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Networking in a changing environment


Be intentional about ongoing networking with customers and colleagues by setting aside time to talk about potential business opportunities and share clinical concerns.



Be intentional about ongoing networking with customers and colleagues by setting aside time to talk about potential business opportunities and share clinical concerns.


The OWL Quarterly By Beth A. Marsh

Some people think of networking as something you do when looking for a new job. True networking is not about one-way, one-time contacts made only when you need something-it is an ongoing process that many leaders say is a critical element of their success.

Authors from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a national leadership development organization, describe networking as “building relationships and making alliances in service of others and in service of your organization’s work and goals.”1

Good networkers continually gain wisdom and insights by staying connected to others in their field, regardless of any immediate personal benefit. As the CCL’s definition points out, providing service to others may be the most important component of networking.

Perhaps that means mentoring a younger colleague or introducing a friend to a great vendor. When you refer others, you build alliances. When you solve a problem for someone, you contribute to a long-term relationship-one that may someday be able to benefit you or your organization.

In my own career, I have worked for five different ophthalmic pharmaceutical and medical device companies. In each case, the new opportunities were ones I never would have known about had I not stayed connected to former co-workers.

I’m also involved with Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL), a networking and professional development organization dedicated to the advancement of women throughout ophthalmology.

These connections have made me more well-rounded, helped me understand some of the new and exciting things that are going on in our industry, and now help support my consulting business.



Personal connections

Ophthalmology is a relatively small field. Most networking is done the old-fashioned way-in person, over dinner or coffee or a round of golf.

Major opportunities for networking are the large conferences, such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, as well as scores of other meetings.

Industry attendance at major ophthalmic meetings, however, has changed considerably in recent years. Due to budget cuts and other trends, companies that would once have sent the majority of their employees to the meetings have cut back on who attends and how long they stay.

New pharmaceutical and device regulations have also changed how industry interacts with customers at the meetings, with sharp reductions in industry-sponsored social activities, dinners, and parties. Industry-supported breakfast and lunch symposia are now funded by grants and planned entirely by independent medical education providers.

Finally, everyone has gotten more specialized, with some people attending only the pre-meeting add-ons that are most relevant to them, such as Glaucoma Subspecialty Day or the Ophthalmology Innovation Summit.

With all these changes, staying connected cannot be as incidental as it used to be. It is no longer enough to hope you run into someone. Rather, one has to be intentional about networking with customers and colleagues and setting aside time to talk about potential business opportunities, share clinical concerns, and catch up on personal news.



Networking resources

One way to be intentional about this process is to use meeting breaks to connect with the people attending the conference that you want to see, instead of spending that break time calling the office or checking e-mail.

Also, schedule your time to allow you to attend important networking events for any community you are part of-whether that be a university alumni group or a professional development organization.

OWL hosts regular “OWL Monday” receptions and a slate of educational and professional development sessions at major meetings, as well as informal gatherings at meetings like the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) and Hawaiian Eye.

Some meetings offer opportunities to volunteer or support nonprofit organizations by participating in a Habitat for Humanity project or the Run for Vision. Not only do these support good causes, but they are great opportunities to have fun and connect with like-minded people in the ophthalmic community in a unique way.

Beyond the big meetings

Many professional associations have local or regional chapters, which can be great resources for staying connected with colleagues close to home. We are just beginning to create OWL chapters; the first launched in southern California in 2013. Additionally, OWL has a formalized mentoring and coaching program that allows members to extend the connections they make in person through longer-term mentoring or coaching relationships.

I believe it is also important to use your network as your eyes and ears at conferences that you don’t attend in person. A post-meeting lunch or call, for example, can be a great way to find out what you missed. Ask contacts what they learned, what’s going on in the industry, and what the “buzz” was about at the meeting.

Ophthalmic publications also have useful video reporter segments and written summaries that can help you get up to speed even if you couldn’t be there in person. Reading the publications regularly helps you to be more conversational across all levels and areas of specialization in this industry, not just one particular niche.



Use technology to your advantage

Electronic or social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have networking as their very foundation. On LinkedIn, for example, 500 first-degree connections can translate into more than 5 million second- and third-degree connections, because you are indirectly linked to everyone that your contacts (and their contacts) know. This makes it easy to network.

As these online communities have matured, they have become far more robust than just lists of friends, with additional resources like specific interest groups and comment forums.

There are many LinkedIn groups specific to ophthalmology; ASCRS and AAO offer online chat or subspecialist communities, as well as their own twitter feeds and other opportunities to connect with or follow thought leaders. OWL also offers online resources, such as on-demand webinars, to help people connect and learn from a distance.

Of course, it takes time to participate in these online communities in a meaningful way. One chief executive officer I know told me she schedules 2 hours every month for e-connecting. She uses that time to send congratulatory e-mails, respond to posts on LinkedIn, or add new connections so that she is routinely keeping in touch.

I agree that it is well worth it to devote some of our most precious resource-time-to networking. That time will enrich current relationships and expand the networks we depend on personally and to meet our organizations’ goals for years to come.


1.     Grayson C, Baldwin D. Leadership networking: Connect, collaborate, create. Center for Creative Leadership, 2007.


Beth Marsh is vice president, strategic marketing and business development, for Aciex Therapeutics; principal of BAM Ophthalmology Consulting; and a Board Director for Ophthalmic Women Leaders. Learn more about OWL at www.owlsite.org.



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