Kathryn Stecco on Working as a Medical Device Entrepreneur

Medgadget recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Kathryn Stecco, a globetrotting surgeon and an entrepreneur in the medical device space. Stecco is at once a medical consultant and monitor at BaroSense Inc., a surgical consultant at Mach Labs L.P., medical director of Nfocus Neuromedical Inc., and an external consultant to AKA Lifesciences. Stecco, who calls Silicon Valley home, has worked with local medical device legends Thomas Fogarty and Mir Imran.

In this interview, she explains how studying medicine helped prepare her for working in the device field, and shares advice with physicians looking to follow a path similar to hers.

What attracted you to medicine initially?

I have always been an athlete so I had an inherent interest in anatomy and physiology. My parents worked in blue collar jobs and I was the first person to attend college. I put myself through medical school. So I was pretty much an entrepreneur at a young age and I wanted to have my own private practice. However, with the advent of managed health care, the entrepreneurial aspects of medicine completely changed since I first entered medical school.

How did you get interested in becoming an entrepreneur in the medical device arena?

I was fortunate to get accepted to Stanford to perform my surgical residency. Stanford is a special place because Silicon Valley is the capital of medical device start-ups. I was a surgical intern for Dr. Tom Fogarty on vascular surgery. That provided me the opportunity to operate with him and do pre-clinical research for several of his device companies. In addition, I met Mir Imran, one of the device gurus in the Valley. He subsequently took me under his wing as his medical director in his device incubator. I have been working with him for 12 years on all aspects of device development. Mir loves underdogs and he told me, "you can't learn to be an entrepreneur by getting an MBA."

Just because someone has a medical degree and license does not mean that they can't use their education and training for other things. There are so many opportunities for physicians besides pure clinical practice. We go through so many years of intense training so we are indoctrinated to think we should only be practicing medicine. Entrepreneurs think outside the box and are willing to take calculated risks and thus create their own path. I like working for myself because it provides the freedom to work on many different device opportunities and still see patients as part of a concierge general practice.

What advice would you give to a physician looking to enter the medical device industry?

You can't dabble in it and still practice medicine at a high level full time. You need to immerse yourself in the field and learn about all aspects of device development including clinical and regulatory matters, engineering research, business development, and patent law.

Further, physicians have many opportunities within the medical device industry. You can do venture capital, law, start companies, consult, become a medical officer, and work at small start-ups or large corporations. It is important to perform due diligence to understand the different avenues.

What kind of responsibilities do you have on a daily basis as an entrepreneur in the medical device sector?

I don't have a set schedule and I work seven days per week. I keep weird hours because I travel extensively overseas to run clinical trials. When I am in town, I do a lot of bench research and business development for new ideas I am working on with other partners.

How difficult is it to transition from practicing medicine to doing what you do now?

I think any transition is tough. You have to learn to live outside your box and comfort zone. I loved my surgical residency at Stanford and it was hard to leave. I definitely paid my dues and probably questioned if I made the right decision for a couple years but, deep down, I had complete conviction and faith about pursuing the entrepreneurial opportunities I saw in front of me.

Is there anything you miss by not focusing on clinical work?

I have physician friends who went into patent law and venture capital full time and they stopped practicing completely, which is fine because that is not their focus. I made a personal decision to keep seeing patients on a limited basis as part of a general practice in order to stay engaged in clinical medicine. In addition, I serve as the medical monitor for clinical trials I run. Therefore, I spend a lot of time in the operating rooms training physicians on devices and rounding with investigators in the hospital on a weekly basis all over the world.

This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.