Medical sales reps work alongside doctors, even in operating rooms

By David S. Hilzenrath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 27, 2009

In a Florida operating room, a senior citizen with a collapsed vertebra lies face down and unconscious on the operating table, surrounded by members of a medical team.

If all goes well, they'll insert a tiny inflatable balloon into the brittle bone and then stabilize it by injecting cement. It's a delicate procedure that deploys needles close to the spinal cord, and it takes a coordinated effort.

There's an anesthesiologist alternating with a nurse anesthetist, an X-ray technician and a circulating nurse; there's a pair of scrub techs to handle surgical instruments; there's the surgeon, a middle-aged orthopedist who has never performed this type of operation before.

And, at the foot of the operating table, there's Chuck Bates, a guy who studied biology in college and always wanted to go to medical school but never did.

Instead, he began his career selling hot dogs to grocery stores.

As the surgeon prepares to make an incision, Bates stares at the X-ray monitor.

Come up one centimeter and make your incision there, Bates tells the surgeon.

A little later, when it appears that the doctor is going to use his hand to push a needle into the patient's spine, Bates suggests that he try a mallet instead.

Just tap-tap-tap, Bates advises.

The job wholesaling hot dogs enabled Bates to get an MBA on the weekends, and then a friend told him about a career more in tune with his interests, which led to employment with Kyphon, a manufacturer of medical devices.

Devices used to repair fractured vertebrae.

That's how Charles E. Bates III came to be standing at a patient's feet several years ago, doing his part to advance a new procedure called kyphoplasty.

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