One of Arizona's most intriguing women is working to save your life
As a program manager for medical device company Medtronic, Inc., Virginia Counts gets to see some
of the latest and most exciting advancements in medical technology firsthand.
A current doctoral student in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Counts also holds a bachelor’s
and master’s degree from ASU and has been involved with the Society of Women Engineers since
her days as an undergrad.
She started out in civil engineering but switched to mechanical engineering because she was more
intrigued by the fact that it allows one to actually see how things work.
Recently featured in “Arizona’s 48 Most Intriguing Women,” a book that celebrates Arizona’s
100th anniversary as a state, Counts understands the importance of raising awareness of women’s role in the sciences.
Read on to find out more about some of the cool medical gadgets coming out today, and to get some
advice from Counts on finding success as an engineer.
Question: What does your position as a program manager for Medtronic, Inc. entail?
Answer: Medtronic, Inc. is a medical device company. I work in the cardiac rhythm and heart failure unit with
sourcing, so I work with suppliers transitioning medical device components from supplier to supplier. In
the medical device industry, because we are heavily regulated and because we’re dealing with people’s
lives, we’re very cautious anytime we make any kind of change. There’s engineering in all kinds of
medical device testing; in assessing the changes and figuring out what kind of testing we have to do.
Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career in engineering?
A: In high school I was always very good at math and science. I graduated from high school in three‐and‐
a‐half years and, in that time, I took five years of math. It just came really easy to me. As I was picking a
career, some family friends who were engineers influenced me to pursue that field.
I started out in civil engineering because that was the field our family friends were in. But I decided to
switch to mechanical engineering because you can see it; you can see mechanical things working, which,
to me, made it easier to understand and I felt it was more practical and applicable to many different
Q: What do you love about your job?
A: One of the things I love the most about my job is that I get to work with teams of people and, as a
group, we figure out the best way to solve a problem. One of the ways I think I contribute the most is
helping people make the connections between what seems like very different pieces of information and
helping them see those connections.
A: You were recently recognized as one of Arizona’s “48 most intriguing women.” How does it feel to be
included in that group?: I was just astonished that I was chosen to be among this wonderful group of women. If you look at the website (48women.org), you’ll see the names of the other women honored, and they are some
amazing women. It was really a huge honor to be included in this group of diverse, successful women.
Q: It is sometimes the case that women opt not to pursue careers in fields like engineering because of
gender discrimination or stereotypes. Is that something that you ever struggled with?
A: When I look back on my career as a student, which began as an undergrad in 1983, things were
different then. I’ve made it a priority in my life to help influence change regarding stereotypes around
women and technology and, as such, I’ve been very involved in the Society of Women Engineers throughout my whole career. I first became involved with the group as a student at ASU, in a local
chapter on campus, and I served as president of the organization from 2008‐2009.
Q: How do you see technology affecting the health care sector in the future?
A: I see wonderful things happening. For example, Medtronic has two recent devices that look like they
should be on Star Trek. One is called Reveal LINQ, a cardiac monitoring device that is teeny-tiny but is
able to help patients that are having infrequent issues that are difficult to figure out. It’s amazing how
small the device is (about the size of a pack of gum) and how easy it is to implant. I think a day will come
soon where many of us will have a device like this connected with our iPhones, almost like you do with
Fitbit. We also launched another pacemaker device called Micra, which is a tiny pacemaker that gets
implanted very similarly to how a stent gets implanted.
I think there are some very cool things out there when it comes to technological advancements in
health. In the medical industry, we have the opportunity to shift from helping patients with their
symptoms to preventing those symptoms in the first place.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
A: I think it’s really important to reach out to student organizations, like the Society of Women
Engineers. They can give you a network of professional contacts and probably even friends over time. In
line with that, my other advice is make sure you get some work experience before you leave school.
Whether through a lab position, or as an intern, or something else, to figure out what you like and what
you don’t like.
Engineering is a wonderful baseline knowledge for anything you want to do in your career. Even
branching out to something as different as law or medicine. I think with technology advancing so quickly
these days, having the technical background to be able to launch off of is really helpful for anybody just