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Fast-growing and new careers for doctors in the pharmaceutical industry

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Many factors affect the business of drug research and development. Innovative technologies, changes in healthcare payor practices, rising patient awareness, and new FDA regulations are just a few. As a result, the role of physicians in this sector continues to evolve. This article covers several fast-growing and new careers for doctors in the pharmaceutical industry.

Managed markets and payer scientific exchange

For a long time, pharmaceutical companies put significant effort and resources into educating physicians and patients about their drugs. This used to be sufficient for the success of their products. More recently, however, healthcare payers’ ability to influence the behavior of both practitioners and patients has grown.

Payers play a significant role in patient treatment decision-making. Pharmaceutical companies have developed programs to effectively price and position their products with payers.

The role for physicians in these programs is somewhat similar to that of a medical science liaison (MSL). Instead of developing relationships with physicians and scientific thought-leaders, they do so with health insurers and payor decision-makers.

A physician in this type of position might be a Managed Market Medical Director or a Payer MSL.

Professionals in these roles spend a great deal of time engaging in scientific information exchange, which is interesting work for many physicians that’s also relevant to their clinical backgrounds.

Insight into how payers make decisions is crucial for a job of this type. Physicians need to be knowledgeable about the requirements for insured members and the regulations and political environment affecting the payer. They also need to be aware of litigation risk, media scrutiny, and other factors.

Health economics and outcomes research

The research conducted by pharmaceutical companies is not just clinical trials. Drub developers are increasingly relying on real-world evidence to test the effectiveness of drugs in various populations.

Health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) is more important than ever in pharma. Companies strive to demonstrate that their products provide value for the money.

Physicians can offer an important perspective and key expertise to HEOR. Positions fitting for someone with a medical background range from Health Outcomes Liaison to HEOR Medical Writer.

Jobs in this field require doctors to serve as a medical and scientific resource to the HEOR team and inform the strategic plan for the value proposition of the company’s products.

Rare diseases

Rare diseases research has undergone some important changes in the last couple decades. Legislation has incentivized the pharma industry to invest in drugs for rare diseases. Moreover, advances in gene sequencing have made it cheaper and faster for associate genetic mutations with diseases.

Physicians with an expertise in a rare disease can likely find a niche within the pharmaceutical industry. Jobs of interest cover the entire range of the drug development and marketing pipeline.

A Medical Affairs Medical Director is one example of a career for physicians in this area. Within a rare diseases team, the medical director builds the strategies to approach disease awareness, develop key relationships, build patient advocacy and access programs, initiate investigator-led trials, and educate the medical community through publications and CME programs.

Clinical Informatics

Clinical informatics is not new, but its use in the pharmaceutical industry is still developing and is rapidly growing.

Broadly speaking, clinical informatics is the study of how to represent, analyze, store, and retrieve clinical information. Its scope is wide-ranging, including software, data science, artificial intelligence, and more.

Clinical informatics is now recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties as a board-certifiable sub-specialty for which any physician with a primary board certification can pursue. Doctors with experience and training in this field can be an asset to pharmaceutical companies employing clinical informatics in their products and drug development strategies.

Many pharma companies believe that accessing EHRs could help them better understand patient factors that could impact the safety and efficacy of drugs. As this and other uses of clinical informatics come to fruition for the pharmaceutical industry, physician involvement is likely to become more prevalent and significant.

Personalized and precision medicine

There is a great amount of promise for truly personalized medicine, but its use today is largely “stratified medicine.” As this domain advances, there is escalating opportunity for physicians.

A pharmaceutical medical director focusing on personalized or precision medicine might have these responsibilities:

  • Lead strategy to enable advances in personalized medicine target identification and patient selection
  • Provide clinical leadership across teams to enable the use of personalized medicine
  • Collaborate with research and development teams to ensure appropriate incorporation of precision medicine strategies
  • Ensure that publications, educational initiatives, and reports related to personalized medicine programs and processes are medically sound and appropriate.

Personalized and precision medicine concepts are applicable in many therapeutic areas. As such, some pharma companies have a department or group that works with various therapeutic teams across the company. This makes personalized medicine a potential career focus for physicians who don’t have expertise in a particular therapeutic area.

Patient-centered research and “patient centricity”

The pharmaceutical industry is striving to become patient-centric. Regulatory bodies, payers, and other decision makers are requesting and expecting patient input and patient-centered approaches to delivering healthcare. For pharma, this means several things, including:

  • Using patient-reported outcomes in research
  • Capturing information of relevance to patients in drug research
  • Identifying patient preferences
  • Industry engagement with patients and patient groups

Physicians are vital to this shift, due to our ample patient care experience. A Research Scientist focused on patient-centered research can work for a pharmaceutical company or a contract research organization (CRO), applying medical and patient care knowledge to the drug research and development process.

As an example, this area is a current focus of the CRO Evidera.

Doctors interested in this type of work can prepare themselves by learning about research methodologies that include patient-reported outcomes, psychometric instruments and testing, patient-defined endpoints, and patient-centered trial design.

Consumer healthcare safety

The fusion of pharmaceutical products with consumer goods has led to the rising importance of consumer healthcare safety.

There is somewhat of a gray area between the pharma industry and consumer goods companies. With growth of dietary supplements, aesthetic technologies, and cosmeceuticals, we’re likely to see a shift in the regulatory environment toward that of pharmaceutical companies.

Some pharma companies are developing products that lie in this gray area or acquiring companies that focus on consumer products.

Physicians can play a role in ensuring that products falling into these areas are safe and effective and that consumers are provided with understandable, accurate information.

Jobs in this realm include medical writing, policy development, and product safety roles. Frequent readers of this blog know that I think pharmacovigilance is one of the neatest nonclinical careers for physicians. Consumer healthcare safety is another way that doctors can get into product safety from a bit of a different perspective and, in many cases, with less stringent job qualifications.


The pharmaceutical industry will continue to grow and evolve. As a result, there will continue to be new careers for doctors within it. If you think that a career in pharma may be a good fit for you, don’t limit your search to traditional positions for physicians. Keep an open mind and consider out-of-the-box ways that your medical background and experience could be an asset to the industry.

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