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Business & Profession Professional Development

The New York Networker

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How did you begin working in ophthalmology?

It’s a very interesting story. I come from a background in fashion and sports – I went to the New York Fashion Institute of Technology – and I did public relations in those areas before I fell into healthcare PR. I’d just been laid off from a high-tech Silicon Valley PR firm and I was trying to pay my rent in Brooklyn, not knowing what I was going to do next, when I got a call from a former colleague. They said, “Hey, this company really needs someone to promote an eyedrop; would you be interested?” and I said, “Sure, I’ll take it.” And I just fell in love with ophthalmology.

The eye drop was Alocril, from Allergan, which I ended up building – along with other brands – into over a million-dollar business as the director of healthcare practice at the company. I loved it. I read all the publications on the subway; I got to know all the key opinion leaders and interviewed them all. I was kind of self-taught, because there wasn’t really anyone to mentor me in the role. But the more I did within the ophthalmic space, the more people I got to know – including many people from advocacy groups. I thought, “I can really help promote what everyone does” – and so I did.

What project that you helped to promote stands out the most?

I think the best example is Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL). One of the best things we did was help them bring more rising stars and true public relations to the organization. Sometimes groups like that aren’t as known as they deserve to be, so I really wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to OWL – I wanted to bring in more social media, get people a bit more involved and make the organization better-known. I love being on their Board and the Pascale team enjoys helping to get the word out by promoting their webinars and profiling their members. People like Marsha Link and Jan Beiting are well-known in ophthalmology, but people weren’t necessarily aware of how closely they’re affiliated with OWL. That’s changing; I love working with these amazing women.

It seems to be harder for women to break into ophthalmology – how do you do it?

Work very hard, but also make yourself known. For example, I came in from another background, so I brought a different type of energy – really fast-paced, “we’re going to get this done and we’re going to get this done, and did you guys think of doing this?” I think some people just don’t do that because they’re so mired down in the details. You really have to break through in terms of coming in with something different.

Ultimately, though, there are high-level people that are kind of the gods of ophthalmology. I wish more were the goddesses, which is what we’re trying
to change.

Is it frustrating to have to go through channels like the press instead of speaking directly to ophthalmologists?

It can be, but we couldn’t do what we do without the press. To me, they’re really our customers, and that’s how we look at it. You have to pitch differently to the Wall Street Journal than to the doctors – and I think we try to go to the press with different angles. It’s not just about throwing press releases against the wall and seeing what sticks, but more about getting people interested. To interest ophthalmologists, I might talk about a patient case study or a surgical technique that’s new and different. A lot of people go to ophthalmologists and say, “Can you talk about this laser? How do you use it?” and it’s very bland. We try to bring a different energy to the way we present things; we want to bring a little positivity into it. “How can you increase patient flow in your practice? How can you make your practice work better, or use social media, or use tools to really push your practice forward?” It should be about what you’re bringing to the patient and how it’s affecting your practice.

What are the most important things ophthalmologists can do to enhance how they write?

Try to communicate visually – show people what’s going on. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be an image that conveys what you’re doing. Speak in layman’s terms more. Collaborate – it’s not all about you, and there are other people in your practice who really know your patients, maybe even better than you do. Work with those people, or with a PR firm, or a medical writer, or with your “fans” – include other people who can help make your story better.

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