Exercise Science Program Prepared Graduate for a Career in Athletic Training, Medical Sales

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (March 24, 2022) — As a 1999 University of Kentucky Kinesiology and Exercise Science student, Mike Purcell dreamed of a career as an athletic trainer (ATC) in Division I athletics. Her career goal was achieved shortly after graduation, and it opened the doors to a whole new set of opportunities.

Purcell is currently Director of Sales within the Foot and Ankle Division at Stryker, a leading medical technology company. He recently returned to campus to talk about his career with students from the UK College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, giving them advice on how to break into medical sales and similar industries.

It was in the fall of 1999 when Purcell, originally from Paris, Kentucky, moved to Minnesota. He had just graduated from the UK, passed his Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) exam and landed a role as an athletic trainer with the University of Minnesota football team. It was during his time with the Golden Gophers that he first got a taste of the world of medical sales.

“As one of the sports coaches for the football team, part of my job was to buy equipment, so I interacted regularly with the sales reps. I knew sports training, but I was still learning the business side of things. The suspenders and tape you see athletes wearing on the sidelines are from various companies trying to earn your business by selling their products over their competitors. As I grew in this role, I didn’t realize it right away, but I was beginning to build a network in sales that would impact my future career path.

People in Purcell’s network started asking him to consider medical sales, but he was torn. He loved his job in sports coaching and thrived on making a difference in the lives of athletes. Additionally, he lacked experience in one major aspect of the job – sales.

“I knew I could speak the terminology. I knew I could talk to the surgeons because I did so regularly with various doctors on the team. I understood anatomy and physiology through my education and training in exercise science. But I didn’t know if I could sell,” he said.

Two decades later, Purcell is garnering accolades for his achievements in sales for Stryker and has risen to increasing levels of leadership within the company. One of the most rewarding aspects of his career is that he still has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of athletes, as well as patients from all walks of life suffering from medical trauma or chronic pain.

“There will be a moment in the operating room when a surgeon will turn to you. When you don’t have the answer, you still have to know how to transmit confidence and competence. You must create a network of people and resources towards which you can turn to for the answer when you don’t have it, but if you’ve put in the work, time and effort to learn your craft and be clinically relevant, you can bring something to this operating room. that will impact patient outcome,” Purcell said.

His experience in athletic training is integral to Purcell’s career in medical sales. Knowledge conveys confidence in the sales process. Her advice to students interested in a similar career trajectory focuses on developing these skills, but also work ethics and networking.

“It’s stuck with me all my life that there are two things you are 100% in control of, always – your attitude and your effort. It’s always in your control every minute of every day,” Purcell said. .

While addressing students in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion on campus, Purcell encouraged them to not just study for the tests, but to really get to know the material.

“Be a sponge, go learn. There’s only one way to gain experience and you have to put yourself in those situations,” he said.

One of the situations Purcell was able to place himself in while studying for his bachelor’s degree in the UK was volunteering to work with researchers like exercise physiology professor Jody Clasey.

“I learned how the studies are organized. In this industry, you need to know how to tell the difference between a promotional marketing piece and a peer-reviewed study. Being able to talk about these things is a critical skill I learned helping with research at university,” he said.

In all of his roles with Stryker, working as a trauma representative was one of Purcell’s favorites. He liked the unpredictability. It could be cases of falls in the elderly, car accidents and everything in between.

“There were so many patients you touched in that role. You can have sales calls scheduled and be ready to talk to a surgeon about a product. But then you get up that morning and have four new patient cases to facilitate. You make sure the right sets of equipment are there and sterilized. It’s a real juggling act, but that’s how I’m wired,” Purcell said.

Purcell fell in love with trauma surgery because it was always different.

“You can be part of 10 different fractured distal radius surgeries and never see the same thing. I liked being able to put the puzzle together with the team. When a surgeon can call and say he’s at Hospital A, and you can go to Hospital B and make sure he has what we need, that’s extreme trust. There is real joy in knowing that you are part of the impact on a patient’s outcome,” he said.

Purcell saw two routes for individuals to enter his domain. Like him, we have a background in anatomy and sports medicine, but no sales experience. The other has a strong background in sales and a business degree, but no experience in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, or similar fields. He says there are examples throughout his organization that prove either path can be successful.

“Selling medical devices is a commitment and a career. This is a great opportunity in terms of income. If you are committed to staying up to date, constantly learning, and are good at selling and connecting with people, you will have the opportunity to make a big impact. Differentiating individuals keep in mind the most important person in the process – the patient, the outcome of that patient. It’s amazing how much of an impact you can have,” he said.

To learn more about Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion majors, visit education.uky.edu/khp.

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