The Interview Portal is pleased to interview Saaransh Jain, R&D Head of Toby Orthopaedics about his career path and future aspirations.
Saaransh, please tell us about yourself
I grew up in various cities of Rajasthan, from the small town of Gangapur city to the education capital of Rajasthan, Kota. I did my schooling at DAV public school Kota. We had a music band during my B.tech days. I was a singer and used to sing Indian pop songs.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
My parents are both educationists. My father is PhD in Economics and Mother is a PhD in Child Psychology. My wife is PhD in Psychology as well. My younger brother is an IIT Bombay graduate and pursuing his MBA from Columbia University, NY.
I did my BTech (Bio-Engineering/Technology) from Vellore Institute of Technology University, Vellore, TN and Masters in BioMedical/ BioMechanical Engineering from Arizona State University, Tempe. I also have a Post-Grad Certificate in Medical Device Innovation Program from Stanford-India Biodesign, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), IIT Delhi & Stanford University .
Tell us, how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
Since childhood, I was always impressed by the knowledge of doctors. I loved mathematics but I was sure I had more interest in biology. Also, in my family, there are more than 60 doctors. Perhaps, that inspired me to pursue a career in the medical profession or a related field. If not directly like doctors, I thought I can treat patients indirectly by making life easier for them (doctors) through better medical devices.
I think during my initial assignments, just after my BTech, I met some very enthusiastic MedTech engineers, managers and surgeons in India. My first project immediately after college was to do some basic geometrical calculations over the bones in 3D design software. This was a clear mix of human anatomy with mathematics (3D designing). It was clear to me after this project that I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
What was your career path after graduation?
Till the end of my BTech in Biotechnology, I was unsure what I would like to become, though it was certainly clear to me that I wanted to remain in a field related to life-sciences. I decided to take up a job offer from Tata consultancy services (TCS) and explore options within the company, as TCS has projects in almost all the engineering fields whether biotech, biomedical, aerospace, or defense. I hit the bull’s eye when I got into a biomedical project within TCS. I remember a quote from a Disney character, “if your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme – jiminy cricket”. My entry level experience in Biomedical was definitely the first ladder to the vast opportunities in the Biomedical field. At TCS, I designed customized surgical instruments through CAD for 200 knee surgeries for a Memphis based Orthopedic company. I was also involved in the manufacturing of customized surgical instruments by assisting onsite engineers in aligning implants with 3D bone models.
After working in TCS for almost 2 years in Orthopedic Instruments, I joined Stryker as R&D Design Engineer in Orthopedics.
At Stryker, I worked on Patient Specific Instrumentation- Total Knee Arthroplasty, Orthopaedic Products- R&D and New Product Development.
During my time at Stryker corporation, I was selected for an internship program at Stanford-India Biodesign. I was selected out of 1200 applicants all over India for the 6th Batch of Medical Device Innovation Internship program funded by Stanford University and Ministry of Science and Technology, India.
As a part of this program, I invented, designed and marketed a novel and safe pleural tapping device- Aspirational device, based on an unmet healthcare need, ‘A safer way of pleural tapping in patients with pleural effusion in order to reduce complications during the procedure’ -patent pending(2639/DEL/2013).
Pleural Tapping is a procedure to remove excess fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall.
I then did a masters in Bio-Medical/Bio-Mechanical Engineering form Arizona State University.
Tell us about some of the challenges you faced in reaching your career goals
I was selected for the internship at Stanford-India Biodesign program while working at Stryker.
In order to do both, I took a special permission/agreement from my company that I will complete my responsibilities even if I have to stay back in the company after office hours. I used to work in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) till 4 pm and rush to Stryker corporation to work there till 12am. It was challenging to work more than 15 hours daily and traveling from Gurgaon to Delhi and Delhi to Gurgaon all the time.
I attended the masters program in Bio-Medical/Bio-Mechanical Engineering at Arizona State University, Tempe campus while also managing internship in a company which was based in Phoenix, AZ. The traveling time was 2.5 hours one way without a car from University to the company location. I used to take two different buses and sometimes one train plus two buses to reach the company. For initial six months, there was no financial aid and hence I had to use my personal funds. Apart from that, I was also doing an on-campus job of a referee for football games in the night. Even after getting paid, I couldn’t afford a car but I was able to start using those 2.5 hours by reading research articles, finishing my assignments and eating my meals during that period of travel.
