Sometimes it is hard to see where you will be as a biomedical engineer ten or twenty years down the road, especially in an uncertain economy. However, it is easy to say that if you can accomplish half of what Jack Griffis has in his twenty years as a biomedical engineer, you could call yourself successful.
Though he is now the Vice President of Research and Development at MedShape, Griffis originally majored in Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Despite having a successful undergraduate experience, he was convinced to move toward medical device development by his adviser, now Dean Emeritus Don Giddens. Griffis started out in radiology but later expanded into to cardiology, osteology, and ophthalmology.
However, as an engineer in a biomedical setting who also trained as an aerospace engineer, Griffis was driven to do a lot of on-the-job learning. Over the years, he was able to work with several highly experienced and talented engineers and, through his work, was able to author multiple patents and publications. He notably worked for C.R. Bard, Inc. for several years before moving on to Medshape, Inc. in 2007 where he still works today.
Looking back on his career, Griffis recalls his first few years as an engineer when he worked to commercialize and develop a medical device. At first, he worked on labels and backorders which is an unavoidable aspect of every biomedical engineer’s career. As he puts it, working as a biomedical engineer is, “80% paperwork and 20% engineering, but that 20% can be a lot of fun.”
When he finally received his own project, he was tasked to develop a thrombolytic catheter and was able to follow the device through the entire design and manufacturing process up to the first surgery. The amount of work and effort involved was highly demanding, and as a biomedical engineer, a lot of emphasis was often placed on being able to work independently on a multitude of tasks. Even though an enormous amount of time or energy is required for a medical device to be fully developed, it is always worth it in the end. “There’s nothing more satisfying than actually seeing your product getting taken out of its package and used by the doctor, and then it succeeded. It worked. It broke up the clot. It was super-fast. The surgeon was very happy, and there’s no better feeling,” described Griffis of first seeing his device being used in real life.
Over the years, Griffis continued to develop medical devices and worked for a few other medical device companies and startups before settling at Medshape, Inc. which started off developing biomaterials with specialties in experimental technologies such as shape memory polymers. The company grew and began developing devices of their own and acquiring a diverse set of clientele including Mercedes Benz who approached them for help in developing the sleeves for the cylinders of the engines of their McLaren cars. However, the large part of Medshape’s development still focused on medicine, especially orthopedics which was quickly becoming a growing field for medical devices.
The medical device field itself is also a fast growing industry, but, as can be seen through Griffis’ work over the years, it requires a lot of determination and self-learning. Through years of hard work and innovation, Griffis was able to pull himself up to where he stands today, but it is harder to find a field of engineering as rewarding and as meaningful as biomedical engineering. It normally takes years for devices to move from the drawing board into the surgery room, but it is what we strive for from day to day so that our clients can go on helping their patients live better, stronger, and healthier lives. “The rewards are tremendous…to know that your efforts could make or break the success of the business, and there’s nothing better than that to me.”