An Introduction to Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowships

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Fall 2018
Volume 12
Issue 4

With the current increase in pharmacy school enrollment contributing to a more competitive job market, novel and nontraditional career paths may become a more viable option for pharmacy school graduates.

What Is a Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship?

With the current increase in pharmacy school enrollment contributing to a more competitive job market, novel and nontraditional career paths may become a more viable option for pharmacy school graduates.1 One unique route that graduates can pursue is a pharmaceutical industry fellowship program. As opposed to programs that place fellows in a hospital or retail setting, these fellowship programs provide a unique opportunity for PharmD graduates to apply their scientific and clinical background in a corporate work environment.

In many programs, industry fellowships are joint ventures between universities and pharmaceutical companies. One example is the Rutgers Institute for Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowships (RPIF), which is a partnership between Rutgers University and 17 different companies hosting over 200 fellows. At their respective companies, fellows spend a majority of their time working on projects and interacting with colleagues, generally in team settings. As part of the structured program, fellows have preceptors with whom they work closely on a daily to weekly basis, as well as mentors who help them progress with their professional development. In university-based programs such as RPIF, fellows also have the opportunity to explore academic opportunities including research, publication, and teaching to further enrich their developmental experience.

Although there are opportunities for pharmacy students to enter the pharmaceutical industry directly from school, these positions can be difficult to obtain without prior experience. Pharmaceutical fellowships serve as 1- or 2-year postdoctoral training programs to help pharmacy graduates develop into industry professionals. Both routes to the industry are viable, but most RPIF alumni felt that the perceived value of their fellowship experience was greater than the 1- to 2-year timeframe that they had spent in the program, specifically regarding the progression of their careers.2 A cornerstone of these programs is ensuring that their participants develop into competitive candidates for full-time positions after they complete the fellowship. As a result of the valuable experience gained on-site at their company, fellows develop position-specific as well as transferable skills that help with their future career. Based on the design of most programs, fellows are able learn firsthand from experienced and knowledgeable professionals who serve as preceptors and mentors. Pharmaceutical industry fellowships also offer an extensive amount of networking opportunities both within one’s company and within the larger program.

Fellowship Versus Residency

Fellowships are similar to residencies in that they are both paid, intensive, postdoctoral training programs that allow for the opportunity to build on the skills and knowledge acquired in pharmacy school. In both programs, PharmDs are generally expected to participate in a multitude of tasks involving presentations, research, critical thinking, and team communication. Even though residents and fellows are training and learning, they are fully integrated and considered equally contributing members of their practice setting. Just as there are 1- or 2-year residencies, there are also 1- or 2-year fellowships offered. It is up to applicants to choose the length of the program they wish to pursue, which also depends on what is being offered.

There are several differentiating factors between a residency and a fellowship that could assist students in choosing one path over another. A resident assumes more of a practitioner role, involving direct patient interaction and a strong clinical focus. In contrast, fellows are primarily based in a corporate setting and interface with company employees, partners, and stakeholders. PharmDs in a fellowship supply indirect patient care by serving patients on a larger, global scale with the development of and access to medicine.

Notably, fellowship programs offer positions in several different core areas of expertise, also referred to as functional areas (FAs). Depending on the employer, these can remain generalized or be broken down further. A key advantage of fellowship programs is that there is often opportunity for fellows to rotate across FAs within the company as well as possibly externally in an academic, government, or hospital setting. The flexibility and depth of fellowship programs provide fellows with a platform to develop themselves both personally and professionally once a stable foundation in their core department is established.

Prominent FAs in which fellows may play a role include:

  • Regulatory affairs: participation in health authority interactions and submissions related to the regulations and guidelines of the drug development process
  • Clinical research and development: clinical trial planning, design, and execution; trial-related tasks such as study start-up, protocol development, medical monitoring, study closeout, and clinical study reports

  • Medical affairs: translation of clinical trial information into a more concise manner to be shared with other health care professionals, review of promotional material for accurate clinical information, exposure to medical writing for medical inquiry responses

  • Commercial: participation in the business and marketing side of the drug development cycle, strategic planning to bring a new drug into a competitive market

Pursuing an Industry Fellowship: The Next Steps

Industry fellowships can prove to be just as competitive as other postgraduate options, so pharmacy students should prepare accordingly. Those interested in pursuing this path can stand out from other prospective candidates in the following ways:

  • Develop leadership skills. Taking on roles, whether leading an organization at school or taking the lead on group projects, can develop the time management and communication skills that companies look for in fellowship candidates.
  • Participate in scholastic activities. Performing academic research with a professor, presenting a poster at school or a conference, and coauthoring a publication are great for developing critical-thinking skills and learning how to apply clinical knowledge to a project.
  • Seek industry-related experience. Although previous industry experience is not required for a fellowship, completing an internship or a rotation can give candidates a potential boost. Opportunities can be found in pharmaceutical companies, contract research organizations, medical writing companies, advertising firms, and even government health agencies such as the CDC or the FDA.
  • Prepare for interviews. Interviews are important opportunities that candidates have to demonstrate why they are the right choice for a fellowship, so it’s essential to be ready. Candidates should consider researching common interview questions, companies, and positions, asking a mentor to review application materials, practicing professional mannerisms such as public speaking, and conducting mock interviews.

Pharmacy students and graduates are encouraged to learn more about pharmaceutical industry fellowship programs and what they have to offer by using resources such as program websites and contacting current and past fellows for more in-depth insights. The pharmaceutical industry’s demand for pharmacists continues to grow, as these professionals are able to bring valuable clinical knowledge to the multidimensional team. Fellowship programs open many doors for graduating pharmacists and can set them up for a successful and meaningful industry career.

Andrew Van Deusen, PharmD, is completing a postdoctoral fellowship in new products and business development and licensing at Novartis through the Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program. Julia Spiridigliozzi, PharmD, is completing a postdoctoral fellowship in translational pharmacology clinical operations at Merck through the Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program. Ryan Conway, PharmD, is completing a postdoctoral fellowship in regulatory affairs at Novartis through the Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program.


  • Crighton M, Toscani M, Barone J, Colaizzi J. Are pharmacy schools growing too fast? Pharmacy Times® website. Published February 15, 2016. Accessed August 20, 2018.
  • Li M, Hassanzadeh S, Hu K, Li M, Spiridigliozzi J. Fellowship alumni perceptions of the value of Pharm.D. industry fellowships in the progression of a pharmacist’s industry career. Rutgers Institute for Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowships website. Accessed August 27, 2018.

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