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Speaking for Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Companies as a Side Gig for Physicians

A few decades ago, many physicians may have considered giving pharmaceutical talks or speaking for pharma a classic physician side gig. These days, we don’t hear nearly as much about it in our physician communities, in part because of changing government regulations about physicians and their relationship with pharmaceutical companies. Those that trained in an era where even taking a pen from a pharmaceutical company was frowned upon are often even more skeptical of these ‘side gigs.’ All of that said, there is still a role for physicians who want to speak or give talks for pharmaceutical or medical device companies. Many physicians enjoy roles as educators, and these are relatively well paid side gigs that allow you to leverage your existing expertise as a physician. While this remains a somewhat controversial topic in our physician communities at times, pharmaceutical and medical device companies have made a lot of changes over the last few decades to alleviate the conflicts of interest that used to be more rampant. We of course only recommend doing this side gig if you truly believe in a medication or product, and believe you should be 100% truthful about your experiences with it. In this article, we’ll cover what you need to know about speaking for these companies, how to get these side gigs as a doctor, what they pay, and ethical guidelines and best practices to be aware of. 

Disclaimer: Our content is for generalized educational purposes.  While we try to ensure it is accurate and updated, we cannot guarantee it. We are not formal financial, legal, or tax professionals and do not provide individualized advice specific to your situation. You should consult these as appropriate and/or do your own due diligence before making decisions based on this page. To learn more, visit our disclaimers and disclosures.

Quick takeaways on speaking for pharmaceutical or medical device companies as a physician side hustle

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Resources for Physicians Who Want to Develop Speaking Side Gigs

Why Do Pharma and Device Companies Need Physician Speakers? 

There are many different reasons that a pharmaceutical company or medical device company may need speakers. Many times, they want help to educate other physicians, healthcare workers, or patients about drugs, devices, research, best practices, risks and benefits, and other clinical implications and applications of their products. In the case of medical devices, they may need help training physicians how to use their products. Sometimes companies host educational seminars or training programs.

What Does Speaking for a Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Company Entail, and What Is the Process?

The onboarding process will start by signing an agreement with the company that outlines your compensation and expectations. As these positions are likely 1099 positions, you will likely have to submit a W-9 form. Because of how regulated these industries are, you may go through a background or credentialing process where your credentials are verified, including license and certification. 

Next, you will most likely need to undergo some training so that you understand all the compliance issues and requirements with how you say what you say, and what you are allowed to and not allowed to do. Each company varies in how they do this training, but it could be online, in person, or a one to one training depending on the company. They will likely want you to stick to facts and FDA approved statements, and to be very careful about saying anything that could be considered off label.

After that is completed, they’ll notify you of opportunities and dates as they come. Typically, these companies have several speakers in their database, so they’ll offer the opportunities as they come and people can sign up based on their availability. 

Unlike some other physician speaking arrangements, in speaking for pharma or medical device companies, all arrangements are taken care of by the company, again because expenses generally need to be tracked and in compliance with the company’s guidelines. On the bright side, that’s less hassle for the physician!

Almost all companies will give you guidelines, talking points, objectives, and references to ensure that you are in compliance. Some companies will even give you a premade slide deck, while others will allow you to put together your own talk or modify theirs. You should do any relevant research to make sure that you’re up to date. The good news, like with other speaking opportunities for physicians, is that most of the work is done upfront for your first engagement, where you’ll likely spend a lot of time preparing the material and practicing it. After that, you’re likely giving the same talk (or very close to it), so the amount of preparation time goes down dramatically and you’ll get to the point where you’re basically just showing up, with the exception of keeping the material up to date with any interim developments or research in the field.

How Much Do Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Companies Pay Speakers?

Because of concerns about kickbacks and incentives discussed in more detail in the next section, the amount that is paid to physicians for engaging in these activities is highly scrutinizing. Therefore, unlike some other speaking gigs for physicians, where the limit to what you are paid is determined by market forces and how in demand that you are, physician compensation for these activities with pharma or medical device companies generally restricted. Many pharmaceutical companies have guidelines in place to ensure that speakers are compensated at “fair market value” and that these rates are in line with what others in similar speaking programs are compensated.

