Dr. Fogarty Continues His Legacy at Age 84, With No Signs of Slowing Down

With age, comes wisdom, and although no one who knows Dr. Fogarty would call him “old,” there’s no doubt his wisdom benefits us all.

Dr. Fogarty, who celebrated his 84th birthday on February 25, is an inspiration to us all. Most of us know his many accomplishments, but for those who don’t, he is one of the most notable cardiovascular surgeons and innovators of all time and recipient of the prestigious Presidential National Medal of Technology and Innovation, among many other honors.

And he continues to make his mark as a pioneer in the medtech industry. Every day he visits the Fogarty Institute’s Fog Shop, where the companies-in-residence are located, to check in with each of the startups and offer his invaluable advice for whatever challenge they might be currently encountering.

“As a surgeon, you make the rounds every day to visit your patients and see how they are doing, and I like to do the same with our companies-in-residence,” he says. “The energy I get from these young people and their innovative ideas inspires me and keeps me abreast of new advances.”

In addition to his mentorship role at the Institute, Dr. Fogarty keeps up to date with the latest technology trends in other ways: He is an active board member of several medtech companies, including a recent board of director’s appointment for Pulse Biosciences; he invests in companies committed to changing healthcare, such as EBR Systems; and he advises numerous other companies that he either co-founded or helped form, such as CyberHeartand Radial Medical.

We recently had the privilege of catching up with Dr. Fogarty to get his insight on the direction of the Institute and the medtech industry, as well as advice and wisdom he has garnered over his illustrious career.

Q. The Fogarty Institute has made a lot of progress in the past year. What stands out to you as one of the most notable accomplishments?

I am very excited about the new team that has been put in place to lead the organization, all seasoned professionals in the field of medical devices and medical technology, who clearly enjoy what they are doing. Collectively, they bring a host of experiences, wisdom and insight that benefit our entrepreneurs.

I am also very impressed with the quality of applicants, and the exciting prospects they bring – and progress they have made already – for creating new technologies that will address critical needs and treat a broad spectrum of patients. This is a strong reflection and a tribute to what the Institute and its team have accomplished, and highlights the organization’s reputation for successfully helping early-stage companies develop, receive funding and eventually get to market.

The Institute has a bright future ahead – we have a solid team and companies, and we are expanding our relationships with other entities that complement what we do. I am looking forward to seeing the continued impact we will have on our industry.

Q. What are your thoughts on the state of the medtech industry?

I am very optimistic. In the past six months, we have seen real progress in the number of devices and drugs that have gotten to market, in a kind of resurgence.

While, undoubtedly, the industry has been challenged by long incubation periods for early-stage medtech startups and dwindling funding, we are seeing things steadily improving as the FDA has made tremendous progress in accelerating and smoothening the path to get devices to market, and most importantly, to patients. We now need to encourage the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to collaborate more closely with the FDA, so the path to reimbursement is accelerated once a company’s device receives approval. The Institute hopes to help with this collaboration. Our direct insight into the struggles of startup companies will help both agencies.

Q. What is the best advice you ever received?

First, listen: It’s important to keep an open mind and not immediately discount anyone’s comments, even if you initially disagree. Instead, reflect and make observations that would document whether what was said is reflective of the actuality before making a snap judgement. And then, retain what you learn.

Q. What was your best career move and who helped influence your career?

My mom was my best mentor growing up. A single mother raising three kids after my dad died, she always provided valuable wisdom on how to best channel my childhood “energy,” let’s call it.

Also, because we had little means, I had to find ways to earn money, from mowing lawns to delivering papers. I also discovered a talent for tinkering with things, and started building race cars and model airplanes for the neighborhood kids.

Before long, I got a position at the local hospital, where they let me work part-time, but get paid as a full-time employee. There I had the fortune of being mentored by Dr. Jack Cranley, who mentored me all the way into medical school and helped me start my career as a surgeon.

Best career move? Becoming a surgeon and entrepreneur instead of a boxer, which as a kid, seemed like a potential avenue.

Q. What kind of mindset / traits do you need to be a successful medtech entrepreneur?

You need to be persistent and have passion. You also need to have the capacity to listen and recognize that you are young and don’t have a lot of experience and therefore you should seek others who do and learn from them. Remember that you don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself, but can learn from those who are willing to share what helped them and what to avoid. And then, when do you make the inevitable mistake, make sure you learn from it.

Q. What advice would you give someone who is just entering the medtech industry?

You must be patient, as this is not an easy path, particularly in this day and age. But the benefits are unmatched: When you are successful, you can know that you developed something to save a patient or to relieve pain and suffering. And this holds true no matter what position you have or contribution you make. Healthcare is a “team sport,” and every single person plays an important role.

Q. How do you get into the “innovation”/creative mindset?

The freedom to imagine is critically important, and I believe we start by encouraging kids to imagine or day dream. You also need to have the ability to ask the question “what if we do something different?” The process of creation, these days, is a team effort and requires input from many people with different backgrounds.

While technology can numb some of that ability to freely imagine — as we deal with information constantly coming at us, versus having more free time to be creative — it also helps develop the curiosity that is needed to innovate.

And I think reading helps with this too. I like reading biographies and history books and learning from other successful people’s experiences and careers, or delving into the stories of notable companies like Nike.

Q. Let’s leave with some inspiration: What is your favorite quote or motto?

Never give up…but have the flexibility to change path or direction when you need to.

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