Recently, I spoke with a physician who speaks for various pharmaceutical companies on a scale that puts my brief 2002 foray to shame. "Hired Gun, M.D." gave over 500 talks in 2006, netting close to $1 million. Many of these talks were teleconferences done from the comfort of his office, which allowed him to average nearly two talks a day.
On a more hopeful note, however, Hired Gun (H.G.) has noted a "massive reorganization based on changing appearances" among drug companies. Most dramatically, companies have lowered the maximum salary caps that speakers can receive per year. Wyeth, for example, recently decreased its cap to $25,000 per year; Lilly, not quite so stingy, decreased it to $75,000.
This has done damage to H.G.'s bottom line. In 2007, he was able to do only about 200 talks, and he estimates that 2008 will be even more meager--perhaps only 100 talks. "The climate is changing," he said. "We've seen the signs for years, but now it's really happening. Most of us are just rolling with it."
Over his career, H.G. estimates that he has delivered 2500 lectures and has made $3 million. What makes him do it? "Different things," he said. "Obviously I like the money, but I also like being in the spotlight, and I enjoy providing education. I think you'll find a variety of motivations in most speakers you'd talk to." While H.G. doesn't deny a marketing component to some of his talks, he feels he does a good job being accurate and unbiased. But some of his colleagues are less scrupulous. He singled out one extremely well-known physician-speaker as being "incredibly biased, pro-[company X] and anti-[company Y]. He's not one of the good guys."
I've encouraged H.G. to go public. I know several senate and congressional offices that would love to hear his testimony. But he's reticent, for obvious reasons. In the meantime, I hope to post his observations from time to time.