A frequent question received by the Society is “How can I get my first job in pharma?”
Jobs in the United States
Within the drug safety or pharmacovigilance departments of pharmaceutical companies, physicians are commonly found in positions such as Medical Review physician or Global Safety Leader. These positions may carry a general job title of “Associate Medical Director” or “Medical Director.” With more years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, physicians may be promoted to Senior Medical Director or Vice President positions. In looking to “break into pharma,” also consider Contract Research Organizations (“CROs”) which possibly offer more job openings for physicians without previous work experience in drug safety. Employment directly with a pharmaceutical company is perhaps more likely to require previous work experience in drug safety.
Less commonly, physicians may work as Pharmacovigilance Scientists or in Aggregate Reporting/Risk Management. Physicians also work in the Medical Affairs department and sometimes in the Clinical department, but those jobs are outside the scope of this article.
In reviewing a number of job postings, you are likely to see four different types of basic requirements for open positions:
Board certified physician, with Master of Public Health preferred
Physician with experience in epidemiology
Physician with US license
Medical diploma, USMLE/ECFMG preferred but not required
After that, hiring managers may have different philosophies on further requirements.
“Who you know.” The most helpful factor will be “who you know.” Because there are many potential candidates, it is very helpful if you have a personal acquaintance with someone on the team.
“Years in pharma.” A common exclusion criteria is “number of years in pharma.” If you are seeking your first job in pharma, you may need to look extra diligently to find a hiring manager that does not use this criteria. Without the specific job experience, showing related experience in academic research or public health epidemiology can be helpful, as well as having completed your training at a highly esteemed medical school.
If English is your second language, some believe that acquiring a Masters degree in the United States helped to establish their ability to work and live in the United States. However, due to the potential expense, such a course of action should be carefully evaluated. Applicants who are not holding permission to work in the United States at the time of job application may be viewed less favorably than other applicants.
There are a very small number of fellowships available from pharmaceutical companies. Having basic skills in Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint is often expected. You likely will spend a great part of your day on a personal computer, so being able to type on the keyboard (perhaps around 40 words per minute) and displaying some enjoyment for using databases and personal computers is generally a “must have.” You would be working in a corporate environment that is different from a healthcare environment --interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence may be viewed as a requirement. If you completed training on MedDRA coding, pharmacovigilance, or using a drug safety database software, then highlight this on your resume.
While there are recruiters for physician jobs in drug safety, they tend to focus on physicians with some years of experience in the industry. Therefore, you likely will need to contact companies directly. Consider creating a LinkedIn profile and connecting to others in the pharmaceutical industry. Use key words that include drug safety terms. Unless you find a “remote job,” in-office employment may be concentrated in areas such as Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Research Triangle Park, Philadelphia, near New York City, and towns in New Jersey. “Hybrid” positions may allow you to work from home one or two days per week. For your home work station, you may need to provide two large computer monitors with a universal docking station (compatible with your company laptop) in addition to a high speed internet connection.
For those completing our Certificate in Essentials of Pharmacovigilance Medical Review, we are able to offer a limited number of brief resume reviews for those holding permission to work in the United States.
Jobs in India
Many drug safety jobs are located in India at a “CRO.” Physicians are sometimes recruited for “Data Entry” positions with the goal of gaining experience to be promoted to a “Medical Review” position. These positions often do not require previous experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Advantages of working first in “Data Entry” are that you become an expert in the database software, MedDRA coding, and general conventions for “Case Processing.” It might be possible to gain a “Medical Review” position as your first position. It is likely that you are competing with many other applicants. Regretfully, the Society does not have more details on jobs in India or other countries outside the United States where drug safety jobs may be located.