Alumni Healthcare Leaders: Nitin Salunke

By Julia Halprin Jackson and Jody Ulate

The nation’s complex and hotly debated healthcare system affects us all. Washington Square wanted to hear from alumni insiders who are shaping the industry—from hospitals and biotech companies to medical devices and research and development.

Here is our full conversation with Nitin Salunke, ’10 MBA, global vice president of Research and Development at Medtronic. Read Q&As with all 10 alumni healthcare leaders.

How did your San Jose State degree prepare you for your career in healthcare?

My need was very specific. I have a technical background—and a master’s and Ph.D.—in engineering. It eventually became obvious that I needed to augment my technical background with a business education so that I could be a better manager, leading large departments. Having a managerial degree along with the technical degrees allowed me to boost my career.

I was looking for an opportunity to interact with my colleagues in other industry sectors, because my entire career for 15-plus years at the time was in medical devices only. What better way to cross-pollinate than to get to interact with my professional colleagues from other industries in a classroom setting?

That’s where the boundaries come down. In class, we would talk about our own case studies or business problems. I really enjoyed being able to learn from other professionals with different backgrounds who are making a difference in the Silicon Valley business world.

What inspired you to work healthcare?

While in graduate school pursuing my engineering degree, I happened to take a class in biomedical engineering or biomechanics. The professor was a great teacher in terms of explaining the basics. And it also exposed me to other applications of engineering—particularly those in medicine. I thought that would be a more fulfilling career: finding engineering applications to improve quality of life, rather than engineering for automobiles and aerospace. It definitely was one of those moments where things just clicked. After graduation, I joined the medical device industry.

What is the biggest challenge with U.S. healthcare today?

Three things: the cost factor, the accessibility, and increasing the effectiveness of therapy. It goes without saying that the cost associated with healthcare continues to rise. The accessibility of healthcare to the broader population is still limited. And there are still areas of diseases that aren’t treated as effectively as they should be.

How does Medtronic address a major patient need?

Medtronic is one of the largest medical device companies in the world. It is approximately $30 billion business with 92,000 employees. With that backdrop, we’re driven by therapy innovation, globalization and providing healthcare in a cost-effective manner. We offer tools that will increase the therapy effectiveness to physicians. I’m privileged to lead the entire global research and development department for neurovascular research.

What skills do you look for in your workforce?

You name a background—from engineering and basic sciences to sales and marketing—a and we usually hire those kinds of skills, because we need to support all business functions.

Because my goal is to develop new products, I specifically hire technical talent with engineering and basic science backgrounds. First, I look for a thorough knowledge and understanding of the given discipline. Second, I look for teamwork and people skills because we all work within a team. It’s rare that you’re working in isolation. And last but not least is leadership potential. We want our talent to grow and become the leaders that we need for today and tomorrow.

Is there advice or information about healthcare that everyone should have?

Typically, when we think healthcare, we think of the working professionals like doctors and nurses. But to make that system work, there’s an entire ecosystem that supports it—everything from hospitals all the way to the hospital suppliers, medical devices, biotechnology, and other services. We need individuals with a variety of backgrounds to be part of that ecosystem.

Practically every major or discipline can impact the healthcare ecosystem. And I think that’s where we ought to spread more awareness. Healthcare is an industry, right? And every industry needs a very diverse, very broad talent space. At the end of the day, there’s huge satisfaction in the ability to make an impact on someone else’s life.

What advice would you give patients or caregivers who are navigating the healthcare system?

Any disease needs to be treated in a holistic manner. Many times, we go to a specialist and we only address a particular symptom. But our human body doesn’t work in isolation. There are a lot of interdependencies within our body, so when you go to treat certain symptoms, you may want to go beyond just a specialist approach. You may want to look into what else may be contributing to that problem.

As much as we train our doctors, patients need to study their diseases. You know more about your body than anyone else.

What is your one message for your fellow alumni?

With our busy lives, I think we get preoccupied, and we don’t stay connected with each other. With the great location that San Jose State has in the middle of Silicon Valley, we alumni should take more time to interact with and learn from each other.



“As much as we train our doctors, patients need to study their diseases. You know more about your body than anyone else.”

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