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Medical director, Interventional Cardiology/Structural Heart
Boston Scientific Corp.VIEW PROFILE
Paul Underwood, M.D. (MED ’84, I ’87), set out to become a general practitioner in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. He attended Mayo Clinic for medical school and ended up in Phoenix, Arizona, as an interventional cardiologist. After 25 years in private practice, he transitioned to the medical device industry. For the last nine years, he’s worked at Boston Scientific to develop cutting-edge technologies for interventional cardiologists around the world.
“Now instead of caring for patients I can physically touch, I participate in the care of patients across the globe.”
My work in the medical device industry falls into three buckets: voice-of-the-patient, product integrity and science. I provide medical input to clinical data used for regulatory and scientific presentations. My days remain busy with risk assessment, design control, post-market surveillance and strategic execution. At Boston Scientific, we manage around 150 clinical studies and allocate more than $1 billion annually to research and development. Bringing cutting-edge technology to the bedside requires a lot of work and a huge commitment to provides, patients and regulatory agencies.
Now my responsibility lies in providing the safest, most effective and affordable new medical therapies for physicians to better treat their patients. In industry, the added considerations for product life cycle bring with it challenges that are distinct from those experienced in clinical practice.
I miss the bonds that develop when you are entrusted with the care of another person’s life. The patients and families I saw every day in the clinic have changed to teams of engineers and scientists from all over the world. The steep learning curve encountered when entering industry hasn’t left me with a break long enough to reminisce on clinical practice. The things I don’t miss are the bustling waiting rooms, the 3 a.m. STEMI calls and claim resubmissions that were once part of everyday life.
The issues I now encounter are regulatory deadlines, days away from home and business strategy.
Despite being out of the cath lab, I remain deeply committed to improving outcomes of patients with heart disease. Now instead of caring for patients I can physically touch, I participate in the care of patients across the globe. I don’t anticipate returning to clinical practice. Instead, I’ll continue to use the decades of clinical practice as a foundation when providing medical-clinical input.
Interestingly, I used to visit the limestone building housing the medical school in Rochester back in the mid-‘70s when my mother participated in the IBM faculty exchange during several summers. My mother relocated to IBM-Rochester when I was a premed student at Morehouse College. During an NAACP meeting she learned from then-registrar Margaret Thompson that Mayo Clinic had opened a medical school. The opportunity to have instruction from world-class clinicians at a world-renowned institution appealed to me. Yet during my interview at Mayo Clinic, I had my first culture shock when I stepped off the plan from Atlanta into subzero weather.
Mayo Clinic gave me a unique opportunity to experience the interaction between clinical and medical science. Mayo imparted me with a profound respect for patients and a burning desire for the best medicine. Adhering to the Mayo principles of patient care, research and education has continued to play a prominent part in my life.
Most importantly, I learned the value of independent thought within a collaborative environment while at Mayo. Listening to concerns and making meaningful contributions to solving problems is a skill that has followed me since training. Mayo Clinic is the largest and most widely respected medical practice in the world; as a Mayo alum I’m honored to carry forward the tradition of excellent patient care.
I became closely connected to the Rochester community through ties at Mayo and IBM. Rochester’s first African-American church was founded while I was at Mayo, and this church now participates in the FAITH project led by LaPrincess Brewer, M.D. (Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Mayo Clinic Rochester, CV ’16). Mayo was and remains supportive of my entire experience.
Our nation’s health will be its best only if all can benefit from the advances in medicine. Clearing the pathway to equitable care is essential for America’s survival. I’ve learned much about the delivery of health care in America during the years I’ve spent meeting patients where the “rubber hits the road.” I look for data-driven strategies to ensure all people can achieve their optimal health.
Throughout my career I’ve partnered with several health equity-focused organizations. These partnerships began at Morehouse College with the Health Careers Society and former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. While at Mayo I was active in the Student National Medical Association. More recently, through the Association of Black Cardiologists, I’ve supported educational, community, research and advocacy efforts aimed at creating health equity, particularly for traditionally underserved populations.
At Boston Scientific I’m closely involved with our health equity initiative, Close the Gap. We recently came full circle when Close the Gap partnered with my former classmate Sharonne Hayes, M.D. (Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester; I ’86, CV ’90), on the inaugural Mayo Clinic Equity and Inclusion in Healthcare Conference held in Rochester in 2017.
Through Close the Gap, Boston Scientific has partnered with the American Heart Association, WomenHeart, the National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and the Women’s Heart Alliance. These groups engage patients and public health officials to better understand how to improve care for people with heart disease.
Whenever possible, I spend “free time” with family and friends. Whether at home or on the road, I feel it’s important to keep connected. We enjoy spending time traveling with our five children and their grandparents.
I’m also involved with community activities through church, civic organizations and STEMP.
For those who remember the Claude Bolling duet I played with Patricia Pellikka, M.D. (chair, Division of Cardiovascular Ultrasound; MED ’83, I ’86, CV ’89), at the 1983 Mayo Medical School talent show, I still play the bass guitar.
See past New Chapter stories here.