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“Rich, I ain’t workin’ for free anymore.”

Dr. Rich Mounce explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a key opinion leader

mounce-endospective-img1People have, at times, referred to me as a key opinion leader (KOL), but I don’t think of myself as one. If anything, I passionately enjoy teaching and learning about the business side of endodontics and dentistry in general. Over the years, I have met many KOLs of various disciplines (in addition to endodontics) and listened to their stories. Few if any of these KOLs started out with the intent to get their pictures and articles in magazines. For most, one small lecture or piece of writing became the proverbial match on gasoline. This Endospective column was written to relate my “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” experiences of having a public profile outside the office and to challenge readers to see if teaching outside the office holds any appeal for them.

On the “good” side of the ledger, I’ve lectured in dozens of countries and made friends all over the world. It’s been the equivalent of a second endodontic residency, preparing lectures and learning through meeting other clinicians. I have also learned a lot about both how dentistry is practiced globally and the dental industry (outside of clinical practice). On this latter point, there is a portion of the dental world unseen by clinicians who focus solely on clinical practice. Dental product conception, design, testing, marketing, and distribution is fascinating (at least to me) and entirely unrelated to what happens in an operatory — with the sole caveat that the final product must be clinically effective to survive in the marketplace. My global exposure to the dental industry has been the inspiration of my endodontic supply company, MounceEndo.com. I could not have started this company without my industry experience.

On the “bad” side of the ledger, there are the days spent away from home and family, cancelled flights, jet lag, bad airport food, hecklers, among many such annoyances. One additional challenge is that if you speak for company X but use a competing product by a rival company Y, company X is not going to tolerate you advocating products in direct competition. The KOL is often married to one company. This phenomenon is a challenge with hotel courses, as some of these courses can become little more than infomercials designed to sell the latest and greatest widget with you as the widget salesman. The winner in the equation ultimately ends up being the sponsoring company.

Not much has been “ugly” about my teaching experience, but if there is one thing to put a finger on, it’s the company that wants KOLs to work for little or no honorarium on the vague promise that something big is in the future. Expensive dinners, fancy hotels, Lincoln Town Cars, the ego stroke are all nice, but in lieu of an honorarium that makes being out of the office financially feasible, it’s a poor use of a clinician’s time, unless you just really love to teach. More than one KOL has told me, “Rich, I ain’t workin’ for free anymore.” Amen.

My suggestion to anyone who wants to be a KOL is, first and foremost, to figure out why you want to do it.

While there are many positive motivations (teaching, learning, travel, professional exchange), for embarking on a KOL track, if it’s for the money, forget it. For the vast majority of KOLs, being a clinician is far more remunerative than speaking and running study clubs, except at the very highest level. Bear in mind, “A List” KOLs have certainly spent a lot of time working their way up from being a C List to B List KOL, etc., and when viewed in that light, the big daily honorarium earned now evens out with the many free gigs done earlier in their career.

mounce-endospective-img2Would I do it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Maybe. If you are truly passionate about teaching, able to roll with the punches, and like to travel, then absolutely yes. If not, better to stay home and focus on your family and office. They will endure long after the glow of being on a magazine cover has faded.

I welcome your feedback.

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