We’ve all seen disclosure slides, right? Academics flash them out to declare their formal relationships before beginning their presentations to our otherwise naive and influenceable ears. But I often wonder why speakers move past these ethical obligations so quickly. Perhaps we should spend a few moments hearing more about these diverse interests, even if just for ONE minute more.
This week I spoke to a Simulation Educator who lives and works in the Bay Area, surrounded by innovation, and who has not one but three disclosures alongside his 3 academic roles. In Dr. Amin Azzam’s upcoming SSH Learning Lab Mar 23, 2022, Dr. Azzam will put on both academic and industry hats as he shares insights from integrating an Artificially Intelligent digital patient at Samuel Merritt University.
Q: Dr. Azzam, while not a researched backed statistic, I’d say 90% of Simulationists have multiple roles within their programs. You take it a step further to include non-academic roles with a simulation technology company, a medical education platform, and mental health platform. I just realized, there’s no question there! It’s just quite impressive!
A: Thank You! In the past, and for valid ethical reasons, Academics and healthcare providers have been wary of companies. Pharmaceuticals come to mind. The line can be blurry; however, I think there’s a future, which I’m trying to live in presently, where collaborations and partnerships like this become the norm. I would like to role-model that. In fact, minimum disclosures is a floor, not a ceiling. Why not go beyond the minimum by transparently disclosing why we academics choose to engage with innovative technologies?
Q: Is it a controversial opinion to say that most innovation happens outside academia?
A: I don’t think so. It’s not uncommon to have academic-types leave academia to either start their own companies or join existing innovation start-ups. The reality is that we’re specialized in healthcare and education and that’s a full time gig. Most of us aren’t engineers, technologists and entrepreneurs. I think that’s why we need each other, so we can best collaborate on innovative solutions.
Q: What has been the biggest benefit to having both academic and non-academic hats?
A: For me as a clinical Educator, I’ve enjoyed learning from the “academic outsiders” who are in these ed tech and health tech companies. They have expertise that I do not. And reciprocally, I have expertise that they do not. It’s symbiotic, and I enjoy the intellectual creativity and opportunity for me to continuously grow as a professional.
Q: How do you handle conflicts of interest?
A: When I first started having potential conflicts of interest, it was related to some grants I had received. It was easy to disclose grants because those are considered “routine academic money.” But I chose to additionally disclose what fraction of my salary those grants supported. That set me down a path of being more disclosing than the minimum. So now I generally try to think: as an audience member, what would I want to know about the speakers’ conflicts of interest to help me be an informed listener? And of course I follow all the minimum required processes within my university employers around conflicts of interest. So for example, when our simulation center is negotiating technology license renewals, I recuse myself from any decision-making involving companies where I have a concurrent non-academic relationship.
Q: What advice would you give to other Simulationists who’d like to explore non-academic roles with simulation companies?
A: The best one-liner advice I can give: “Be too lazy to lie!” It’s just too much work to keep up the facade and smoke and mirrors. Instead, I invite you to explore and talk with the people behind these companies. For example, I discovered PCS in the exhibit hall at IMSH in 2019. When I’m able to do so, I take my time walking the floor to engage in conversation with company representatives. I was intrigued by Spark for multiple reasons. As a psychiatrist and educator, I recognize how important the clinical interview is, and I was drawn to Spark’s natural language processing. As I spoke to the CEO of the PCS, Balazs Moldovanyi, I was pulled into the mission and what they were trying to accomplish. I would also encourage other Simulationists to speak with their institutional leadership to have a clear understanding of institutional policy. If given the green light, look for products they are excited about and then chat up someone within the company. Now get out there and discover more opportunities for you to be disclosing more innovation in your professional lives!