Vanessa Pau is a Senior Scientist in the Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure unit (formerly known as Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management) of Medtronic in Minneapolis. Medtronic’s work in heart rhythm therapies dates back to 1957, when co-founder Earl Bakken developed the first wearable heart pacemaker to treat abnormally slow heart rates. Pau designs experiments and integrates medical imaging techniques to see how implanted cardiac devices interact with the human body.
Growing up in a family of engineers in Irvine, California, Pau valued scientific discovery and innovation from an early age. “My last year in high school was the year Dolly the sheep was cloned,” said Pau describing what sparked her interest in biomedical engineering. She dreamed of the potential opportunities for cloning in health care. “I thought it would be exciting one day to clone human organs.”
Pau further explored her interest in biomedical engineering at the University of California at Irvine, where she would earn her bachelor’s degree. She landed an internship with Medtronic during the summer before her junior year, working full time in the summer and part time during the school year. She saw first-hand how an animal study can help us understand how cardiac devices perform in living organisms. Pau credits her internship experience with Medtronic in solidifying her interest in the field. “I would highly encourage students to seek out internships or co-op programs to help find their passions.”
Pau went on to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “I was looking forward to learning from a well-established curriculum and also establishing a network that would benefit my career down the line.” At Johns Hopkins, Pau focused her efforts on cardiovascular physiology and learning how the heart remodels during aging. She performed microsurgeries on rats to facilitate her research.
After earning her graduate degree, Pau began her career at Medtronic where she has thrived for the past five years in the areas of Medical Imaging, Cardiovascular Imaging and Physiology, and Medical Device Mechanics. Her role at Medtronic is to study how cardiac leads, or wires that connect cardiac devices to the heart, operate when patients move in order to improve lead testing and design. Pau has also had the opportunity to work around the globe to help cardiac devices reach emerging markets. Pau spent time in China and India and in countries in Europe and the Middle East working with doctors and patients, conducting clinical trials, identifying patient needs and care pathway barriers, and learning about what governs patient and provider decisions. She also participated in Medtronic’s Global Health Innovation Fellowship in Ghana. “Having these experiences enabled me to develop a passion to help reach patients who need [health care] the most,” says Pau.
Although Pau often finds herself in meetings with much more seasoned male biomedical engineers, she brings a valued perspective to the table. Pau offers that, “learning to be assertive and confident and not being afraid to challenge the status quo with new perspectives can help young female engineers like myself gain credibility.” She advises students interested in the field to seek out research opportunities, as well as experiences that enable you to learn the “applicability” and “business-side” of biomedical engineering such as internship programs and biodesign classes.