Engineering in Healthcare: An Army Vet's Career Shift

An aerospace and defense industry engineer finds a home in healthcare.

REACHING YOUR POTENTIAL     |    Feb. 03, 2021

It might be difficult to envision a professional path that leads from the U.S. Army to the aerospace and defense industry and then, to engineering in healthcare. But Cedric Marionneaux, the director of research and development for product and technical services engineering for Abbott's Neuromodulation business, is proof that such a career path is possible.

Under Cedric's leadership, a multidisciplinary team of engineers develop medical devices such as spinal cord stimulators that improve the ability of people with chronic back pain to perform everyday activities and deep brain stimulators that help people with Parkinson's disease and essential tremors control their movements. Most recently, the Neuromodulation team announced a radiofrequency ablation device which is a non-surgical, minimally invasive treatment for the management of pain in the nervous system.

Here's how Cedric made this career evolution.

An Aerospace and Defense Background

Before heading a research and development team for neuromodulation, Cedric served as an engineer and manager in the aerospace and defense industry for over a decade. His link to military work goes back to his days in the U.S. Army, where he was a decorated non-commissioned officer.

"I credit my military experience in shaping and forming my viewpoint on what I regard as true leadership," he says. "Before I joined the Army, I didn't really know my limits. Recognizing that you have amazing capacity somewhere inside you can be the difference between success and failure."

Whether he's teaming with design quality to resolve a technical issue, partnering with marketing departments to develop new products or consulting with regulatory on the best way to describe a new product feature to the FDA, Cedric credits his military background for instilling a strong sense of leadership, collaboration and cooperation in him.

During his time in the Army, he earned a bachelor's degree in electronics engineering from Southern University and A&M College/Louisiana State University — but that was just the beginning of his academic achievements. He went on to earn master's degrees from Southern Methodist University and MIT's Sloan School of Management. His thirst for learning led him to careers at Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins and Raytheon.

While none of Cedric's experience necessarily pointed to an engineering career in healthcare, that all changed when he was contacted by an Abbott recruiter.

A Mid-Career Pivot

After learning about Abbott's work in developing life-changing technologies, Cedric made a shift in his career — working in Abbott's Diagnostics business as a systems development manager. For more than four years, Cedric and his team focused on the next generation of immunoassay analyzers.

"I'd never been exposed to that level of engineering, chemistry and biology on a project," he says. "It gave me a different vision for my career. I could see the direct impact on people's lives, and it was game-changing from my perspective. I was using the same talents I had in aerospace and defense for the diagnostics in healthcare."

In 2018, Cedric took on another opportunity at Abbott when he heard an attorney come to speak at an employee townhall meeting for Abbott's Neuromodulation business.

"This person was an attorney who worked on poverty alleviation for children. She explained how chronic pain had forced her to become bedridden and dependent on her family for total care. With the help of our chronic pain device, she was able to return to work, regain her independence and train for a marathon." Stories like that helped Cedric to see how important his work was and how it can change the quality of life for so many people.

From there, Cedric pivoted his engineering skills once again. He took his engineering expertise from aerospace, and his industry experience from diagnostics and applied them to medical devices as a part of Abbott's Neuromodulation business.

Today, as the lead of one of the largest R&D organizations at Abbott, Cedric and his team are responsible for supporting the products that Abbott sells across the globe in the face of changing regulations. He oversees all design verification for any new products that go to the market and works with a team of engineers who test new products from their normal design margin all the way to their point of failure. This process helps the team understand and confirm the intended breaking points before bringing the products to market.

"It's been non-stop enjoyment," he says. "I work on products every day that are life-changing for people living with chronic pain and movement disorders. It's been immensely gratifying."

Advice for Pursuing Engineering in Healthcare

With the proper education, training, experience, discipline, drive, and passion to help others, engineers in other industries can find a place for themselves in healthcare, says Cedric.

His advice: "Expect tough, multi-disciplinary problems ... you'll often confront design issues outside your technical discipline."

It's also important for engineers to understand the role other parts of the business — such as manufacturing, supply chain and legal — play in getting the products they design and create to customers. This gives engineers much-needed perspective and a sense of being part of a larger team.

"At Abbott, we feel everyone plays an active role in the healthcare delivery process," Cedric says. "Only by combining each party's respective strengths through collaboration can we overcome these hurdles and begin to deliver truly exceptional healthcare."

Finally, Cedric says, don't let lack of experience in the healthcare sector dissuade you. It didn't stop him.

"Seek medical device innovative companies like Abbott and see what roles are available at those companies," he says. "It will surprise you."