The Pharma Pharmacist

Does the prospect of continuing lower reimbursement rates, crazy hours, longer phone wait times, and slow and inefficient pharmacy software have you considering a new career?

Does the prospect of continuing lower reimbursement rates, crazy hours, longer phone wait times, and slow and inefficient pharmacy software have you considering a new career? Over the past 10 to 15 years, we have seen a tremendous shift in the number of pharmacists turning to the pharmaceutical industry sector (pharma) to explore new career paths. One path, in particular, that has grown over 300% in the past decade is medical affairs.

The medical affairs function is concerned mainly with data dissemination and generation. Traditionally, this function oversees roles such as medical information specialists, medical science liaisons, and medical directors. In the past, the majority of folks in pharma on the medical side were PharmDs. However, increasing numbers of MD and PhD candidates are flocking to these roles, creating an interesting competitive race to land one of these coveted positions.

Since 2003, the number of pharmacists in the United States has more than doubled due to the advent of new and emerging colleges of pharmacy across the country. The result has been an imbalance in supply and demand. In addition, as the health care landscape evolves, more and more physicians (not unlike pharmacists) find themselves flocking to pharma to leave behind similar issues they never dreamed of dealing with when they were excited medical school students.

So how do you prepare for a role in pharma? Some colleges of pharmacy have fairly strong fellowship programs, such as the University of Southern California’s School of Pharmacy’s medical affairs fellowship program. However, most candidates have learned on the job; until now, that is. The Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs ( has developed the only comprehensive program for individuals interested in a serious medical affairs career. The program offers a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) program to individuals with an MD, a PharmD, or a PhD. Students enrolled in an accredited doctoral program may also be eligible but can only use the professional designation in their title upon graduation. The BCMAS program covers 20 different topics in medical affairs, including medical devices, diagnostics, and health economics outcomes research. It is an online, self-paced program with a final exam (also taken online).

As drug development shifts to more specialty and rare disease areas, study of the underlying pathobiology and science will continue to evolve in complexity, thus requiring individuals with advanced scientific and clinical backgrounds to educate physicians on drugs’ clinical data. As a result, we will continue to see an ongoing increase in medical affairs and higher demand for more MD, PharmD, and PhD candidates at the forefront of educating health care providers around the world.

This article is published in collaboration with the Directions in Pharmacy CE Conference program.

Dr. William Soliman is currently the President and CEO of The Apotheker Group. He is a senior executive with several years of experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. Most recently, Dr. Soliman served as global medical director at Eisai. He has also held a variety of critical management roles across the industry at Gilead Sciences, Abbott Laboratories, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Merck. Dr. Soliman previously served as vice president of Medical and Scientific Affairs at CME LLC. Dr. Soliman earned his PhD from Columbia University, his bachelor’s degree from New York University, and his master’s degree from St. Peter’s University.