ANALYTICAL SKILLS, CLINICALknowledge, and managerial experienceall have a place in pharmacyoutside the retail setting and outsidea clinical practice. That place isresearch, one of the most vital componentsof pharmacy. Developing theproducts that could possibly be widelyprescribed to improve the healthcare of millions of people may be oneof the most rewarding ways toapproach a pharmacy career.
As an oncology research pharmacist,Jeannette Wick, RPh, MBA,FASCP, manages a portfolio of investigationalagents for the National Institutesof Health (NIH). Her portfolioof oncology drugs offers a great deal ofpromise to cancer research. Untilrecently, she says, pharmacy has notbeen interested in developing antineoplasticdrugs because, she says, "therewas this belief that cancer would killyou." The hard work of developingthese drugs and getting them to theclinicians and patients who need themhas changed that perception.
In her work with the NIH, Wickpartners with drug companies toreview every protocol using agents inher portfolio. She reviews the dosingand eligibility criteria, and she fieldscalls from sites in the United Statesand other countries, answering questionsabout storage, etc. AlthoughWick has spent her career workingfor the government, this position isnot just available within the federalsystem. "There are 10 of us that dothis work for the NIH, but almostevery drug company in the countryhires a pharmacist to do this job."
Most people do not become oncologyresearch pharmacists right outof pharmacy school, explains Wick.A pharmacist arrives at the positionwith some clinical experience and,hopefully, a little management experienceas well. "You need good inventoryskills, good language skills—it isessential that the protocol is clear," says Wick. It also helps to have publishedwork. Once in this jobseries, she says, pharmacistsmay later choose to leave andwork for drug companies orother government agencies thatrequire clinical administrativeskills. While most oncologyresearch pharmacists come tothe NIH from an oncology clinicalpractice, Wick had otherskills and experience thatmade her a good fit for thejob. She started as a commissionedofficer for the USPublic Health Service whereshe worked in psychiatry at oneof the nation's largest psychiatricfacilities. Her ability to peer review adocument, critique it constructively,and her inventory control skillsearned her the position at NIH.
Oncology research pharmacists musthave a good understanding of the overallNIH policies and requirements, andthey must know how to use the specificdatabases that manage protocols anddrug supply, making sure there is anappropriate quantity of drugs for distributionthroughout the life cycle ofthe drug.
The position is training-intensiveand entirely different from clinicalpharmacy. Because they are dealingwith investigational drugs, researchpharmacists must be able to developgood safety profiles and reviews ofadverse events. A good candidate for thistype of job must be meticulous, detail-oriented,careful, and safety-conscious.Documentation is absolutely crucial,says Wick, and researching skills areparamount. "You need to know howto research, get on the Internet, checkMedline, check standard references,and check press releases to coverevery base."
Like so many other careers inpharmacy, there is no typical day.Work days are incredibly busy andfraught with problems, says Wick."Mondays and Fridays are verybusy. Mondays, people have questionsfrom over the weekend, like,‘My refrigerator broke, how do Istore this medication?'Fridaycomes along, and people are callingwanting to know where their deliveryis. I am constantly on the phonewith pharmaceutical representatives,busy clinicians, nurses withquestions, patients.... You musthave excellent people skills."
Wick says she gets the most job satisfactionfrom distributing information.In addition to her other responsibilities,Wick prepares a quarterlynewsletter that goes out to cliniciansand investigators, pharmacists, andnurses. "I try to keep it light andentertaining. They don't have a lot oftime to read it, so I keep the informationto short blurbs."
In the research field, patience is avirtue. The process can be slow andfrustrating, says Wick, but "it's a reallygood feeling when one of your agentsgraduates to FDA approval. It can takeanywhere from 3 to 20 years. Somehave gone through fairly quickly. Youmay start out in one indication andthen find another. In oncology,we havehad unprecedented success.We understandcancer at the cellular level betterthan we used to.Because of that,we cancreate therapies that are more effectiveand are oral, as opposed to infusions orparenterals. There is a lot going on.This is a growth field."
Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writerbased in Wakefield, RI.