Laura Beringer, Ph.D., is a passionate scientist who loves combining her expertise in biology, chemistry, and materials science in order to help ensure medical devices are biologically safe and meet patient needs. She discovered this passion at a young age under the mentorship of her parents, who were both involved in the medical industry. In graduate school, she decided that working within the biomedical industry was her calling and had an amazing advisor who showed her that having both a scientific career and a family was achievable as a woman. When Laura isn’t at work, her two sons Alex and Ben, and her husband Carl, keep her on the go! Laura loves spending time with her family, watching and reading horror books, and horseback riding in her free time.
What first drew you to medtech? When did you first know you wanted to be in the industry?
I have always wanted to be in a career which helped people, and both my parents were in the medical/pharmaceutical space, so from a very early age, I saw the impact they made. My dad worked within the rare genetic disease space and interfacing with some of those families devastated by some of these diseases left a huge impact on me. During my undergraduate days at Drexel, I learned there was a field that combines biology with engineering in order to help people, whether that be in the form of medical devices, targeted drug delivery, personalized pharmaceuticals, etc. Medtech is a space where I can bring my knowledge about polymers, biology, and toxicology together to ensure medical devices are safe for patients.
What projects, past or present, have made you love what you do?
Honestly, every project I work on makes me love what I do. I get to interface with all kinds of devices: respiratory, blood catheters, implants, cardiac electrodes. These are just some examples. Each device is unique, and helping with a morbidity and each biocompatibility evaluation plan has its own challenges, but that’s what I love about it. Right now, we are working with an amazing company that has created a system to support extremely premature infants on the cusp of viability. The innovations in medical device science are endless, and I am so proud to be involved in ensuring they are biologically and toxicologically safe before getting put on the market.
What projects are you most looking forward to?
Right now, we are working with blood-contacting devices, which present some unique challenges, but I am excited to ensure the strategies we are testing with will prove these devices are safe for patients.
What are some of the barriers women face in today’s medtech industry?
The medtech industry is still a male-dominated space, and it is often men that hold leadership positions within the industry. Being in the minority, I have had to fight to be viewed as a professional equal. I’ve been in situations where I was “shushed” with a look or hand gesture because the data I was presenting could be thought of as controversial. I have voiced a professional opinion that was ignored until a male colleague expressed the same opinion. Of course, all of these incidents can be quite frustrating, especially when they occur repeatedly.
Additionally, women who are passionate and assertive are often seen as aggressive in the workplace, whereas men who display this behavior, often with raised voices or in argumentative tones, don’t have the same type of label. It has definitely shaped the way I approach clients and colleagues. When I have to present challenging situations, I have learned to do so in a less passionate manner so as not to be perceived as aggressive, but instead factual and knowledgeable.
Another barrier to women in this industry is the misconception that a woman with a family is often viewed as less committed or less competent at their job. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. In companies with this mentality, having to balance the demands of both family and work is viewed as a “strike” against you.
Finally, we still have a long way to go to close the pay gap between men and women, not just in the medtech industry but across the board.
Describe your biggest leadership challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
My biggest leadership challenge is coming across in a way that is viewed as factual and knowledgeable without being perceived as aggressive. I am extremely passionate about my work and the experiments and assays that are run in order to ensure that the medical devices we are testing are safe from a biological and toxicological perspective. Sometimes there are instances where emotion is inevitable, maybe because the device is for premature infants and is showing some potential concerns that are evident from the data. I’ve learned over the years that it’s very important to take a step back from the emotion, gather the data and the conclusions that you can draw, and present them in an assertive, but non-aggressive way where you are open to the questions and potential criticisms you may get. This is something I work on every day and will continue to work on for the rest of my career, and it’s a skill that my current male mentor is doing a great job in guiding me in.
Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson you have learned that has guided you in your career?
I think this career necessitates someone to be assertive and confident, and able to break down the technical-scientific aspects so that anyone can understand them. These are the leadership skills I believe I possess and ones that I rely upon daily. One of the most important lessons I have learned in the regulatory space is that you are often the gatekeeper for a product submission or product launch, and there are going to be times when people/clients won’t like you. They won’t like that the project is delayed, that there is more testing needed, that more time and money are necessary. As a woman, I feel we are often worried about people “liking” us and seeing us as a friend. My biggest challenge, and now one of my biggest skills, is being confident in the knowledge that I don’t need to be ‘liked’ to be good at my job. I’ve learned to never change or modify my professional opinion just because someone may not like me or because it’s a disappointing result for the project and client. Be confident in who you are and the value and technical experience you bring to the table. Always do the “right” thing — be truthful, accurate, and represent what the data and the science tells you, no matter how it may delay a product launch or submission.
In your opinion, what more can be done to promote the greater participation of young women in the medtech industry today?
One of the biggest keys would be having senior leadership women role models to look up to and to emulate: women with a passion to teach the younger generation some techniques and discuss some of the challenges honestly. I would say if there is a woman that fits this profile as you grow into your career, make sure you learn and watch from her. I also hope that doing features like this helps inspire young women starting out in their education or career to pursue careers in the industry.
Why is it important for companies to be more inclusive and have more women in charge?
Women and men tend to tackle problems differently and communicate them from different points of view. It’s so important to be inclusive of all of those views in order to get the best product made, have the best test plans created, ensure that all avenues have been visited. The idea that “this is the way we always have done it” is still accepted in a lot of the medtech space, which just goes to show that we need new opinions, new recommendations, new perspectives. Being inclusive of everyone allows you to reach new goals, be innovative, and solve some of the toughest medical device problems. Having women in senior leadership positions can also help ensure that some of the cultural issues that are present throughout the industry start to shift into positive directions.