Kelly Haagenson ’07
Major/Minors: Biology; Chemistry, Spanish

Please tell us about yourself.

I am a 2007 graduate of Concordia with a major in biology and minors in Spanish and chemistry. In my family, the Concordia tradition is strong, as both of my parents, several aunts and uncles, my brother, my sister-in-law, and three of my cousins are Cobbers. When I was a student, I was a member of The Concordia Band and The Concordia Orchestra, an RA in Park Region, and a biology teaching assistant.

After my time at Concordia, I went on to the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Cancer Biology Graduate Program and completed my Ph.D. in 2013. I have been working at Medtronic since 2014 as part of the Neuromodulation Medical Affairs team. Outside of work, I love watching Twins baseball, going to movies, traveling, baking, playing French horn in a community band and at church, and spending time with family and friends. I am also involved with the Concordia Women Connect committee, which has given me a chance to stay connected to the college and get to know Cobbers from many different class years.

Tell us about your current role as a senior medical affairs scientist at Medtronic.

Medtronic is a medical device manufacturer with more than 85,000 employees across the world. The company got its start in cardiac pacemakers but has expanded to many other therapeutic areas since then.

My team supports a variety of products within the Restorative Therapies Group, including spinal cord stimulation, deep brain stimulation, sacral neuromodulation, radiofrequency ablation, and intrathecal drug delivery. I specialize in the intrathecal drug delivery business, which makes an implantable infusion pump to deliver drugs directly to the spinal fluid in patients with chronic pain, cancer pain, or severe spasticity. This allows patients to have improved outcomes and fewer side effects compared to taking oral pain or spasticity medications.

My role in supporting that business is to answer physician questions about intrathecal drug delivery with information from the published medical literature, to work with other teams to ensure they are using medical literature accurately, and to bring a scientific perspective to the business. Our team is also able to address physician questions about the uses of our devices that are not approved by the FDA.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is that I’m constantly learning new things. New data is published all the time and I often get to dig into physician questions we have not answered before. I also get to work on a variety of projects that stretch my thinking and challenge me. I’ve gotten to be an author on a journal publication, create a clinical evidence overview that sales representatives can use to talk about intrathecal drug delivery, help develop materials that show how Medtronic’s pain therapies can help patients reduce or eliminate oral opioid intake, be part of a team that worked to ensure inclusion of intrathecal drug delivery in coverage recommendations made by workers’ compensation groups, and more. My job is never boring, which is one of the things I love about it!

How did your time at Concordia prepare you for your postgraduate education and your career?

Concordia prepared me academically well for graduate school, with science classes that helped me discover my interest in cancer biology, professors that challenged me to ask good questions and think critically, and a liberal arts curriculum designed to build a strong foundation of knowledge in many different areas. Furthermore, my participation in band and orchestra instilled in me that it is a privilege to use our gifts to serve others and that being part of a community with a common goal is a powerful thing.

In my cubicle at work, I have a photo of the mission stone with Old Main in the background, which is my favorite spot on campus. When I look at this picture and read Concordia’s mission statement – which drives students and alumni to engage with the community, to be curious about the world, and to grow in faith through those experiences – I am reminded of how much these words have shaped my life. I am passionate about my work because I feel that what I do each day makes a difference for other people. Medtronic is also driven by its mission, which is to “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.”

What work-related travel experiences have been the most memorable for you?

I have been very fortunate to travel all over the country as well as internationally for my job. Typically, I am attending a conference, supporting physician education events, or participating in training for Medtronic personnel. However, I try to squeeze in something fun on my trips whenever my work schedule allows, as these trips are a great opportunity to explore new places.

Two of my work trips, in particular, are especially memorable for me. Last year, I was able to go to Australia for a conference, but I extended my trip by a couple of days just to explore Sydney. Touring the Opera House, visiting the Sydney Zoo, and whale watching at Sydney Harbor are just a few of the many highlights from this trip. My other memorable trip was to New York City for a conference in the spring of 2018. During this trip, my evenings were free, so, thanks to a combination of being in the right place at the right time and not winning the ticket lottery to see “Hamilton,” I was able to attend the opening night performance of “My Fair Lady” on Broadway, which was incredible, as it’s one of my very favorite musicals. I also attended a Yankees game and a performance of “Hello Dolly!” while I was there.

What do you know now that you wish you knew in college?

I wish that I knew so many things, but one particular piece of advice that I wish I knew is that it is perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know.” Not knowing something does not mean that you are not smart or that you have failed. It is an opportunity to dig in and learn something new.