Pharmacists working in Industry: My journey, my insight

Pharmacists working in Industry: My journey, my insight

21 Sep . 6 min read.

I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been asked to give my insight into how pharmacists work within Industry. Maybe I should begin with who I am and why I am writing this.

My name is Chris Maguire, I studied pharmacy in Queens University Belfast. I did my pre-reg in a community pharmacy in N.Ireland. After I registered I realised there weren’t job opportunities at home so I started looking across the water. I started as a relief pharmacist with Lloyd’s pharmacy in North Wales. Within two months I was a store manager, a year later I moved region and became a cluster manager in Warrington. Everything was going well, but I got itchy feet and ran off to South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I travelled and then I worked in hospital in Sydney for 6 months, travelled some more and then decided it was time to come home. I got a job at Interface Clinical Services and worked my way up to be the National Lead Pharmacist. We had a team of around 70 pharmacists working nationally carrying out clinical reviews and services in GP surgeries. I was responsible for design of protocols, training of staff, development of services among other things. I was there 5 years and loved it. Then I decided it was time to move to a commercial industry role. I joined Becton Dickinson as project lead for Diabetes Care. I was responsible for running value based healthcare projects and managing some contracts we had with third parties.

I was employed to do a very tiny part with a limited scope. But it became clear my understanding of diabetes and its management, how the NHS was structured and what stakeholders were important for the business, my understanding of data from things like the national diabetes audit, QOF, prescribing data and eye for detail and numbers were a skill or insight they hadn’t had in one person or department before. I took on more and more responsibility. Started training the sales force, going through clinical papers and changing them into digestible one-page documents, visiting DSNs, nurses, GPs alongside the sales force team to help to explain our vision and what it could mean for patients; helping with targeting of key areas that the team should be engaging with. I also prepare reports for European and Global connections, doing data analysis at practice and CCG level and dealing with wholesalers.

Then the opportunity of marketing manager came up after 11 months and I was happy to be appointed. Now incorporating everything I was doing before but with the ability to drive the strategy with my own budget and responsibility. Marketing is a far step from Pharmacy, but it really is about understanding the people who use your products, and my experience as a pharmacist dealing with peers, with Doctors (GPs and consultants), nurses etc does give me a great insight into how those professions digest information, especially making sure it is evidence based.

I share this story, not to brag, but to highlight I had no experience in industry and had no experience in marketing. And the one myth that I hear time and again, you don’t need a PhD to get into industry. It depends on what role it is within industry. I have taken opportunities when they have come along, worked hard and probably been quite fortunate! There is also what I would call the more traditional industry roles in terms of R&D, which someone better than I can comment on. But this is usually where a PhD is more of pre-requisite.

So where can pharmacists work in industry? Everywhere in my opinion. Our skills and knowledge are highly coveted, useful and can bring an organisation to a new level. I sat in a global meeting this week in Dublin, the head of Medical Affairs is a pharmacist, he has Medical Science Liaison (MSL) pharmacists, the head of HEOR (Health Economic Outcome Research) is a pharmacist. Our European marketing lead for a platform is a pharmacist. Myself in country marketing and a marketing director from the USA are pharmacists. A regulatory affairs specialist was a pharmacist. A market access manager from Belgium was a pharmacist. So within one meeting, multiple roles and functions are led by pharmacists. I can see pharmacists in multiple roles within industry.

Clinical roles: MSL, scientific advisors, medical affairs: each company has their own term for this. But essentially you are the expert in your company’s clinical papers and your competitions. You speak to the specialists in the NHS about the papers, the disease area, potentially having the run trials or studies whilst also having a training role for your sales teams.

Medicine information/regulatory roles/final signatory roles: specialists in the licensing and indication for products, submission to the right bodies and organisations for reimbursement. Or signing off literature made by marketing teams to state they are medically accurate and can be used in public with Healthcare providers and patients- a huge responsibility which only Pharmacists and Doctors can actually do.

Market access: providing specialist knowledge on the different pathways for reimbursement and uptake. Relationship management with key NHS staff, good project management skills to get projects up and running

Marketing roles: help with insight to how different roles within the NHS-consultants, GPs, nurses, pharmacists will engage with information, respond to it. Help with managing the budget to attend conferences, design materials that will resonate with health care professionals or patients, setting up initiatives

HEOR: helping with modelling out the outcomes to different markets or countries based on clinical studies, databases etc. For example if a drug/product helped reduce bed stays in hospital how much money would that save the individual hospital or full healthcare system.

Along with the more normal commercial roles of sales managers, key account managers, sales associates etc. All would equally be a good opportunity to get in the door and show what you can do. Majority of all the senior people have started in a sales role and moved their way up to become worldwide or European leaders. It’s all about attitude and work ethic. They will develop career blueprints with your manager and HR and you can highlight how you want to progress over the short term 3-5 years and long term 5-10 years. And then help you get there, as it’s a key metric for their own internal processes. And they love people moving between functions to understand the business more fully.

If I was advising someone on how to get into industry. I would advise to know which type of role you want to work in, speak with people doing it, and speak to recruiters on what they are looking for. Recruiters can be the biggest challenge to get past unless you know the right language to use, which is what they are looking for. I’d also recommend networking with reps or sales teams and asking them who does the roles above and seeing if they can connect you. You may have to take a pay cut to get in the door, but the possibilities within these large companies to move up within the UK, Europe or further afield in multiple different directions means it can be a very good long-term decision.

Websites like Indeed, Carrot Pharma and others, are one way you can start applying for these niche roles. Also look directly at the large companies job sites as well as the smaller companies. Large companies are more likely to bring you in and train you very well at a junior level. Smaller companies may be more willing to take a risk on the right person but then give you accountability to do your job as you see fit. But don’t count either out. Experience once you are in, is key in my opinion to unlock the next opportunity.

I hope this is helpful. I don’t have all the answers. But if I can do it, many more pharmacists can make the move too.

Written by Chris Maguire

BD Diabetes Care Marketing Manager UK & Ireland