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Diverse Opportunities Await Pharmacists in Industry

Diverse Opportunities Await Pharmacists in Industry

Hospitals, retail, long-term-care facilities -- are those all the options available for pharmacists considering the full range of career settings? Absolutely not. One important sector employs PharmDs in a range of functional areas: pharmaceuticals.

"Pharma loves PharmDs, because they're trained with pharmaceuticals, and they know how to apply them to human health," says William Sietsema, vice president of clinical and regulatory strategic planning at Kendle International, a Cincinnati-based company that provides clinical research and development services on a contract basis to the biopharmaceutical industry.

Niches for PharmDs

What industry niches can PharmDs enter, either right from school or with just a few years' work experience or postgraduate training? Each year, pharma hires or promotes PharmDs to work in clinical research, drug safety, medical affairs, medical writing, regulatory affairs, education and even traditional business disciplines such as marketing, sales, finance and legal.

"Quite a few grads go directly into industry, especially if they've already done some relevant research," Sietsema says. A clinical research associate position, for example, might await a newly minted PharmD savvy enough to win an academic-corporate fellowship or an industry internship or residency.

Pharmacists interested in a corporate career do need to keep in mind the milieu they're entering. "Employers want low- or no-maintenance staff and team players," says one California pharmacist recruiter. Although pharmacists in industry may avoid night shifts, they usually work long hours and some weekends. Substantial travel also may be involved.

For their efforts, industry pharmacists are well-compensated. "The pharmaceutical industry pays a real premium to get good people," Sietsema says. "They're almost certain to get a higher salary than in retail or academia.

Still, it's hard to make a broad comparison of pay in industry versus other settings. "Pay in the industry is all over [the] place -- it varies a lot by company," says Rachel Bongiorno, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore.

Here's a brief survey of some of the most promising career areas for pharmacists in the industry:

Clinical Research

Senior scientists in clinical research and drug discovery typically are PhDs. But associate positions and some management roles are open to PharmDs, typically with some research experience.

Clinical research associates help conduct the investigational studies required for a drug to gain FDA approval, design and process case report forms, and write and process study protocols.

Drug Safety

"Entry-level positions in industry are often in drug safety," Bongiorno says. With their intensive safety training, PharmDs are well-suited to many roles within this critical function.

Pharmacists may be called on to review adverse effects revealed in clinical studies, work with databases of study results and communicate safety information to a pharmaceutical firm's R&D department.

Regulatory Affairs

"People move into regulatory affairs from postgrad training programs like residencies or fellowships," Bongiorno says. Putting in a year or two at relatively low wages can pay big dividends later in terms of career growth and compensation.

Regulatory affairs specialists help ensure that drugs under development meet the complex web of federal and state regulations that protect the public. Pharmacists in this role work with safety data and produce communications such as product labels for patients and healthcare providers.

Marketing and Sales Support

Pharmaceuticals makers can't sell their products without incorporating technical information into their pitch. Enter PharmD medical marketing and sales specialists.

"PharmD reps are the ones who go to hospitals and make sales at conventions," says the California pharmacist recruiter. "They're the pharmacists who go in to see the pharmacists."

Education and Training

Offering a complex array of products, drug companies face a daunting task when it comes to educating their own staffs, the healthcare community at large and the public.

"I help meet the needs of our customers who are healthcare providers," says Catherine Cooke, a Baltimore-based education consultant for Pfizer and an adjunct professor of pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. "I do formulary reviews, assist with drug and medical information, and give lectures on disease states and appropriate management at hospitals and in doctors' offices."

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