Women's Leadership Initiative at Merit Medical

Building a Culture of Inclusivity: Merit Welcomes the Women’s Leadership Initiative

Women's Leadership Initiative at Merit MedicalSince Merit Medical’s founding in 1987, our team has been proud of our inclusive workforce. It’s part of our culture. We believe mutual respect, equality, and having appreciation for each other’s differences make our company stronger.

To maintain this commitment to promoting inclusivity, Merit is proud to introduce the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI). As the first-ever affinity group at Merit, the WLI brings multiple benefits to members and strengthens Merit’s overall company culture.

The Women’s Leadership Initiative

Tracy Wood - Chair of Women's Leadership Initiative 2021

Tracy Wood

VP of Strategic Accounts
Chairperson of WLI

The Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) offers professional growth, networking, opportunities for personal and professional enrichment, such as mentoring, professional and leadership development, career evolution, and community-involvement activities.

“It’s about promoting a culture of inclusion,” says Tracy Wood, Vice President of Strategic Accounts at Merit and chair of the WLI. “Our goal is to cultivate growth by sharing perspectives, allowing colleagues to network, and facilitating additional professional development opportunities to help further people’s careers with Merit.”

As an affinity group—an employer-recognized collection of individuals who share similar interests and goals, such as encouraging inclusivity and diversity—the WLI hopes to enhance the Merit experience for all employees.

Affinity Group Advantages: Diversity is Essential to a Company’s Growth

Alisha Jerauld - Vice President of Environment, Social, and Governance

Alisha Jerauld

Vice President of Environment, Social, and Governance

Affinity groups create spaces for networking, resources for mentorship, and training for professional development. Diverse workplaces enjoy improved financial success and growth, and data supports it. Studies suggest when efforts are made to curate a diverse workforce where all employees feel valued, regardless of gender, race, or other factors, it invites better innovation and boosts creativity—which leads to greater financial returns.

“Companies who have greater gender diversity on all levels of management outperform companies who don’t by as high as 25%,” says Alisha Jerauld, Vice President of Environment, Social, and Governance at Merit, referencing this 2020 study that followed the financial performance of companies who made efforts to be more inclusive. “When you have that type of diversity involved with strategizing, you have access to new ideas and perspectives, allowing the company to reach new markets and innovate new products.”

Building Bridges in STEM

Lucia Irazabal, Senior Engineer II & Vice Chair Women's Leadership Initiative

Lucia Irazabal

Senior Engineer II
Vice Chair of WLI

As a leading medical device company, Merit offers a catalog of life-changing products that relies on the talented and creative engineers who design and build them. Lucia Irazabal, Senior Engineer II at Merit, became involved with the WLI in part to build a network of support for women in engineering and leadership positions to encourage employee retention.

“Both through my education and in the workplace, I have experienced being one of the few women on a team,” says Ms. Irazabal, vice chair of the WLI. “Merit is taking a great step developing the WLI. It’s important to have a space to share your perspective, find support, and relate to others who can offer both personal and professional guidance.”

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that even though women make up nearly half of the U.S. Workforce, only about 27% of STEM workers are women. As a result, women in STEM careers often discover it is more difficult to find a supportive network of those who share their experiences.

“Even the process of organizing the WLI has increased awareness of women in the workplace. I have had the opportunity to work with women from all areas of the company,” Ms. Irazabal says. As a testament to this observation, WLI meetings have been met with substantial interest with hundreds of employees, both men and women, voluntarily giving their time and attention to these important discussions.

Men Welcome, Too: Everyone Can Join the WLI

 

One of the chief goals of the WLI is to promote inclusion and share perspectives, and as a result, all employees are encouraged to join. Including everyone, regardless of gender, helps programs like the WLI thrive.

“Involving men helps them understand some of the challenges women and diverse employees face in the workplace,” Ms. Wood says. “Many of the men who joined told me they have women on their teams, and they want to be better prepared to help everyone succeed.”

While some of the barriers holding women back are big, others may go unnoticed until called into question. “When men are more aware of these issues, they often become allies who help to create positive change,” Ms. Jerauld says. “It helps by building a strong network of support.”

Looking Forward

The WLI is making positive strides at Merit, and Ms. Wood states there is more to come. “We plan to have one event each month over the next year that will focus on educating employees about a range of topics, from networking to career advancement,” she says.

The WLI believes by including and uplifting voices and perspectives, Merit will be better equipped to meet the goals outlined in the company mission:

UNDERSTAND. INNOVATE. DELIVER.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Let’s Talk Lung Cancer: An In-Depth Interview with Dr. Reddy

Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.1 In the United States, more people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer.2 November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and to help us gain a better understanding of the condition, the screening process, and treatment options, we sat down with Chakravarthy Reddy, MD, pulmonologist at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, UT.

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs change or mutate, resulting in abnormal cell growth. These cells multiply uncontrollably, forming a tumor and spreading to other parts of the body.

“Stage one or stage two, where patients are potentially curable, have almost no symptoms at all; it’s always incidentally found,” Dr. Reddy explains. “A patient has a scan for some other reason, and the cancer is detected in the lungs.”

When lung cancer symptoms do manifest, they can include a cough that worsens or does not resolve, chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, wheezing, weakness or fatigue, and weight loss.4 “Unfortunately, by the time a patient presents with symptoms, they’re in advanced stages, and their survival is not as good,” says Dr. Reddy.


What Are Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?

Smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer, putting people who smoke at a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer compared to non-smokers.5

In addition to smoking, breathing secondhand smoke is also dangerous, increasing the risk of lung cancer.6 “We always talk about smokers, but there is a correlation between people who live with smokers and their risk for developing lung cancer,” Dr. Reddy adds. “Secondhand exposure does increase the risk of developing cancer.”

