“I started my career in medicine at UCI, and I knew from word of mouth how great the business program was at the school,” says Karen Noblett, EMBA '19. “It was the only choice.” • Jeanine Hill/UCI

Karen Noblett, EMBA '19, Combines Medical Expertise with Business Acumen in Medical Device Sector

May 15, 2019 • By Jessie Yount

The new device developed by Axonics Modulation Technologies — a rechargeable sacral neuromodulation device — provided immediate relief for patients suffering from bowel incontinence.

It was the first rechargeable SNM and it was built to last up to 15 years, significantly reducing the likelihood of a replacement surgery.

To help develop the device, Axonics had turned to Karen Noblett, EMBA ’19, who started consulting with the company in 2014. Noblett was an accomplished physician with a deep medical background gained during various practitioner and leadership roles at UCI Health.

But developing the device was just the first step. After the trials were complete and the SNM device was approved by the FDA, the business work began in earnest. It was now Noblett’s job to market the innovative technology and secure investors.

At UCI Health, Noblett had completed her doctoral degree, residency and a fellowship in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. Then she had become a practicing physician, clinical professor, fellowship director and chief medical officer at UCI Health.

But she needed additional business skills.

There was no doubt in her mind where Noblett would gain those business skills: It had to be the Merage School. “I started my career in medicine at UCI, and I knew from word of mouth how great the business program was at the school,” Noblett says. “It was the only choice.”

So two years ago, she joined the MBA for Executives program at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business, and simultaneously signed on as the chief medical officer at Axonics.

Noblett credits Leonard Lane, lecturer in competitive business strategy, and Vijay Gurbaxani, professor of information systems and computer science and director of the Center for Digital Transformation, as two invaluable teachers. While Lane provided an understanding of global business strategy, Gurbaxani provided a basis for a digital-savvy mindset.

In addition, Noblett traveled to both Israel and Washington D.C. to learn about hi-tech companies and meet healthcare policy advisors in the two places, as part of Merage School residential trips. “The Washington D.C. residential was incredible, and it strengthened my knowledge of the policy issues in healthcare,” Noblett says.

The Washington D.C. residential, which focuses on federal healthcare policies, is incorporated in the new Health Care Leadership Track, a specialization within the EMBA program at the Merage School.

During the new track, clinical researchers, practicing physicians and medical professionals will choose from a host of health care-focused electives that fall under two categories: Advancing the Health Care Organization and Transforming Health Care.

While the former will focus on risk-aversion and cost-management, the latter will offer students a forward-thinking approach with classes such as Digital Health and Biotech & Product Development.

The track helps physicians develop the leadership skills to become executives.

“The business of healthcare has grown so much that the field is looked at like it’s a business,” says Sylvia Haas, the director of the EMBA program. “Not only are students taught leadership in the classroom, but someone works with all students on leadership development — how to build a team and run a team.”