Medical Consulting 101
While this page is geared towards physician consulting roles, the principles apply to lots of consulting roles. To join our consulting database, click here - note that you must be a member of the Physician Side Gigs Facebook Group for this.
What is medical consulting?
Generally, this entails being hired by a company to consult on a specific project utilizing your expertise. Examples include advising a startup, helping to implement a new electronic health record at a hospital or advising the EHR company on their software, educating physicians on a product or technology, giving feedback about a product to a medical device company or about a drug in development by a pharmaceutical company, providing input to a medical drama or to the media, and so many more examples. There are lots of possibilities, as there's no shortage of companies in the healthcare arena who need the input of a physician, and there are so many consumer or patient facing industries that may benefit from the input of a medical expert.
Do you need specialized training to be a physician consultant?
Yes and no! You already have some specialized training if you're on our groups, as you've gone to medical school. However, some companies will have other requirements for their ideal consultant. Some examples may be a particular fellowship, experience in business, experience in media, or other experience that's relevant to the specific question that you're asking. Some companies may require board certification or an active license, and in general, the more recent and pertinent clinical experience you have, the more desirable of a candidate you will likely be.
How do you find consulting opportunities for physicians?
We have a database on Physician Side Gigs for when companies come to us seeking experts, which you can sign up for through this thread on the group. You can also sign up through market research and consulting companies who are often looking for physicians to help them fill projects they have been asked to find consultants for. The other way, and likely the best way, to ensure a more reliable source of this work is to focus on branding yourself as an expert in a particular niche and networking. There are several ways to do this. One great (easy) way is to create a LinkedIn profile, post regularly about your area of expertise, and network with others in your desired niche. You should also talk to relevant companies or device reps that you know and let them know you have an interest in this work. Go to conferences in relevant fields and network a lot with others. There are also more intentional (but also more time consuming ways). You can create a website that shows up on related searches, blog on your webpage or guest blog on the pages of companies or others in the space, or sign up to give input to reporters writing about certain topics on an outlet like HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Branding and growing a social media following can open up lots of opportunities. Writing a book is a great way to establish yourself as an expert. You never know who or what will be the connection that gets you a foot in the door, but usually opportunities lead to more opportunities, particularly if you really add value in the project.
What is the time commitment?
This is going to vary dramatically. You could be full time employed by a company such as McKinsey or you can take on jobs on a case by case basis. The great thing about consulting is that there are lots of different types of opportunities and you can pick what works best for your schedule/desire. Make sure you discuss with the expectations ahead of time so that you don't end up committing to more than you have the bandwidth for, or putting a lot of time into correspondence and scheduling to arrange the gig only to discover you'll only get paid for an hour if your goal was to establish a longer standing relationship.
How much do they pay physician consultants?
This is all about supply and demand. When you are establishing your rates, consider not just the time commitment, but also how unique your expertise is. Remember that they are paying you for the time that you took to gather this expertise, not the time it takes to do the work. Only you can decide what your time is worth, but I encourage you to value yourself appropriately and think about what other professionals such as lawyers charge for their time. On our consulting database, we usually see physicians charging between $250-750/hour, but there are lots of outliers as well. If the company finds you because of a particular article that you wrote that very few people have knowledge about or you have a dominant reputation (key opinion leader) in a particular space, you can probably charge a lot more. If you are in a smaller specialty, it will be harder for them to find an expert, and they'll probably be willing to pay more.
Other tips for getting paid?
Spell everything out in a contract that is signed by both parties ahead of time and which outlines expectations, duties, and metrics relevant to receiving payment. One other tip is whenever possible, do a per hour rate rather than a flat fee, since things have a way of taking more time than the hiring party would suggest. Also, if possible, you should make it part of your agreement that any time you block out for their assignment will be paid, even if the project doesn't end up taking the full time or worse, getting cancelled, given the opportunity cost of your blocking out the time.
This is for a startup and they want to pay me in shares. Is that a good idea?
Be careful about this, and consult with a lawyer familiar with startups for any shareholder contract. While getting to share in the upside of a company that may rise significantly in value, in part due to your insights, is exciting, shares in the startup world are quite complicated. There are different share classes, and your shares can get diluted, come with very little in the form of rights such as voting rights, and may be worthless depending on the performance of the company. Keep in mind that the vast majority of startups fail, and that you've put in your time regardless. Most companies that have strong faith in the future success of their product don't willingly want to give away ownership in any significant percentage. Along these lines, keep in mind that the number of shares you receive means nothing without knowing what percentage of the shares it reflects (100/100,000 is very different than 100/1,000,000,000,000). Also, having ownership shares in a company may require lots of legal disclosures in other professional activities, which will feel particularly painful if you haven't even been paid. Think about whether a lawyer would ordinarily agree to work for free, and don't be afraid to ask for upfront payment instead or some hybrid compensation to ensure that your opportunity costs for participating are covered.
Do you need malpractice insurance for consulting positions?
This isn't patient care, so you don't generally need malpractice insurance. Depending on the extent of your involvement with the consulting process, you may want to look into business liability insurance or errors and omissions insurance. Discuss with the hiring party what your liability may be, and whether you'll be named specifically in any resulting work products.
Will my fees be reported publicly according to the Sunshine Act? Depending who you're working with and in what capacity, federal law may require reporting. If you take money from a pharmaceutical or medical device company, it can be subject to reporting. This is less often the case if your identity is blinded to the party asking for the information (such as when going through a third party market research company and doing anonymized medical surveys). However, if this is a concern for you, please ask the company what their requirements are for the particular product
How do I get set up as a business?
Talk to an accountant/lawyer about what works best for you. Setting up an LLC (or other entity) may be of benefit from an asset protection standpoint, and having a separate EIN number will prevent you from having to send your social security number around. Having a separate bank account/credit card can also make things easier when tax time comes around.
How do I get paid? Are there tax advantages?
Most consulting gigs where you are not hired full time by the company will pay you as a 1099 employee, which means that you will get a separate tax form from the company to file at tax time. Note that income taxes are not taken out of this payment so you will be responsible for self-employment taxes and should set aside the expected tax burden so you're not surprised come tax time (consider paying quarterly taxes if it's a significant amount). There are many upsides to 1099 income, which allow you to potentially qualify for tax advantages that you don't as a W2 employee. This includes the ability to fund different retirement accounts, take deductions for relevant expenses such as a home office deduction or for related technology, etc. Talk to your accountant about what's appropriate.
Do I have to discuss this with my employer?
Depending on who you are employed by, yes! Many employers say that if you're doing something related to your profession, they should have a stake in it. Check your contract, especially if you're in an employed position with a hospital or in academics. Get the verdict in writing, to avoid issues later. Many companies don't care when they think something is a small project, but if the project takes off and gets a lot of publicity or a high valuation, they may all of a sudden want a cut.
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