’m a bit of a personal development geek and like being in a role that allows me to develop. There is a certain amount of autonomy that comes with the role, which I like.
The travel. Depending on the geographical spread of your territory, you could spend lots of time in the car. I have a few surgeons in my territory that are four hours away, and I need to travel there every few weeks.
The long days. If you include travel, it’s not that uncommon to do 10-12 hour days. To date, my longest day has been 14 hours. This includes waiting around for cases to start so you’re not in theatre for the full 14 hours. But days can be long, stressful at times, and tiring. Having said that, usually at least one day per week will be quiet—and if you have an understanding manager, they may encourage you to take time back when you’re quiet.
The unpredictable hours. Unfortunately, healthcare doesn’t clock off at 5pm. If your surgeon is operating at 8 pm on a Friday evening and wants you there, you need to be there. You may also have a surgery that is planned to start at 2 pm and then they get a couple of emergencies and the case is delayed until 6 pm. It can be hard to manage social engagements and sports around this.
The challenging customers and work environment. Like any industry, some customers are easier to get along with than others. Some surgeons are very approachable and nice to work alongside—but theatre can be stressful. Surgeons have enormous amounts of responsibility and need to remain very focused throughout the procedure. Some surgeons could have 10 surgeries per day. This combination of massive responsibility and long hours of extreme focus can result in stress. At times, this stress is directed toward the scrub nurse or rep. As my first manager told me, “The most important skill you need to survive in this industry is a thick skin”.
How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?
Having a background in anatomy and physiology was a big benefit. There are also so many social skills that physios possess that are transferable to other roles and industries.
My experience taking students has transferred to the teaching sessions I do.
Physios constantly “sell” their treatments without being aware of it.
When we want someone to be compliant with their exercise program, we use strategies to ensure they feel motivated to do the exercises. If we want a doctor to keep a patient as an inpatient for more intensive rehab, we “sell” why we advise this and how it will help the patient and goals of the MDT. These skills are transferable to any sales role, including clinical product manager.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
The hours are longer, but the pay is better.
The hours are also different. In my last physio role, I had two patients at a time, back to back, all day. I was drained by the end of the day. I now find that although im working longer hours, I’m not as tired after a day of work.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
People who enjoy working face-to-face. I’m an extrovert and get energy from being around others. You definitely need to be thick-skinned and be able to take a few hits in theatre. I don’t take anything that happens in theatre personally. It’s a high pressure environment, and sometimes the stress of a situation causes people to lash out.
People who enjoy learning and teaching.
People who value helping others.
As I was told when I started, people with thick skin!
Do you work remotely or onsite?
It’s a bit of a hybrid role. I work in multiple different hospitals and occasionally from home or the office.
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
I’ll see where this role takes me over the next year or two, and then re-evaluate.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Research the companies in your region and reach out to people. I was surprised at how helpful people were when I was considering a move to the industry. LinkedIn is a great resource for networking.
Considering a role like Jeff’s?
We cover sales, product management, and clinical specialist career paths (among many others) in Non-Clinical 101!