Making money in medical ethics

By Daniel Sokol

Ten years ago, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a medical careers guide called ‘So you want to be a brain surgeon?’.  The editors wanted me to write about life as a medical ethicist, including the salary. On a 5-point scale from a single £ to £££££, I gave it ££.

At the time, I was paid about £40,000 gross as a lecturer in medical ethics, working in a London medical school. The average professorial salary in the UK is about £74,000 gross.

Recently, I was in court against a senior QC for a 1 hour hearing. He was paid £50,000. My Chambers offers newly qualified barristers, who are often in their early 20s, £50,000 in their first year and a few other sets are even more generous, offering pupillage awards in the £70,000s.

The reality is that medical ethics is not a job that will ever pay £££££, even at the top of the tree. There are, however, ways to supplement one’s income. The sections below are based on my own knowledge and experience.

Plenary speaking

Larger medical conferences (1000 + delegates), especially for tech heavy disciplines such as a radiology and anaesthesia, are well sponsored by industry and can offer generous payments to guest speakers. At the higher end, a speaker can receive in excess of £10,000 for a plenary lecture and perhaps one or two sessions.

For other paid events, the range is vast, from £150 to over £2,000 a lecture.

Teaching, seminars and workshops

Again, rates for smaller events such as hospital training days or GP retreats vary widely but seldom exceeds £1,500 for half a day’s teaching.

Ethics Training

Certain institutions, such as pharmaceutical companies and healthcare organisations, seek ethical training in topics such as research ethics. The medical ethics department at Keele University, for example, relied on such training as a major source of income.

Depending on the means of the institution, a day’s training can cost £2,500 – £7,000.

Writing

Few journals pay for articles, unless you write a regular column and even then the pay is modest. Writing in medical journals, however, may generate income indirectly through invitations to speak, chair meetings, and so on.

As for books, the majority of academic books pay little in terms of royalties.  Some publishers pay a one-off fee, usually derisory in amount, to the author in advance.

Writing for the popular media (and indeed doing interviews on TV or radio) is also rarely paid nowadays as freelance budgets are squeezed or eliminated. Any payment ranges from £100 to the very low thousands for tabloids.

Committees

The majority of committees do not pay for their members’ time and expertise. Committees of government departments can pay but little.

When remunerated, committees pay £40 – £150/hour, including preparation time.

What I was never taught in my career in bioethics was how to negotiate fees. In my legal work, a clerk deals with this for me. For medical ethics work, I do not have that luxury and have to negotiate myself. But that is for another time.

Do you have other tips or ideas to share with colleagues?

 

Author: Daniel Sokol

Affiliations: Medical ethicist and author of ‘Tough Choices: Stories from the Front Line of Medical Ethics’ (2018, Book Guild), £9.99.

Competing interests: None declared.

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