My windows are open on this bright, cool morning. Outside, the breeze rustles the leaves of the aspens in my yard.
Eight weeks ago today, I fractured my tibia skiing. As I sit in my kitchen writing, my right leg is stretched out to the side, foot resting on another chair. I have a cold pack strapped to my knee. Someday soon, I hope to achieve a full range of motion again. This week, I will try to walk again.
My injury, surgery and recovery have given me an opportunity to cross over to the other side of the medical device industry, as a patient. The care I have received throughout this time, from nurses, my surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the physician assistant at the emergency room and my physical therapist, has been nothing short of terrific. I have tremendous respect for their knowledge, skill and dedication to helping me recover.
I have been as diligent as possible about following their advice. I have learned a lot about my body’s ability to heal and need for movement. My desire to be healthy and active again is insatiable.
During this challenging experience, I’ve encountered first hand products from many companies in the medical device industry. When I saw my surgeon for my 6 week check-up, he looked at me in surprise when I asked him if the buttress plate screwed to my tibia was from Synthes. He said it was. I imagine, and frankly hope, there was a company representative in the operating room when I had my surgery, who was well-trained and well-prepared with back-ups and alternatives, should they have been needed. This unknown person has also impacted the quality of care I’ve received.
The morning of my surgery, my surgeon stopped by to see me in pre-op. He was fresh from a good night’s sleep and clearly excited about operating. He had been planning and preparing for the different possibilities he might encounter. After all, surgery is what he had trained and worked so hard to do, through many years of medical school, residency and a fellowship. Medical device sales representatives, as well as those aspiring to the industry, often express a similar level of excitement about surgery.
I can appreciate enthusiasm for surgery, and I understand how such passion can contribute to a better surgical outcome, but these emotions are in stark contrast to my feelings at that time as a patient. Pain, fear, even despair would be the best words to describe how I felt in those first days surrounding my accident and surgery.
During this time, and since then, there have been moments of compassion that have been as important to me as any medical intervention. In particular, I think back to the physician assistant in the emergency room, who rubbed my arm and reassured me after I began shaking when the shock and reality of surgery and a long recovery hit home.
Sales people are measured by their ability to grow business, and to achieve and exceed a quota. Somewhere in this equation for success, there must be room for compassion. I think the best companies and sales representatives in the industry find a way to balance these two contrasting priorities. They live up to the full responsibility of their roles when they are thoroughly trained, current on the latest techniques and products, provide excellent service and support to their customers, and are well-prepared for every surgery. The final element of exercising compassion as a medical device sales representative is never loosing sight of the patient’s well-being. I hope that the sales representative who may have covered my surgery had this in mind.
One of the sales managers I have worked closely with over the last few years refers to this as “doing right by the customer”, and in turn, the patient. Although it is not a formal metric, at the end of the day it is how he judges whether a representative is successful or not. If a sales representative “does right”, growth will follow. A lot of business is won and lost based on the level of commitment sales representatives demonstrate toward their customers.
I am suggesting that compassion toward the patient should be one of the major reference points a sales person uses to guide their decision making and their behavior. Some sales people I have spoken to in the industry use the following question to remind themselves of this:
“What if the patient on the table was my parent, spouse or child?”
I think this question should be part of the criteria for every product developed, marketed and sold in the industry.
What would happen if companies did find a way to measure the compassion their sales representatives demonstrated toward their customers and their customers’ patients, in addition to measuring growth in revenue? What you measure, you can improve. What would be the associated impact on the company’s bottom line? I am betting they would find there is as strong a correlation between compassion and results as any other metric they use. Although it may be hard to measure, compassion is an imperative for long-term success in medical device sales.
This past Tuesday, my sister left on a medical mission to Haiti. She is the one who is an ER nurse.
She arrived at the St. Damien’s Hospital for Children and pitched her tent on the roof of the guest house. She has described difficult conditions and the valiant efforts to bring some order to the chaos. She has assisted a surgical team, started IV’s and helped out in the adult clinic. Yesterday, she helped bury the bodies of 40 children and adults with Father Rick from St. Damien’s.
“After weeks of frenetic activity, we are returning to a state of equilibrium. Our hospital had become a trauma MASH unit, as had all other medical centers in Port au Prince that are still standing. We were able to offer about 30 surgeries a day at four sites (two in our hospital, one on our hospital grounds in a tent, and one at the St. Camillus Hospital, which we staffed for the emergency.) Many of these, sadly, were amputations – sometimes two for the same adult or child.
To give an idea of the size of the problem, it is likely there are about 20,000 people now who have been amputated or who have orthopedic hardware screwed through their skin to the bone. Port au Prince has about 20 Haitian orthopedic surgeons, and visiting teams to Haiti will soon leave. All 20,000 need to be followed closely for removal of hardware, control of infection, reevaluation of the amputation, and of course for artificial limbs and rehabilitation. Obviously 20 surgeons will not be able to handle this load. We have worked closely with the St. Camillus Hospital so as to return our St. Damien Hospital to a pediatric center and to have a growing center for adults at St. Camillus. We hope together to be able to keep good tabs on the patients we have operated on, and hope to be able to provide well for them in the future. ”
I watched a few videos about St. Damien’s. The level of poverty and hardship, even before the earthquake, was stunning. It is evident that Haiti’s recovery from the earthquake will be difficult and require a lot of continued outside assistance.