The American Cancer Society lists other risk factors for lung cancer, which include:5

Risks and Warnings

Radon
A naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon is the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. Potential risk areas are homes with basements.

Asbestos
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil.7 People who work with asbestos (e.g., in mines, mills, textile plants, shipyards, and where insulation is used) are several times more likely to die of lung cancer.

Carcinogens
Exposure to cancer-causing agents, such as uranium, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel compounds, coal products, and diesel exhaust can increase lung cancer risk.

Personal or Family History
If an individual has lung cancer, there is a higher risk of developing another lung cancer. Brothers, sisters, and children of people who have had lung cancer may have a higher risk.

Previous Radiation Therapy to the Lungs
People who have had radiation therapy to the chest for other cancers are at a higher risk of lung cancer, particularly if they smoke.

Air Pollution
In cities, air pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer, with some research suggesting approximately 5% of all deaths from lung cancer may be due to outdoor air pollution.


Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer?

The recommended screening test for lung cancer is a low-dose CT scan.8 According to the United States Preventive Services Task Force, those eligible for screening must meet the three-pronged criteria:9

Age ǀ Adults aged 50-80 years
Smoking History ǀ Individuals with a 20 pack-year smoking history
Tobacco Exposure ǀ Current smokers or those who have quit within the past 15 years

Age is a straightforward benchmark, but calculating a pack-year may seem foreign to most. “Multiply the number of packs of cigarettes you smoke per day by the number of years you’ve smoked. This gives you the value, which we call pack-years,” Dr. Reddy explains. An example would be if a person has smoked a pack of cigarettes for 20 years or two packs for 10 years, each of these instances would calculate a 20 pack-year history.

The third criterion addresses tobacco exposure—but what is the significance of a 15-year time span? “It takes about 15 years for the risk [of lung cancer] to normalize,” Dr. Reddy says. “If it’s been less than 15 years since the patient quit, then the third criterion for lung cancer screening is met.”

This also means if a patient does not meet the criteria, screening will not happen. Dr. Reddy encourages people who are under 50 who have a 20 pack-year history to speak with a physician about any concerns, personal risk factors, and the benefits of being screened.


What Lung Cancer Treatment Options Are Available?

When lung cancer is caught early, there are more curative options. Unfortunately, as Dr. Reddy mentioned, lung cancer is normally caught in late stages. A surgery called a lobectomy, which removes one of the lobes in the lung, is only an option for stage 1 or 2 cancer. “Patients who come in with lung cancer don’t have healthy lungs to begin with,” Dr. Reddy says. “It’s more likely they also have emphysema from smoking, and they probably won’t tolerate removal of even a lobe.”

If a patient’s lung function is borderline, Dr. Reddy suggests another surgical option called a wedge resection, where the lobe is spared, and only the cancer is removed. “It’s not preferred, but if that’s the only option, it’s better than not doing anything,” Dr. Reddy says. “If their lung function is any worse than that, then we clearly cannot do any surgery at all. We have to think of second-line approaches, such as radiation therapy.”

According to Dr. Reddy, lung cancer that spreads first to the lymph nodes in the chest is still potentially curable. However, once it leaves the chest and invades the chest cavity and other parts of the body, such as the adrenal glands, the brain, or bones, it is potentially no longer curable. When this occurs, palliative care is the only option, relieving symptoms and mitigating suffering while optimizing patient quality of life.

Elation Pulmonary Balloon Dilater - Pulmonology Products - Merit Endoscopy

To relieve common lung cancer symptoms, such as shortness of breath or a persistent cough, there are options. “One of the things we do is use balloons to dilate [the airway passages],” Dr. Reddy explains. “Merit makes Elation® balloons, which we find extremely useful, especially because they are available in short, two-centimeter balloon configurations.”

AERO Tracheobronchial Stent - Pulmonology Products - Merit Med Endoscopy

A second approach is to stent the tumor in the lung to maintain the patency of the airway. An option for this line of treatment would be Merit’s AERO® Tracheobronchial Stents. “Patients notice an improvement immediately, almost right after they wake up from the procedure,” Dr. Reddy says. “The radial force of the AERO stent actually keeps the airway open, and that improves shortness of breath.”


Lung Cancer Awareness Resources

As lung cancer awareness is heightened this month, it is critical to share facts about the importance of screening with loved ones and encourage those who smoke to quit.

Knowledge is power, and having health resources to help understand lung cancer better is important. In addition to information about the disease, the below organizations provide a wide range of topics, including survivor stories and ways to get involved throughout the month, helping patients and families in their battle against lung cancer:

Lung Cancer Foundation of America
American Lung Association
GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer

Support for Merit Employees

If you smoke and need help quitting, sign up for our Employee Smoking Cessation program. Contact Dr. Priest for more information.

Merit Medical is dedicated to improving the lives of people, families, and communities worldwide. Learn more about the trusted interventional and palliative treatment options we offer to help physicians care for lung cancer patients.


References:

  1. World Health Organization. 2021. “Cancer Key Facts.” https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. “Lung Cancer Statistics.” https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/statistics/
  3. American Lung Association. 2021. “Lung Cancer Basics.” https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/basics
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. “What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?” https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/symptoms.htm
  5. American Cancer Society. 2019. “Lung Cancer Risk Factors.” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. “Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke.” https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm
  7. United States Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. “Learn About Asbestos.” https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/learn-about-asbestos
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. “Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer?” https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/screening.htm
  9. United States Preventive Task Force. 2021. “Lung Cancer: Screening.” https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/lung-cancer-screening