Unconditional passion for the industry. A patient-first mindset. Grit. A selfless willingness to give back to the field to help advance the next generation of entrepreneurs and inventors.
These are just a few of the traits that describe the individuals drawn to the medical device industry, and one of the aspects that makes it so unique and strong.
Liz McDermott, a seasoned executive with 35 years of experience in medtech, has built her successful career by embodying every one of these qualities.
From an early age, Liz knew she wanted to be an engineer, and so in high school, she became one of the only girls in the Boy Scouts’ Explorer engineering club. Equally fascinated by medicine and the human body, she volunteered at the local hospital. Growing up, her hero was Dr. Christian Barnard, the South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first human heart transplant.
Liz went on to pursue a BS and MS in biomedical engineering. While she also took some medical school courses, she realized early on that she was most interested in figuring out healthcare’s larger problems and finding solutions, rather than being solely focused on patients.
Her first job right out of school was in medtech, in Cleveland, Ohio, where she went to Case Western Reserve University. Liz then took a one-way ticket to California, without knowing anybody, and worked for Advanced Cardiovascular Systems (ACS). Her initial role was as a product development engineer, working on some of the first angioplasty catheters and guide wires.
This is where she fell in love with the industry: She thoroughly enjoyed working closely with the physicians to define the patients’ needs and then working with talented and creative engineers in the R&D lab to find solutions to problems – over and over again.
As her career advanced, ACS was acquired first by Eli Lilly and then eventually spun into Guidant. She enjoyed a successful career in numerous high-level positions — at Pilkington Barnes Hind, a medical products division for contact lenses and over-the-counter lens solutions; later at Endovascular Technologies, Inc., which was also acquired by Guidant; and eventually as VP of regulatory and clinical affairs for Evalve, which was acquired by Abbott Vascular.
At Evalve, she had the opportunity to work alongside her late sister, Ferolyn Powell, and it is also where she experienced one of the most rewarding moments of her career — gaining FDA Premarket Approval for the MitraClip device, the first percutaneous mitral valve repair device available in the U.S. It took over 13 years to receive FDA approval, but Liz and the Evalve team’s persistence was worthwhile: As of last year, the device has been used to successfully treat more than 40,000 patients in 570 hospitals worldwide.
Another rewarding moment is seeing so many of the people she has had the opportunity to work with and mentor throughout her career be so successful on their own career trajectories.
The Ferolyn Fellowship, which Liz launched in collaboration with the Fogarty Institute and Dr. Fred St Goar to preserve her late sister’s legacy, evolved from her belief in the potent impact mentorship can have on careers. “Taking the time to work with people to help them grow as individuals and leaders is incredibly rewarding personally, as well as tremendously beneficial for our industry,” said Liz.
“With the Ferolyn Fellowship, we are aiming to share Ferolyn’s unique leadership style of leading from the heart, which proved to be so effective. She was ‘tough as nails,’ intellectually brilliant, a superb problem solver and most of all, deeply empathetic. She had a unique ability to connect with people and truly cared about everyone, regardless of their position in the company,” she added.
The Fellowship is not a classroom, but rather a program designed to “connect bright minds,” by joining high potential, mid-career entrepreneurs with seasoned leaders to whom they otherwise might not have access. “These are very capable, energetic and passionate individuals and matching them to experts in their field who are willing to share their knowledge and provide mentorship is very powerful.”
The program has proven to be very successful, with the first class already having made significant strides: Matt McLean has gained new responsibilities at Medtronic; Kate Garrett sold her startup, Ceil, to Vyaire Medical as a first-time CEO; and Julia Fox identified the steps needed to successfully find a position that utilizes her skills and passion for advancing new technologies. All three are deeply involved with this year’s second class, which graduates in June.
The Ferolyn Fellowship advisory board is also exploring other avenues to preserve Ferolyn’s legacy of leadership and passion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By connecting with additional groups, the Fellowship hopes to further broaden its reach, touching even more individuals both locally and beyond.
Outside of leading a brilliant career in medical technology and spearheading the Ferolyn Fellowship, Liz has recently achieved another long-time dream, moving to live full-time in Truckee, Calif., where she backs to the Tahoe National Forest. There she enjoys all the outdoor activities available, including hiking and snowshoeing with her husband and dog; traveling; and participating in nonprofit opportunities, such as the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation. And of course, she is proud of her daughter, Allie, who in June will earn her master’s in counseling psychology; and her son, Kevin, who is carrying on the family tradition as an engineer with Prescient Surgical, a Fogarty Institute graduate.