For young ophthalmology graduates now entering the workforce, collaborating with industry may be a venture worth exploring.
Partnering with industry early in my career has been very helpful in my own career. Industry representatives whom I met as a resident and fellow helped me forge relationships with companies as an attending physician. I have learned immensely from my industry colleagues and have been able to offer my patients early access to new medications and technologies that have benefited them greatly.
My industry partners have also benefited from my real-time feedback, expressing pros and cons of technologies and products and offering suggestions on how they could improve their portfolio to create a greater impact for our patients. I am honest and respectful when working with industry, and they have been the same with me.
Some of you may have already begun interfacing with industry as a trainee (working with industry representatives to use various phacoemulsification machines, trying different types of intraocular lenses, prescribing specialty medications or attending industry-sponsored surgical courses). Others may not have worked as much with industry in training, but it’s never too late to start this relationship.
Benefits of Collaboration
Relationships with industry are a two-way street. Industry partners enjoy working with physicians to hear our opinions and gain feedback on how to improve their products prior to launching them in the ophthalmic market. Similarly, physicians can be at the leading edge of clinical practice by gaining early access to new technologies, devices and/or medications and providing meaningful input to the quality-of-care patients will receive. This ongoing collaboration allows physicians and industry partners to create long-lasting friendships and working relationships.
There are many routes through which you can work with industry. Advisory boards put together by companies bring together key opinion leaders who are asked to provide feedback on new technologies, devices, or medications. As a young physician, you can be asked to join one of these meetings to provide insights into how you are incorporating a company’s product into your practice, share positive feedback you are receiving from patients, voice what challenges you are facing, and offer thoughts for improvement or new marketing strategies. These meetings can be intimidating at first, but offer great forums for discussion with industry and allow physicians to gain early knowledge on emerging technologies.
Other opportunities include giving talks for companies, either disease-state education talks or promotional talks on company-specific technologies. They can be great opportunities for those who enjoy giving presentations or being on panels, but always check with your employer, especially for those in academic settings, if such presentations are permitted.
Lastly, performing research is a fantastic way to collaborate with industry. As a clinician, you can engage in clinical trials sponsored by industry or even perform an investigator-initiated study, one in which you design the study based on a research question you have and obtain funding from an industry sponsor.
You can even perform retrospective analyses of your outcomes using a specific company’s technology to educate both the company and your colleagues on this product’s performance and which patients it most benefits. If you are an innovator and have ideas to create a new instrument or device, working with industry to do this can be a powerful way for you to see your idea come to fruition.
If you are interested in collaborating with industry, reach out to your industry representatives and voice interest. Let them know what areas you are interested in working in: advisory boards, research projects or device development. Leverage the support of your mentors if they are willing. A senior colleague or mentor can recommend you for an opportunity that they are not able to partake in and this can be your introduction with industry. Industry is eager to work with bright, talented and thoughtful young physicians who are willing to share their opinions or ideas.
My biggest advice to a new graduate is to be authentic to yourself. Spend the time to practice your craft and refine your clinical and surgical skills. If you are genuine in your enthusiasm and build a reputation as an excellent physician, companies will naturally gravitate towards you and express interest in collaborating with you.
Partner with companies whose products you believe in and enjoy using and do not feel compelled or pressured to work with companies whose products you are not as familiar with or have differing opinions on. Always check with your employer (in both private practice and academics) that your collaborations with industry are permitted, and know what guidelines you have to follow to be compliant.
Dr. Venkateswaran working with industry during AAO 2021 in New Orleans.
Lastly, just as you get paid to see patients, you also should get paid for your time working with industry. Learn about guidelines for compensation, and be transparent about how much you wish to get compensated (within reason). Just as you negotiate a salary for your job, you can also negotiate fees for consulting.
Ultimately, you want your relationship with industry partners to be productive for them and for you; follow through with your commitments and be judicious with your time and opinions.
About the author:
Nandini Venkateswaran, MD, is a cataract, cornea and refractive surgery specialist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Waltham, Mass. She is also a clinical instructor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. She joined the YO Info
editorial board in 2020.
If you do decide to work with industry, keep ethics in mind. The Academy has information to help you in your decision-making.
You should also be aware that physicians and some members of their staff are subject to Open Payments regulations related to the federal Sunshine Act.
That means anything you get from industry — gifts, meals, snacks, per diems, honorariums, speaker fees, transportation for speaking at events, etc. — is reported to CMS by industry and then added to the CMS database for public searching.
Many savvy patients search this database to determine what kind of a relationship physicians have with industry. See the Academy’s guide to open payments.