What are you doing currently?
I work for a company, Toby Orthopaedics, as a Head Engineer and handle the R&D, Production, Manufacturing, Regulatory and Quality areas of the company.
I am working to solve many medical issues in the area of Orthopaedics. It includes simplifying the shoulder replacement surgery procedure, finding solutions to complications involved in hand surgeries such as Carpal Metacarpal surgery.
Most of my day is spent in interacting with suppliers and streamlining the production of instruments/implants. It involves solving issues in manufacturing, keeping the quality of instruments at their best and also making the process and design cost effective. Some days, I am only working on new ideas with a sharpie in my hand and making random designs on white board. Those ideas then take shape on 3D software with precise mathematical dimensions. I also manage the regulatory part of the company as I closely work with the national standards body to keep the company certified with ever changing tough regulatory requirements. I face several audits throughout the year for the company, that require a vast understanding of European standards and FDA Guidance documents for medical device manufacturers. Of course, some days I work with my founder (a Hand Surgeon) on research and development of new interesting techniques to make life easier for surgeons. The work environment is pretty flexible with freedom to make my own decisions on Production, R&D and Manufacturing. It is very rare when you get so many responsibilities in a company, heading so many departments at an early stage of your career.
What do you love about your job?
I love that in my field I can solve existing medical problems in the area of hand and shoulder injuries.
As I mentioned, I am heading most of the areas of the company. This gives me an opportunity to understand the full cycle of how the medical device industry works. An invention is only successful when it reaches the people who need it. My job is, not only to make new products, but also to take those inventions to the field. I work with various manufacturing partners that produce our parts with superior quality. I also make sure that the products conform to the quality standard established by FDA.
How does your work benefit the society?
I design solutions in the area of Orthopaedic surgery and Trauma. These solutions include making better instruments for surgeons, novel techniques to reduce time and complications in long complex surgeries and new inventions to solve unmet clinical needs. Through these solutions, I stress on making the medical procedures safer and more affordable to the patients.
Your advice to students?
Explore and explore more before you actually find what you actually want to do for the rest of your life.
For students post class 12: It is not necessary that you have to stick to one field even after you graduate from one particular program. It is never too late to switch fields even when you got your first job in a completely different field from what you desire to work on. For example: I did my engineering in Biotechnology. I knew I was not interested to pursue research in cell biology, genetics or food technology. Though my first placement just after BTech was in an IT company and in a banking project, I was adamant to explore projects in bioengineering. Many of these IT companies have life sciences domains where you can explore projects related to major biomedical firms. These projects can be a gateway for exploration where you can have an entry level understanding of a particular domain. Just keep on exploring within the organization and stick to what you want to work on. If you can get an opportunity to intern even with no salary, just do it. In today’s world, a computer engineer can combine his software skills with an interest in the biomedical domain to make novel software for doctors. An MBBS doctor with interest in inventing devices, can further do MTech even without a BTech degree. For example, https://gate.iitkgp.ac.in/mmst/.
For class 8 to 12: Do not take stress if you feel you are not getting a rank in top 10 of your class. Do not get stressed if your relatives think you should not take biology in class 11. Remember that you have to listen to your heart as you can become anything in today’s world as the opportunities are endless. The best results will be an outcome of things that you do from the heart. I wanted to pursue medical exam and hence took biology after class 10, not mathematics. I failed to get admission in MBBS in a government college. But that didn’t stop me from pursuing my dream of treating patients. In my Masters, I took mechanical engineering courses and courses related to mathematical computations and did fairly well as I had a very clear goal, which was to make biomedical devices. I knew that Biomedical engineering was where my heart lay.
Specific to the healthcare field, meet doctors and surgeons to understand what is lacking in a medical process or procedure and find a solution yourself. To make prototypes, all you need are pieces of junk in your backyard.
LinkedIn was a great way to make contacts and is definitely the best pathway to contact people in my area. I even used it to explore job opportunities post my MS and found one because of LinkedIn.