So, you want to consult for pharma? Here’s how

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published January 3, 2019

Key Takeaways

Years ago, Michael McLaughlin, MD, owner of the medical communications firm Peloton Advantage, Parsippany, NJ, was a practicing plastic surgeon and hand specialist. His professional interests changed, however, and he began to focus on non-clinical employment opportunities available to physicians. He has since counseled hundreds of physicians on how to make the leap to not only pharmaceutical consulting but also many other forms of medical consulting and full-time non-clinical careers. He even wrote a book about it, Do You Feel Like You Wasted All That Training? Answers About Transitioning to Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians.

“There are a lot of opportunities for physicians,” Dr. McLaughlin said in an interview with MDLinx. “The types of opportunities and the access to them vary depending on the area of expertise of the physician and the amount of experience they have within those areas.”

Pharma opportunities

Work on advisory boards for pharmaceutical companies could be a promising gig for highly qualified specialists looking to supplement their income. Advisory boards often entail product development in which participating physicians may either help determine where new products fit into treatment algorithms or help discover novel indications for FDA approval. Members of advisory boards help design research trials, determine primary and secondary trial outcomes, analyze results from clinical trials, and track data for emerging issues and concerns. Advisory boards usually meet one to several times per year.

“Depending on the company, it is typically a relatively small number of physicians who end up involved in advisory boards,” said Dr. McLaughlin. “You generally have to be a thought leader in your area to be considered.”

Another pharma consulting opportunity involves speaker programs in which physicians present product information at local meetings. Availability of these opportunities depends on the size of the pharmaceutical company and the firm’s interest in coordinating such events.

“Pharma is probably spending less than it used to on this area,” said Dr. McLaughlin, “but it’s an opportunity as well, and you don’t have to be a national thought leader to be able pursue an opportunity like that. If you’re a highly regarded local physician, you can get these types of speaking opportunities with a pharma company.”

Other pharmaceutical opportunities available to practicing physicians include conducting clinical research trials and providing input and feedback on advertising and marketing efforts.

How to get involved

Physicians who have never consulted for pharma may find it tricky to find a way in, so networking is key, according to Dr. McLaughlin.

“The best way to access a lot of these opportunities is to network,” he said. “Every physician knows somebody working for a pharmaceutical company that could benefit from their expertise, so speaking with them is a good way to start networking.”

Dr. McLaughlin points to a couple of online resources to check out to help you network for pharma consulting gigs.

First, Physician Renaissance Network, an online resource center and forum established by Dr. McLaughlin, provides a myriad of resources to physicians interested in a gamut of opportunities—including pharma. The free, physicians-only portion of the site provides access to 2,000 other specialists who can help you network, and its LinkedIn following is even larger.

In addition, there are several consulting companies that guide physicians interested in non-clinical job opportunities. Some companies hold meetings on the topic, and even offer handy job boards.

Things to keep in mind

For the majority of physicians, consulting for pharma can be a fruitful opportunity that expands professional horizons. But please keep in mind that any money that you derive from pharmaceuticals can become public information, and physicians have been scrutinized regarding such associations.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, boosted transparency by requiring drug and device manufacturers to report any payments made to physicians via the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS fulfills this mandate via the Open Payments Program. Moreover, ProPublica publishes a database called Dollars for Docs where anyone (including patients, colleagues, and administrators) can access this information.

“Everyone wants to minimize the potential for bias involved in physician prescribing,” said Dr. McLaughlin. “I have a tremendous amount of faith in physicians’ ability to make the best decisions for their patients. But like any type of profession out there, there are some bad apples. So, it’s important to monitor pharma spending in these areas.”

Ultimately, Dr. McLaughlin encourages physicians to pursue only consulting opportunities that they are passionate about; for instance, drugs or devices that they believe will help patients attain better care and clinical outcomes.

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