Nick Swart recently joined Mtech Access as a Senior Health Economist, following 5 years as a Research Associate in Health Economics at University College London. In this interview, Nick shares his experiences of moving from academia to consultancy.
What first inspired you to study and research Health Economics?
I obtained an MSc in Health Economics while working as a research assistant in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. In this role, I developed mental health interventions for the NHS. However, when we tried to continue the services after the research funding ran out, we were largely met with indifference. The one exception was when we could talk about money (i.e. cost savings), so I decided to learn how to speak ‘money’!
While studying health economics, I realised that I’ve always been an economist at heart as I dislike inefficiency and waste. I also enjoy the challenge of applying economic theory to the real world; helping to improve healthcare, in particular, makes it all the more worthwhile.
I am currently pursuing a part-time doctorate in health economics, investigating the economics of clinical audits. Clinical audits are ubiquitous across health services. They identify whether we are doing what we should be doing, and their potential for improving healthcare is enormous: where else do you find regular, systematic measurement of all aspects of healthcare at a national level, providing the opportunity to directly inform and improve clinical practice without incurring the cost of an enormous clinical trial?
I am interested in developing methods to incorporate economic analyses into clinical audits in order to increase their impact and ability to affect positive change. For example, if an audit includes an estimate of the opportunity cost of not doing what we should be doing, one would hope the message would be more impactful.
Why did you decide to make the leap from academia to consultancy?
I wanted a new experience, and to pursue projects and interests that did not fit within a very strict research paradigm. Moreover, I wanted to apply my trade as a health economist in a real-world setting, and at a faster pace.
There are also many areas of the health economy that I want to learn about, such as market access, demonstrating value, and generating evidence outside of the rather artificial randomised controlled trial.
In particular, I want to work more with innovative medical technology and medical device companies, as I recognise a real need there for research and economic skills.
What have you been involved with in your first few weeks at Mtech Access?
I have already begun collaborating on a variety of projects, from cost-effectiveness analyses to budget impact models. It is a nice change of pace to be working as part of a larger team, and to have insight into new areas of the health economy, like market access, that I previously had little exposure to.
Although the prospect of starting a new job remotely may seem daunting, I’m finding that, at this stage in 2021, everyone is so used to working remotely it is really no barrier at all.
I have also begun to explore opportunities alongside the NHS Insights & Interaction team, who I have a lot in common with having previously worked closely with a number of NHS organisations and Trusts. The support, encouragement and expertise from everyone at Mtech Access is invigorating.
What has most surprised you?
I’m actually most surprised by all the similarities. In my research roles in academia, I was mostly developing models for National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) submissions. At Mtech Access, we are building health economic models to support submissions to a wide range of health technology assessment agencies and for use in customer engagement tools. Yet, the practical skills required of a health economist remains the same regardless of whether the model is for NICE or NIHR.
I’m looking forward to tackling tricky economic problems and quandaries as part of a team. I’m also pleasantly surprised by all the support for pursuing my interests, as well as the resources I now have at my disposal. Being part of a multi-disciplinary and fast-moving company, I can quickly call upon expertise and advice for any situation, whether it’s a technical problem, or for support to design and deliver new business opportunities in areas that interest me.
What advice would you give someone making the move from academia to consultancy?
Play to your skillsets and do the research to help you choose the right consultancy that matches your values and will support you.
As in everything, personal relationships are key and you need to like and respect the people you are working with, and that attitude has to be mutual.
The pace of work may be quicker in consultancy but there are a wide range of colleagues with different skillsets to draw upon. Instead of being a jack-of-all-trades and often doing every aspect of a project as an academic, the division of labour in consultancies streamlines the process, meaning you can focus on the bits you like and are good at.
Catch Nick, alongside fellow health economist Calum Jones, in our upcoming webinar: Health Economic Modelling for MedTech Innovations – What, Why and How