Dr. Abraham is a senior professional of medical communications at Ortho-McNeil Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC.
Industry holds many challenging opportunities that are well suited for a pharmacist. These can be found in unexpected places throughout a pharmaceutical company. Although the knowledge gained in pharmacy school may seemingly prepare a pharmacist best for a career in clinical development, regulatory affairs, or medical information, pharmacists can also be found in departments such as sales and finance. Although their impact on patient care may not be immediately apparent, pharmacists working in industry are always patient-focused, as their work brings new medications to patients and health care providers (HCPs). A career in medical information in particular allows pharmacists to use their scientific expertise to translate complex scientific information into language that others can understand.
Medical information is an ideal place in industry for a pharmacist to put to use his or her specialized drug knowledge. All companies outline different roles for pharmacists in medical information, but the most basic and most vital contribution is that of ensuring that patients and health care providers have the necessary information to use the company's products safely and effectively.
A typical day for a pharmacist in medical information often involves communicating with a health care provider who is using the company's products in clinical practice. Often, the pharmacist will be called upon to translate clinical trial data or prescribing information language in response to an unsolicited request for information from an HCP. This communication can be written or verbal, depending on the situation, and is always nonpromotional.
Opportunities also may exist for discussions with patients themselves, especially for clarification of prescribing information or instructions for product use. Unlike traditional pharmacist?patient interactions in community pharmacy, a pharmacist in medical information does not make treatment recommendations, as that role is reserved for the patient's HCP. Rather, the medical information pharmacist provides scientifically based, unbiased information consistent with the appropriate use of the product for approved indications.
Another exciting opportunity is providing coverage at medical meeting convention booths across the country. At these medical information booths, pharmacists are available to communicate in person with HCPs and provide answers to unsolicited product-related questions. More opportunities for travel exist for pharmacists who are field-based medical science liaisons (MSLs). MSLs foster relationships with HCPs and collect valuable input from their clinical practice experience, which can be communicated to home-office business partners and used to create future scientific initiatives to meet customer needs.
Medical information pharmacists are asked to join cross-functional teams to share their product knowledge with colleagues from other departments in the company. This allows for collaboration and exposure to other areas of the business. An excellent example of this is involvement in promotional review committees, where pharmacists ensure that advertising pieces used by the company are scientifically sound and include appropriate safety information.
Many students may feel as though they do not have enough information about opportunities available in industry, but this does not have to be a barrier to exploring this career path.
Most companies offer summer internships and clerkship rotations for student pharmacists who are interested in pursuing a career in industry. Positions are usually available for student internships and clerkships across different departments. Pharmaceutical companies often post internship positions on their company Web sites, or students could visit their career-services department or clerkship-rotation coordinator for more information. Postgraduate residency or fellowship programs are also available for new graduates. Many times, these postgraduate programs are affiliated with a pharmacy school, which allows for teaching and precepting opportunities. These programs provide valuable, concentrated exposure to different areas in industry.
The pharmaceutical industry and medical information in particular hold many opportunities for career growth and satisfaction. It is rewarding to know that, even at the business level, the patient-focused perspective of a pharmacist can really make a difference.
The author would like to thank Tiziana Fox and Erica Heverin for providing comments and support for this article.