Typically, local talks pay differently than talks where you have to travel. While there is of course a range, most physicians on our communities have expressed getting between $1,000-$2,000 for a local talk, and $2,000-$3,000 for a national talk where travel was involved. Although these numbers seemed typical, we have heard of some physicians getting paid significantly more, usually because they are in smaller fields or fields that are more lucrative (so that fair market value for a day of missed work is higher), or have more niche areas of expertise. Additionally, when taking into account the compensation package, the companies will include not just the honoraria for speaking, but anything else that could be considered compensation, including the food you eat and drinks you consume while traveling, entertainment, and more. What the companies are trying to stay clear of here as well is anything that could be considered an “intent to influence.” Therefore, most companies have changed their polices to make sure that the educational component is first and foremost the focus of these events. This is a departure from what used to happen in the industry several decades ago, when physicians were often wined and dined at these educational programs. 

Also know that whatever compensation you accept will likely be publicly searchable through the Sunshine Act and available online at

How to Get Speaking Positions with Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Companies

Physicians on our communities have expressed several different routes to getting these positions. The most often by far appears to be getting approached by a pharma or device rep that they work with regularly. Another common route is being contacted if you are considered a KOL (key opinion leader) in a particular field or area of expertise. This may be because you have published relevant research, often speak on these topics at CME meetings, or have had leadership roles within your medical society, for example.

If you want to be more proactive about it, you can ask a pharma or device rep that you know if they know of any available opportunities. If they aren’t aware of opportunities, you can ask them to connect you with the medical science liaison that is responsible for your region or area, as they are often the ones that select the speakers, and if training is done on the local level, they may also be the ones to train you. 

In general networking at relevant conferences can open up opportunities, including this one. If you really want to do this, make sure that you show up, ask questions, take meetings, give talks, and go to dinners or other events where you may find people that want your expertise. These companies want people who are outgoing, people persons, and good communicators, and these events are your opportunity to showcase those skills. Even if it doesn’t land you a role as a speaker, it could result in other cool speaking opportunities, such as being asked to consult for or be a physician advisor for a startup.

Another cynical view often expressed by members of our community (our job is to tell you what people say - these are not necessarily our opinions) is that sometimes the physicians who are picked are physicians that prescribe a lot of a particular medication or use a product a lot. 

Legal Considerations and Regulations when Speaking for A Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Company

The US Department of Health and Human Services OIG division has published guidance for physician relationships with vendors, and these are worth reviewing if you are going to do this side gig. 

While the intent of these programs is usually for educational purposes, there have been concerns raised by many entities that providing physicians compensation via this route is a way to get around kickback laws such as Stark laws, or that they indirectly entice physicians to promote or prescribe those products more heavily. Many of these allegations have been proven statistically. Therefore, as alluded to above, speaking for pharmaceutical companies or medical device companies is very heavily regulated, as well as heavily reported. You must be comfortable with the transparency in how much you are getting paid to anybody that decides to look it up, including your patients.

In the recent past, the OIG has investigated many allegations of violations of the Antikickback Statute (AKS), which prohibits payments or any other incentives considered to be of value in exchange for referrals. In general, they tend to be skeptical of activities held by drug or device companies that are targeted towards physicians or other healthcare workers. They specifically have called out selecting and paying physicians or other healthcare workers who are considered to be high prescribers, tying incentives to sales, having events that are more entertainment than educational in nature or at expensive venues or restaurants, or regularly inviting the same people or their friends or family to events. 

While a lot of this regulation is on the companies themselves, as a physician with ethical and moral responsibilities, you should also use caution if something doesn’t seem to pass the sniff test. A few years ago, the OIG also recommended that physicians make sure they consider whether something feels appropriate and specifically said to consider the following things when considering attending or speaking at these events:

  • Does the program actually give valuable educational content and is the primary purpose of the event educational, and is the venue one that is conducive to learning?

  • Is there alcohol available at the event? Is the event at an expensive location? 

  • Have you been to a similar event on the same topic or product, and is there new information being presented?

  • Do you have a legitimate business reason to learn about this topic?

  • Are you being selected or being paid based on how much revenue you’ve generated for the company or are they asking or expecting you to generate a certain amount of money in the future?

In general, but especially if there’s any doubt, it’s always a good idea to run these agreements by an attorney at your place of employment or consult an individual attorney specializing in healthcare law.


Speaking for pharmaceutical or medical device companies has changed quite a bit over the past few decades, but remains a side gig for many physicians who are interested in education and speaking. Hopefully, this article gave you things to consider when seeing if this is the right side gig for you! 

Have a specific question unique to your situation? Feel free to reach out to the hive mind in our physician Facebook groups.

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