How Stryker strives to save lives

Stryker offers products and services in the fields of orthopaedics, medical and surgical equipment, neurotechnology and spine. Founded in the US in 1941, it has a long tradition of medical innovation that makes it a great fit for Amsterdam’s life sciences and health community. Stuart Silk joined Stryker almost 11 years ago, driven by an ambition to make a difference.

“My father passed away 16 years ago when I was still working at an electronics business,” he says. “He died of an aneurysm. And I was embarrassed to realise I didn't even know what an aneurysm was… When a friend introduced me to Stryker I was intrigued. Naturally, it’s listed on the stock exchange, it’s a for-profit company, but it goes beyond just a product and a top and bottom line. It’s about improving the lives of patients, and about potentially saving lives.”

Training the next generation of surgeons

In Amsterdam, the company has made a significant impact in the local life sciences and health sector by helping to establish the Amsterdam Skills Centre, a public-private partnership with Amsterdam UMC. This ground-breaking training centre to develop the next generation of surgeons is a project close to Silk’s heart. “We have been working with the VUmc and AMC hospitals, which are now joined as one entity, for the last four years in developing what we call a state-of-the-art education centre,” he says.

At the basis of the cooperation is a shared vision: “The whole project came to fruition through the vision of Dr Jaap Bonjer, who is the chair and professor of Surgery of Amsterdam UMC and whose vision is very similar to ours - to be able to train physicians and healthcare professionals across the globe to better use products that will improve patients’ lives.”

Surgeons

The centre works with virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) for training, and the goal is to keep on developing these technologies to offer more advanced interactive courses. “One of the key areas that we will be working on more is how we incorporate technologies such as VR and AI into the training techniques, and how we can partner with different organisations to ensure that people don’t necessarily have to physically come here to do their training, but can take part in other locations around the world. That’s the shared ambition that we have together with the Amsterdam Skills Centre.”

Is VR the future of surgical training? “I think it’s always going to be a combination of haptics and VR. But the question is what tools we can develop to make the training of health care professionals easier, safer, and quicker. And definitely more accessible.”

Collaborating to improve healthcare around the world

The large-scale public-private partnership is a first not only for Amsterdam but also for Stryker. “We are global, with a huge presence in the US, obviously, plus we are also everywhere from China to Australia and beyond…” and yet, Silk adds, “this project was the first of its kind for Stryker.”

While the centre is equipped with Stryker products, Silk stresses that “the training centre is non-exclusive to Stryker, it belongs to the hospital,” adding that training taking place there doesn’t necessarily need to involve Stryker products.

In June 2019, four months after the official opening, more than 1,500 healthcare professionals from 49 countries had attended a course at the centre, including both Stryker and UMC’s own courses, as well as those run by other medical technology companies.

How Amsterdam is the perfect gateway to Europe

Silk puts the centre’s success partly down to its location within Europe. “We train over 15,000 healthcare professionals across Europe and we’re concentrating most of their training in Amsterdam. Because it’s the hub of Europe, it’s easily accessible. It’s also where we have our European headquarters.”

The proximity to Schiphol is also a significant advantage. “Quite frankly, people don't want to be in the car for two hours from the airport to their training centre,” Silk adds, “so the location is just perfect.”

Amsterdam canal Jan Kranendonk

Silk himself has lived in Amsterdam for four years and loves the fact the city is so international. “I was born in the UK, but my mother is South African, my father was English, and I grew up in Brazil. That’s why living in the Netherlands is perfect.”

He says he has found settling in the Dutch capital remarkably easy. “Having lived in seven different countries,” he says, “I’d say Amsterdam is by far the easiest city for that – as a family we have adapted so quickly. The international environment and the fact that everyone speaks English helps.”

The Dutch capital’s inclusive business community

Silk also thinks it’s an exceptionally welcoming place to do business. “It’s a vibrant business community which embraces innovation, and which embraces new companies. I’d say the innovation part is key for what we do at Stryker. It’s not just about innovation in terms of products, or innovation in terms of services, but also innovation in terms of new technologies, such as robotics or 3D printing.”

He says the government is very approachable and that he is highly involved with the local business community. “I sit on the board of MedTech Europe, I sit on the board of the American Chamber of Commerce here in the Netherlands, and the interactions that we have with industries either within the life sciences or outside of the sector are really much more vibrant and interactive than I’ve experienced in other countries I’ve lived, whether working with Stryker or other organisations.”

As for Stryker’s future in Amsterdam? “We’re here for the long term,” Silk explains.

“Our original plan when we came to Amsterdam was to have around 110 employees and make it a regional headquarters. Now we are over 450 people here. We’ve brought in financial services, HR services, plus all our commercial services. And we have a European warehouse in Venlo as well, which basically is a hub for Europe and for the globe to receive and ship our products. Add that to the investment we’ve made with the Skills Centre, and I can say for sure – we’re here to stay.”

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