What is a drug safety physician? What are the pros and cons of a career in pharmacovigilance? Is it hard to land a job as a safety physician in pharma? Can you work remotely as a drug safety physician? Listen for a detailed insight into the world of drug development safety.
In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:
- A typical day in the life of a pharmaceutical safety physician
- The mindset and skills ideally suited to a career in drug safety
- Answers to the most asked questions about this field of work
Today I interviewed Dr. Patrick Twomey, an internal medicine doctor turned pharmacovigilance physician leader. We discussed his diverse background in both the medical and pharma careers, what it takes to get your foot in the door, and answers to the questions he is asked the most. After this episode, you’ll know if you might thrive in a drug safety career.
In this Episode:
[1:23] Meet Dr. Patrick Twomey
[8:15] What’s a day in the life of drug safety physician?
[13:40] What’s most exciting? Let’s talk pros and cons
[20:30] The broad world of pharmacovigilance and types of careers in safety
[35:15] What skills and experience are hiring managers really looking for?
[48:00] Thinking about classic advice a bit differently
Please note: the information and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the guest speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the host, nor any of the host’s affiliated entities.
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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 110 – Careers in Drug Safety with Dr. Patrick Twomey
So today I’m really excited to have on the show Dr. Patrick Twomey, who is a pharmacovigilance physician, but has had a long and diverse career really, in, in medicine and in pharma. And so I’m really just excited to have him on the show today to answer all the many questions that I get asked that I don’t know, because that’s not my area. Welcome to the show, Patrick.
Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me, Marjorie. I’m really excited to be here as well. Definitely got a lot of questions about pharmacovigilance from folks. And it’s really exciting to be able to be on your platform to be able to insert it hopefully answer a lot of the questions that people have.
Yeah, absolutely. So if we can, since I know some of my audience will know you well, from a lot of the insightful comments that you give in on some of the forums and social media and so forth. But for people who maybe don’t know you, can you give a little bit of an introduction about you, your sort of traditional medical training and your early career?
Yeah, sure. Happy to. So yeah, my background I’m Patrick Twomey, as you mentioned, my background has been in internal medicine. So I trained and did my residency in Internal Medicine, practice as an internist for a couple of years, but just never really loved internal medicine, I, I just, I was fine. I wasn’t burnt out. I like the clinic. It was okay, I enjoyed my patients, I think I was a good doctor. So no issues there.
But I just, I just felt like you know, I wasn’t really making a huge impact on medicine, being in the clinic, day to day. And my background before going to medical school was as a chemist. And so I was always kind of interested in that pharmacy, pharmacology space. And a mentor of mine in medical school, or sorry, residency, had told me about the clinical pharmacology fellowship training that was available.
At the time I was active duty in the Army, I had done the HPSP program for medical school, and was working active duty at the time, and the army had a pretty good training program. So I applied for that and went back into a two year fellowship in clinical pharmacology, and really just fell in love with that.
So that’s a whole other topic probably. But in a nutshell, clinical pharmacologist that are physicians usually run our phase one and phase two healthy volunteer studies and do things like food effects studies, and PK pharmacokinetic studies and thorough Qt studies and all of that.
So I trained in that area, and actually worked as a clinical pharmacologist and clinical development lead and infectious disease programs for the Army for about six years before. Finally, when I got out of the Army, decided to that working in the clinic full time, at the time in the army, I was doing both sort of like an academic type position, like seeing clinic once or twice a week, and then doing clinical trials and clinical development the rest of the time, but I really fell in love with product development and the pharmaceutical side of things.
And so when I got out of the army, I applied to jobs in pharma and eventually landed at Genentech, which is part of Roche living in the Bay Area, initially as a clinical pharmacologist there for about a year and a half, but then transitioned over to drug safety, which for Genentech, we actually divided into early development.
So sort of translational, coming into the clinic for the first time, first in human studies, through about phase two, and then late stage development, stage two and beyond. And so I landed in early development where I’ve been ever since so for about four years now been working in that really developing drug safety space.
That’s fantastic. And since you have mentioned that, I want to, I want to kind of pause for a second on the clinical pharmacology fellowship that you did. A lot of people ask if they need additional training, in order to make a transition from being a physician, you know, in the clinic, either academics or clinical into the pharmaceutical or medical device industry.
And my answer is always like, a hard and fast No, you don’t. But when someone is hearing this, they probably are thinking, Well, you did a two year fellowship. So of course, what would you say?
So I would say yes, the fellowship obviously helped me because it sort of was a fellowship and training for running phase one and phase two studies. But is it necessary? No, I would completely agree with you. Most of my colleagues that I work with, and most of the colleagues I’ve worked with my whole career in product development, have not done additional training. I did it because I really loved pharmacology.
