Lauren Gardner, OD, spent her first five years following her 2017 graduation from Indiana University School of Optometry working in a small private practice focused on ocular disease. “I really enjoyed the clinic and being able to work directly in patient care every day.” Dr. Gardner says. Yet she felt the need for change in the past year, as the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic settled in across the health care industry. “While I still took great pride in being able to treat and make an impact on individual patients, I knew I could make a more significant impact–both to patient communities and to the optometry industry at large.”
INDUSTRY ROLE CHECKS BOXES
Dr. Gardner says that she never envisioned working outside of clinical care. As she started to research other avenues for utilizing her optometry degree, she found that a role on the industry side as a medical science liaison could be a great match. She considered a few options, but was most impressed with Irvine-based biopharmaceutical company Tarsus Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Tarsus has an investigational product for a highly prevalent eyelid disease that impacts millions of patients, but is without an existing FDA-approved treatment. Tarsus self describes itself as a biopharmaceutical company that embodies the values of commitment, empowerment, and teamwork with a strong focus on culture and innovation. These areas were important for Dr. Gardner as she progressed in her career, and it seemed like a perfect match for the next step in her optometric journey.
After successfully interviewing with Tarsus in August 2022, she accepted a position as Senior Medical Ambassador (SMA). The SMA role is a field-based position in an all-optometrist team, where she works remotely to cover a territory of six states, traveling approximately 3-4 days per week to meet with eye care providers. She also attends large conferences and smaller regional meetings several times per quarter.
PROFESSIONAL CHANGE LEADS TO GREATER IMPACT
Dr. Gardner enjoys the opportunity to consistently engage ODs and MDs and provide information about how to educate and diagnose patients, particularly in the area of Demodex blepharitis. She meets with eye care providers of all specialties but has specifically enjoyed meeting with doctors who have clinics with a dry eye focus, as the area of dry eye as well as aesthetics has been booming in the profession. “Not only are we bringing awareness to the prevalence, diagnosis, and impact of Demodex blepharitis, but we also focus on gathering doctors’ insights and perspectives on what they see in their practice.” she says. “As part of the medical affairs team, we serve as the doctors’ peer-based scientific resource, answering questions, helping establish networks within our company, and learning how we can best support them in providing the best care for their patients.”
She takes her insights and observations back to Tarsus to compile with other data collected by the four other ODs on her team to learn about data gaps, unmet patient needs and how the company can better serve eye care providers. “Every day, every interaction is different,” Dr. Gardner explains.
“There are many ways we can support eye care providers, whether it be answering individual questions, or sharing their interest in clinical research or education with our company’s leaders. Often our customers will send us case studies and collarette images and with their permission we can create educational tools and share knowledge and best practices. Our SMA team also provides disease state education to clinic staff and physicians, enabling peer to peer discussions. There are so many avenues in which we can support eye care providers and their practice, and we tailor our approach to fit the needs of the doctors’ and their patients.”
A GOOD MATCH?
Dr. Gardner is pleased with the move she made to the industry side of the profession. To her colleagues considering making a switch, she says it may be a good match “if you thrive in an ever-changing environment, you like to be creative and innovative, and you love the possibility of growth within the eye care industry while helping many patients indirectly through education and bringing new products to life. It’s such a different environment than clinical care, but I am so happy I made the move to industry.”
That’s not to say she wouldn’t go back to clinical care in some capacity in the future; her husband, who is also an OD, aspires to open a practice of his own one day. In the meantime, Dr. Gardner’s current role as a SMA with Tarsus satisfies her desire to do something different and make a larger impact. “With so many changes in eye care, this industry role has opened my eyes to the many growing opportunities within optometry. It’s helped me keep up with new technology, treatments and the areas of growth within eye care. It’s a way to grow your career in optometry and contribute expertise and knowledge to develop products and educate peers.”
Connect with Dr. Gardner on Instagram.
Read more stories from WO on ODs working in industry and research.