When the employees of Greenville-based Humimic Medical brainstormed ways the company could be competitive and relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, Furman University senior Heath Hawkins was in the middle of the discussion.
Within hours, Humimic, which specializes in manufacturing materials that mimic human tissue for simulated medical training, decided to make face shields for personal protective equipment, an item in high demand but with limited supply.
“The next thing I know, we had the raw materials to make 200,000 face masks,” says Hawkins, a health science major in his second semester as an intern with the company. He was put in charge of pricing the shields and finding buyers. Soon afterward, he was offered a full-time job and will start as the company’s sales manager this summer.
Hawkins said he never thought he’d have the opportunity as a student to play such an integral role in a company. The experience, he says, has taught him “how to adapt and change when things get tough, and how to conduct business in a real-life setting.”
Adapting quickly under pressure is nothing new to Hawkins, a former Paladins relief pitcher. But the opportunity for real-world experience is thanks to an internship coordinated through Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health (IACH).
Health expenditures in the United States topped $3.6 trillion in 2018; it’s expected to grow to more than $6.2 trillion and nearly 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2028, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
For many Furman students, that means potential for employment. Whether someone wants to pursue a professional degree to be a physician, a dentist or a hospital administrator, or, like Hawkins, they want to enter the job market in medical device sales, getting hands-on experience while still in college provides a competitive advantage.
Jana Heroman ’97, a veteran of medical device sales, coordinates all health-related internships and clinical observations for Furman as a member of IACH. She was an English major who was thinking about a career in journalism until she interned at a Greenville TV station the spring of her senior year.
“Spring term is not the time to figure out what you don’t want to do,” Heroman says with a laugh. Her mother, a nurse at Duke University Medical Center, suggested pharmaceutical sales, which launched her career. She spent 10 years with AstraZeneca, and another 10 years in surgical device sales before coming to Furman in 2017.
With her extensive background and connections with corporations and clinicians, she navigates the myriad rules and regulations for working in healthcare and helps nearly 200 students each year experience what it would be like to work in their prospective profession.
The opportunities not only help students, but companies, too. As a small business, Humimic was able to tap into Furman talent.
“Stories like Heath’s showcase the value of the Furman experience that produces entrepreneurially minded leaders,” says Bryan Davis, managing director of Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a member of the board at Humimic.
“Companies in the early stages of development, like Humimic, can’t afford to have a ‘one trick pony’,” Davis say. “They need someone to be able to jump into any situation with creativity, agility and problem-solving skills – some of the most sought after qualities in the job market, and exactly what an entrepreneurially minded individual has. There’s nothing quite like getting linked up to work in an early-stage company to really accelerate the maturity of this mindset.”
Humimic also hires interns from other area universities, including engineering students. Hawkins’ internship was initially focused more on engineering, but Heroman helped company CEO Joel Edwards see the value of a student with a liberal arts and sciences education.
“I will put any Furman student up against anyone,” Heroman says. The students who have the most success are ones who are willing to work hard. Hawkins, she says, “was able to jump into a fire and roll with it, and then get offered a job. He was very adaptable.”
As a Furman student, Hawkins learned perseverance and time management skills that are now paying off. “With Furman academics, you have to have a work ethic,” he says. “I learned how to find the right time to do things and to keep pushing when times get tough, whether with sports or academics.”
Hawkins says he enjoys the hands-on, agile atmosphere at Humimic. Within three days of having an idea, the company had a product on the market and in hospitals. “We went from making medical simulation products to making medical face shields. To me, that’s incredible.”
The hands-on experience Hawkins is getting with Humimic is “unlike with any other company,” Heroman says. Skills such as marketing, purchasing and being part of product development will pay off. “If he goes to another company down the road, he’s going to be so far advanced,” she says.
Kate Lewis ’18, a communications post-baccalaureate fellow with IACH, contributed to this story.