So if you love Clinical Pharmacology and think that’s something you really like, then sure, go for it. But is it necessary? Absolutely not. No, I would completely agree with you.
Yeah, super to know because I think a lot of people might much of drug development seems like a mystery to a lot of our clinical colleagues and they and it is right. I love what you learn a lot on the job. I think a lot of people worry that they need to learn before or the job. So. So that’s interesting.
And people will also assume that they have had prior research experience, which clearly you did a lot of that in the army. And you were a PI and so forth. But in your experience with your other colleagues, and even now, as I understand the many, many opportunities, you had to hire and grow your own teams, is that an important piece of background for you for safety physicians?
I mean, it’s important, I think it’s, it’s similar to anything else, like we talked about, like the family doing a fellowship, the additional training. Isn’t it? Yes, it’s important, like if we have if two patients are equal, and one has clinical research experience, that’s important. But is it critical? And is it necessary? No, I think for us, at least in the drug safety world, we are much more interested and you’re much more looking for people to have the clinical experience.
So, you know, can you look at a bunch of clinical data, and be able to suss out? What, what’s really going on here? What is the clinical picture? What type of adverse event are these patients having?
And are there things that we can do to mitigate that monitor for them? You know, and that comes with having clinical experience. That is, for us, more important, I think, than just the clinical research background. It’s important because there’s an awful lot as you probably know, there’s an awful lot about Drug Safety and Pharmacovigilance.
That’s that there are a lot of rules and a lot of regulations, and they differ from country to country. And so it’s just stuff that practicing physicians usually have no idea about, and coming into it, you don’t either. And it just comes from years of experience. So that is important. But it’s not critical.
So I definitely would not, I wouldn’t advise people looking to get into drug safety that don’t have any research experience. I would not say don’t bother applying because we certainly have brought people on to our team that don’t have that experience, but have lots of clinical experience.
And they’ve excelled in the role. That’s super I know, people are always wondering, where can they learn more? Where can they learn more? Where can they educate themselves, so that they can sound informed, even though of course, they may be novices that they can least sound informed in a screening, or in an interview or even in a networking conversation.
But of course, at least in my experience, it was really hard to understand what physicians do and pharma until I was actually doing it. I sort of had a leap of faith that I would enjoy it when I was considering it. And of course I do. But can you tell people maybe a little bit more in a concrete way? What is the crux of your job? What do you do?
That’s, that’s maybe the biggest question I get for most people is what’s the day to day like in drug safety. And of course, as you know, it’s probably the same in your job and med affairs, it varies. I mean, there’s no single day that’s the same.
But if I were to sort of amalgamate everything together and sort of give an average day, what my day consists of, I probably say, you know, there’s, there’s usually a good three to four hours of just meetings.
And that can include team meetings where there’s like 30 people on the call or in a room, from various functions, whether it’s my function, drug safety, clinical development, regulatory statistics, you know, all the all the people all the different functions that go into, into a development team, those meetings all the way to like one on one meetings.
So whether it’s a meeting with my manager or meeting with one other function, because we want to strategize about something, those types of meetings usually scheduled on the calendar blocked off, maybe about four hours, the rest of the day is sort of spent, you know, doing the catching up on emails, reading, reading is a big part of what we do in drug safety, reading and writing.
We do we’re responsible for a lot of reports that need to go into health authorities, whether they’re periodic reports, monitoring the safety of our clinical trials, listings of adverse events that occur, things like that, looking over the data, making sure that we’re doing the signal management looking to make sure new, new pretend potential adverse reactions are popping up in our studies, and assessing those.
And so that requires a lot of literature review, and just reading about mechanisms of action and drugs and things like that. So I’d say the bulk of my day is spent doing a lot of reading and writing. But that’s an average day.
And then of course interspersed throughout that can be traveling to conferences or face to face meetings with partners or, or teams if you’re on a team that’s a global you know, Roche, like your company. We’re a global company.
So sometimes we have meetings with our colleagues in different countries, a little bit less often for us and Drug Safety probably than for Medicare’s but, but we do still travel from time to time. So that’s interspersed throughout. But that’s an average day. And I know this question also comes up too. And I’m sorry if I preempt you a little bit, but so go ahead.
They’ll always ask like, Is it always a nine to five or eight to five type like Monday through Friday? For the most part, yes. But, you know, most of my weekends are free. It’s different from clinical medicine in that respect.
However, as you, as you well know, when health authorities have questions, requests for information, or you’re in the middle of a filing or something like that, your time is the company’s time.
And if the FDA or EMA or some other health authority has a question, and they really need an answer, the team comes together and exhaustively tries to answer their questions. And so that that can take a lot of time, it’s definitely been a much better lifestyle in pharma than it was in clinical practice.
