HERC: Hiring/Collaborating with a Health Economist
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Hiring/Collaborating with a Health Economist

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The Health Economics Resource Center offers training and consulting services to VA health economists and VA researchers needing health economics expertise. Due to the great demand for health economics expertise, HERC economists do not ordinarily respond to requests for consulting assistance by becoming involved as co-investigators on projects.

In general, health economists are difficult to recruit. Health economists may obtain their PhD from a university economics department or from a public health school within a health services research program. Since health economists are recruited by the pharmaceutical industry, medical schools, and other professional schools, starting salaries for health economists tend to be higher than those for other health services researchers. Government research centers have had more success in hiring health economists when the position is associated with an academic appointment or the opportunity to conduct independent, peer-reviewed research with the possibility of publication in the academic literature. Experienced health economists can be difficult to recruit at current government salary levels.

The best place to advertise for economists is the "Job Opportunities for Economists," also known as JOE, a web site operated by the American Economic Association. This online employment site is free for job seekers and supported by fees from employers advertising positions. To find an economist with expertise in healthcare, the advertisement should be sure to identify health as the economic specialty. The Journal of Economic Literature Classification is "I1-Health".

New PhD economists typically look for work beginning in October of the year prior to their graduation, and it important to submit an advertisement by October in order to receive applications to interview candidates in person in early January at the American Economics Association meeting. Details about the meeting may be found at the AEA web site. Many new PhD economists go to this meeting for job interviews. Employers then invite their selected candidates for an on-site visit to present a seminar and be more extensively interviewed; job offers are tendered in the early spring, and then the market closes until the next year.

The International Health Economics Association also lists job openings in the job listings page on the IHEA web site. Job listings e-mailed to IHEA at the address given on the job page will be listed at no charge. Information about jobs for health services researchers with economics expertise may also be found from AcademyHealth. Employers can advertise open positions on career center page on the Academy web site. There is a small job market at the AcademyHealth's Annual Research Meeting in June where binders with job listings and resumes may be reviewed. The complete binder may be purchased after the meeting is over.

Health economics jobs are occasionally listed in publications by the American Public Health Association, the American Journal of Public Health, and the Nations' Health. Ads are expensive, as these are widely circulated publications. APHA also operates a web based career service, which lists both employer and job candidate information. The International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research and the Society for Medical Decision Making also have web sites that may have job listings.


Letters of Support

Helping researchers who are writing research proposals is one way HERC fulfills its mission of improving the quality of VA health economics research. HERC can provide information about cost data, methods, cost-effectiveness analysis, study design, and other issues. HERC does not actually design or perform analyses for this type of assistance.

HERC does not typically write letters of general endorsement for a proposed study or its methods. Short turn-around times provide little chance for us to review finished proposals in a timely manner. Moreover, HERC does not want to be perceived as the organization that evaluates the scientific quality of proposals with economics; that is the role of the peer review committee. HERC can write letters that describe HERC products or services needed for a particular study. For example, we can describe the availability of the HERC average cost data set, and whether it will be useful in answering your study questions.

Individual HERC investigators who are directly involved in designing and carrying out a study may write a letter of support for their collaborator's proposal; however, in these cases, it is more likely that they will be listed as a funded co-investigator.


Collaborating with a Health Economist

Some VA researchers need assistance beyond what can be provided by our consulting service. The consulting service was designed to provide brief consultations on studies design, methods or data. In this role, HERC investigators are advisors; they do not ordinarily carry out economic analyses for customers.

There may be some situations in which your project requires an Economist Co-Investigator, rather than simply an economics consulting session. There are two large categories when you may need an Economist Co-Investigator: 1) when you are conducting complex cost modeling; and/or 2) when you are interested in causal inference from observational data. HSR&D has some guidance on when to involve a health economist in a complex cost model; see the last section of this guide: Cost Analyses in HSR&D Studies: Information for Applicants and Reviewers.

HERC maintains a list of VA health economists and researchers with health economic interests which includes each economist's areas of expertise. Researchers who are planning a study can use this list to identify potential collaborators.

The best time to contact a potential health economist collaborator is early in the process of developing a proposal. Collaborations proposed shortly before proposal deadlines are difficult to undertake. If an economist is needed, it is often a necessary to include the economist in all phases of the study, including initial design, data gathering and analysis; study hypotheses and data are often very different in studies that include economic endpoints and/or econometrics.