BEDFORD — When seven Plymouth State students showed up in a surgical operating room, there was an extra arm there to help — a mechanical one.
The students were on a field trip at the Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center as they worked toward earning their medical sales certificates.
Equipment costing close to $1 million helped guide surgeon Dr. Andrew Garber to demonstrate how robotics technology could make knee replacement surgery easier and more precise.
Scott Pelletier, with equipment maker Stryker, showed how results from a CT scan of the knee on video monitors helps guide the doctor operating a saw on the robotic-arm assisted equipment.
“Wherever the leg moves, the patient sneezes or coughs, the robotic arm is going to follow it,” Pelletier told students.
College learning and private industry intersected to give a richer picture of potential careers.
“It’s experiential learning,” said Robert Nadeau, a director at the university’s Professional Sales Institute, which works with corporate partners and takes in funding. “Getting out of the classroom, you learn by doing.”
His students aren’t required to take exams or write term papers. They are graded on such things as their elevator sales pitches.
Attending events such as the one in Bedford gives graduating students something to brag about when going out for their first post-college job interviews.
“I actually got to operate that robot, so now that employer is looking at this and going, ‘Wow, you may not have real experience, but you’ve got practical experience from the classroom,’” Nadeau said.
Senior Connor Robert, 22, of Bedford, said getting hands-on experience “that’s next level technology is a really cool experience” for a college student.
“I think a lot of college experiences are in the classroom based off tests and presentations, but this is really experiential, so If I came here and I ended up not liking it, and I didn’t think I was interested, maybe I’d go another route,” Robert said.
“Being able to get in-person and really hands-on with something is an amazing experience for any college student,” Robert said. “It really hones into the fact that I really want to do this.”
Classmate Jessica Mezquita said she wants to become a medical sales rep, preferably with Stryker.
“It was surreal. It’s 21st century robotics,” said Mezquita, 22, of Atkinson.
And it beats learning from a book.
“You get to learn in the moment rather than in the classroom, where you read about it in the textbook, and you’re just thinking about it,” she said. “I wonder how that is where right now we’re actually seeing it for the first time.”
Students are required to take five courses to earn their medical sales certificate.
Corporate sponsors “do help us with our curriculum and develop cases that we use,” said Nadeau, who’s also an instructor.
In a national collegiate sales competition in April, 70-plus Plymouth State students in its professional sales institute finished second among 60 other schools, Nadeau said.
Stryker employees at the demonstration said they weren’t allowed to comment, referring a reporter to a spokesperson who didn’t return a message seeking comment.
During a question-and-answer session, a student asked Garber what most annoyed him about sales reps.
“You can tell who ... already is successful because they’re not trying to convince you why their stuff is better,” Garber said. If someone “is really pushing me hard to convince me of something, then I probably don’t want it,” he said.
Nick Vailas, CEO of Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center, said medical sales staff are in his operating rooms everyday wearing scrubs.
“I believe just about every time assisting in surgery,” said Vailas, a 1976 Plymouth State alum who sits on the president’s council.
Medical sales workers can make up to a few hundred thousand dollars “or higher” a year, Vailas said.
For the Plymouth State students, “it was important for them to see robotics in action,” Vailas said. “Robotics is playing a bigger role in surgery.”