But I don’t want folks to think that, you know, coming to pharma is sort of going out to pasture and enjoying the sun, you’re riding off into the sunset, you will work hard, but there will be times when you will work very hard. And so just to just to put, you know, just to let people know that that still exists, but it’s just much rarer, I think.
Yeah. And I think part of that may be of course some of it is related to the cycle and whether or not you’re in the middle of a filing. But the other I think is perhaps more relevant to the work that you’re doing.
I mean, I think everybody recalls as an example with COVID, that when there were any concerns, safety concerns about the trials, they came to a stop. And of course, that all hit the news. But those were things that those companies wanted to evaluate and manage. Both quickly and correctly. Right?
Yeah. Yes. And I mean, everybody does, right. I mean, patient safety is such a huge, huge thing. For drug development. We are, you know, there, we’re very much meat, we want to make sure, just as much as the health authorities do that, that the drugs that we’re testing in clinical trials are at first beneficial, of course, that actually have efficacy.
But we don’t want to hurt people either. So I mean, of course, we want to make sure they’re very safe. And so yes, it’s we are, we are often as a safety physician, you’re often in the thick of these discussions, because you’re the one that knows the data the best and we can answer the questions quickly. Yeah. Yeah,
Yeah, I think if there is no such thing as an emergency and pharma, it’s it’s probably lives, you know, closer to your sphere than many of the others. So that’s interesting, because I do hear that question a lot. You know, do you need malpractice insurance?
Are people calling you all night? I mean, I have never been called at night or on the weekend. But except for a weekend where we had a medicine that was, you know, imminently expected to have approval from the FDA and everybody wanted, wanted to be, you know, first to hear that news, right? So can you?
If so, some people who are listening to this are saying, okay, so you’re having meetings, and then you’re reading and writing stuff, and that might sound super appealing to some people, and it might sound kind of dry to others. But I know you are not a dry guy, like, what about pharmacovigilance or drug safety is exciting to you.
So I think that’s sort of like the, I guess I am more outgoing and extroverted. I like talking to people. But I think that’s why I like Pharma. Because even though yes, the safety function, probably if you were to like put it put all the different jobs that a physician can have in pharma on a spectrum of extroverts to ensure the safety physicians probably more toward the introvert, I think there’s plenty of introverts that can do very well in drug safety, if they really just like to look at data and things like that.
And I am assigned like most physicians, I’m assigned, I like science, I’m a scientist, I enjoy these types of things. So I do like to get into the data and look around as well. That part of my brain is not satisfied very much with what I do.
But I think working for a large pharma company, you are also sort of forced to interact with other functions, you can’t say even safety even like they’re really heavy data analytic functions within a pharma company like statistics, and Drug Safety, and all of that, and biomarkers and you know, whatever have you the the real, you know, bread and butter scientists, folks, even they can’t exist just in the lab.
I mean, you have to communicate what you know, and communicate your field to people to everybody on the team, so that good decisions can be made with all of the data. And so I like that part of it. I like being able to be on these cross functional teams and talking to people of varied backgrounds and learning the science from people that are actually doing it on the bench.
And from the physicians that are actually seeing the patients and just interacting with all those people. So even though yes, there’s a lot of, you know, sitting at a desk and reading and writing. There’s a lot of interaction with people too. So it’s not like, it’s not like you’re just holed up in some room somewhere, you know, reading all day long.
Yeah. And of course, this is not what I do for a living but of my colleagues and safety the way that they have to ascribe to me it sounds really very investigative, like your sort of detective work when there is a signal that you need to explore, to find out. Does this? How meaningful is this? And is it even related to the medicine? Is that fair?
That’s very fair. Yeah, that’s a big part of what we do is actually called signal seeking. And, and, and analysis and validation and all of that. So we pour through the data, looking to see if there are signals that are popping up. And that occurs throughout the lifecycle.
That’s not just what I work in early development, of course, it probably sounds sort of intuitive that of course, that’s what we do. But even when a drug has been on the market for years, pharmaceutical companies have a mandate, a mandate and a desire, obviously, just because the drug is approved doesn’t mean we know everything about it.
And so we also want to make sure that we’re still learning as the drug is out in the market. And so the pharmacovigilance drug safety apparatus is throughout that entire lifespan. So there are people working on drugs that have been approved for 20 years that are still collecting information from physicians, and patients and health authorities and assessing signals and validating them and we update, we update the labels for drugs, even when they are put out for years. That’s a big part of what we do. So yes, that is what it is, it is kind of like investigative work.
