Pharmacy Times

Medical Communication Companies: A Nontraditional Niche for Pharmacists

Author: Michele Reed, PharmD

The pharmacist has historically been revered as a trusted figure. The field of pharmacy remains among the 5 most highly rated professions in honesty and ethical standards, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.

Ample employment opportunities and good salaries further enhance the lure of the industry. Many students, however, may not realize the vast pool of opportunities available to a pharmacy degree holder.

In fact, when considering the role of the pharmacist, students may envision a druggist in a white coat behind the counter offering sound medical advice to patients. While this is not a false vision of the pharmacist, it is a quite limited one.

There is no question that retail pharmacy is the most popular employment choice of pharmacists. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that retail settings are 4 of the 5 industries with the highest levels of pharmacist employment. This begs the question of whether pharmacists are aware of the nontraditional career paths that are available to them. Businesses such as managed care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and medical communications companies have needs that oftentimes only a pharmacist can fill. What can a medical communications company offer a pharmacist in terms of career opportunities?

The Pharmacist’s Role in Medical Communications
Medical communications companies provide various types of products, most often to pharmaceutical clients. These products may include clinical drug monographs, key opinion leader presentations, sales training slide kits, and a variety of promotional materials. While there are many professionals who make a medical communications company tick, the content or editorial department is responsible for the language, graphics, and overall messaging of the products they produce.

There are several content-related roles within the medical communications company that are appropriate for pharmacists. For example, medical writers hold an important position within the company. They are responsible for the creation of medically accurate content based on peer-reviewed sources. Additionally, the medical writer is responsible for ensuring that all information has not only been fully vetted, but that it gets the intended message across to the correct audience while maintaining the medical, legal, and regulatory (MLR) standards put forth by clients.

The medical editor takes on a similar role to that of the medical writer in the creation of content. Medical editors are tasked with verification of scientific accuracy, as well as editing content for flow, grammar, and style. The overall focus of the medical editor is to polish the piece to engage readers while maintaining the highest level of scientific accuracy to comply with MLR standards.

Many medical communications companies employ a medical director to oversee operations and staff members within the content department. Depending on the model of the particular company, the medical director may also partner with account teams in the acquisition of new business by leveraging their medical knowledge and offering clients a clinical approach to projects. The medical writer, medical editor, and medical director all play important roles within the medical communications company by providing the clinical knowledge necessary for the creation of medical communications media.

While pharmacists have the medical knowledge to take on any one of these roles, it takes a specific type of pharmacist to flourish in a medical communications company. This pharmacist should be competent in verification of drug and medical information as well as possess excellent communication and language skills. They must also have an ability to create engaging scientific content for various audiences and media and a working knowledge of MLR compliance parameters for promotional materials. Pharmacists working within medical communications companies are detail oriented, have the ability to manage multiple project deadlines, and are able to work within a collaborative team of professionals.

Getting Started
Pharmacy students who are looking to enter the field of medical communications may get started early by taking courses in medical writing, literature evaluation, and pharmaceutical marketing. There are also options during the clerkship year to take an elective rotation with a medical communications company. Such rotations may allow the student to try a few roles within the company that would be appropriate for a pharmacist.

Additionally, pharmacy students may acquire a membership to the American Medical Writers Association for education, networking, and freelance opportunities. Creating and maintaining a portfolio is one of the most productive steps that pharmacy students can take. Students should take any opportunities they may have to be published, because this is impressive credential when seeking work in the medical communications industry.

There is a definite need for pharmacists within medical communications companies. Additionally, the profession offers an office environment and a predictable schedule, with some companies allowing for part- or full-time telecommuting schedules. There is potential for leadership and mentoring roles, as well as career advancement opportunities that may be harder to find in traditional pharmacy settings. This field offers pharmacists the opportunity to use their clinical knowledge in unique and creative ways while also offering an excellent work-life balance.


Dr. Reed received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and currently works as a medical editor in the greater Philadelphia area.