Six Ways to Earn Extra Income From Medical Activities

Dennis G. Murray


April 27, 2010

In This Article

Team Up With Pharmaceutical Companies

Drug and device companies spend billions of dollars each year to discover and promote new medicines and treatments, and they rely heavily on doctors to participate in these endeavors whether through clinical trials or serving as a speaker or consultant. It's not uncommon for physicians to earn a minimum of 5 figures a year either speaking or doing clinical studies within their medical practice. Some doctors make in excess of $100,000 annually -- on top of their income from seeing patients.

Although some extra money is nice, too much can turn heads -- and not in a good way. In late January, The Boston Globe reported on an allergy and asthma specialist who was issued an ultimatum by his hospital, the prestigious Brigham and Women's Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts): Stop moonlighting on behalf of pharmaceutical companies or resign from your staff position. The doctor chose to give up his post.

Pros: With typical payments running about $1500-$2500 for a single talk, there's substantial opportunity to supplement your regular income.

With regard to clinical trials, the size of compensation for participating in clinical trials, on the other hand, depends on your specialty and how your medical group divides income. Some clinical trials will pay more to physicians who are active in negotiating contracts with pharmaceutical companies, in addition to earning a cut for their role in the actual research.

"I've interacted with the pharmaceutical industry for more than a decade in various capacities, and some of the most positive interactions have been in conducting clinical trials," says Adrian M. Di Bisceglie, MD, Chairman of Internal Medicine and Chief of Hepatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, Missouri. "It's been very rewarding to be involved from the ground up in the development of a new drug or therapeutic modality," he added.

Furthermore, "Besides the revenues my institution earns from this work, I've been an occasional author or co-author of articles in high-profile publications, and my patients gain earlier access to new medications."

Cons: These arrangements are coming under increasing scrutiny from hospitals, legislators, regulators, and the media. In fact, some of the doctors whom we contacted for this article declined to talk about their involvement with drug companies.

Chief among the charges is that generous payments to MDs and DOs are further inflating the costs of healthcare. Moreover, doctors have been accused of not informing their patients of their ties to the very products that they may be prescribing or using in surgical procedures.

How to find out more: Talk to your colleagues who are already working with pharmaceutical companies. Ask them how they got into it, and what they find satisfying (and frustrating) about their assignments. Most companies are always looking for talented, well-credentialed researchers and speakers. Another resource is the Website of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America ( Contact information for member companies is listed on the homepage, under "About PhRMA."


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