It’s so important, because it might seem obvious, but if people haven’t stopped to think about it, they may not have thought about it, that when you’re developing a medicine from scratch, especially if it’s a new class of medicine, it doesn’t come with its own warning labels, like you’re discovering that, essentially from scratch, or perhaps based on informed guesses based on the chemical structure and so forth.
But, when the commercial plays and all of the things to look out for happened in the middle, somewhere else to figure that out, and that lies with drug safety. Yes?
Yeah. Actually, it’s funny, a lot of my friends from medical school that don’t know much about pharma ask what I do now. And my sort of quick and dirty answer to them, if they really, you know, aren’t interested really, in knowing more about it, it’s just, you know, the cocktail party or something, I’ll just say, I’m the one that writes the list that you hear on the drug commercials, is obviously a lot more of what we do.
But that you’re right, that is a big part, you’re, when you first get a molecule, you sort of go through a lot of literature research to think well, is this a classic molecule that’s been in the clinic before? What did we see when it was in the clinic? With people in terms of adverse events?
What have we seen from our preclinical work our toxicology studies in the animals, the chemical structure do we expect, you know, certain side effects to happen, and we build this sort of safety profile that we think the drug is going to look like, and we build our phase one studies around making sure we’re monitoring for that making sure, you know, when we run that we have discussions with health authorities to make sure they agree that everything we’re doing was appropriate, and and safe for the first and human studies.
But yet, like you said, it doesn’t come with a manual, you have to build that as you go and you are in it never stops. I mean, I think most physicians listening in are probably very familiar with drugs that have been pulled off the market, 5, 10 years into post marketing and things like that. So it keeps going. It’s definitely a life lifecycle learning process.
Yeah, and correct me if I’m wrong, if this isn’t in your shop, but not just adverse events, but also interactions with other medicines, is that right? That’s part of our remit.
That’s part of our remit. And it’s also that’s where we were and that’s probably where I had a good niche and safety. It’s also a remit of clinical pharmacology, you know, there’s a lot of things that can impact drug drug interactions, as we all know, as physicians, you know, Cytochrome P 450. system, the transporters, through defects, things like that.
That’s all kind of the remit of the clinical pharmacologist, but we work very closely with clinical pharmacologists, they help figure out, you know, sort of why drug drug interactions happen and how we can better and we kind of helped with what can we do about them?
And how can we, you know, sort of all goes together for mitigating and how do we describe it in the label and make sure that the physicians prescribing the drug know all of this information, are able to safely prescribe the drug.
Yeah, that’s so important. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily pay as much attention to the label as they should or the prescribing information. When I think about the significance of this.
It’s not always, you know, are these drugs going to hurt you? But also how do they work? And where might they show up really unexpectedly, where the work that has been done by the pharmaceutical company in trying to educate physicians around it becomes really important, because it’s not always obvious where that might show up.
Yeah, that’s a great point. It’s not always a side effect. Like we think of it, that might not be the most detrimental thing to the patient. It could be the social aspects or any downstream effects or drug drug interactions that can really be the UFC, right? All of that is very important to be able to communicate accurately and and well so that people don’t
Yeah. Well, while we’re talking about a little bit the difference between Clinical Pharmacology and Drug Safety. I know a lot of people ask questions about, you know, different terms are used sometimes in different companies.
And you’ve had a handful of these and I see people asking, you know, what is the difference between being a pharmacovigilance physician versus a medical monitor? Or some of the others? Words that people either assume are synonyms or that really are? Can you speak to that a little bit?
Yeah, yeah, I think so. So yeah, there’s, so first of all, I think people get confused, because, you know, in the, in the pharma world, you know, most farm, but most large pharma companies or corporations, and, you know, we have a lot of sort of corporate speak, in addition to medical speak and stuff.
And so, one of those, I think, is the titles versus like your job. So yeah, as you know, in most physicians centered areas, whether it’s drug safety, or clinical development, or med affairs, we are all known as medical directors, or senior medical directors, that’s just a title.
So it’s not like, you know, I’m as a as a Senior Medical Director, other senior medical directors in clinical development and med affairs, the three of us would not do the same thing from day to day, or it’s just our titles the same, it doesn’t have to do with our job.
Things like medical monitor, and clinical development, lead and med affairs lead, those are, those are more jobs, more roles, sort of what you’re doing so you’re hired as a medical director as your title, but your day to day job depends more on the field.
So just to make sure there’s clarity there that you can be both a medical auditor, and a medical director, those are not mutually exclusive. In terms of some of the other sort of terms that we hear. One that I think is sort of confusing to folks is this idea of pharmacovigilance versus drug safety. They are synonymous, but there’s also kind of a little bit of a dip pharmacovigilance is technically it’s the, it’s the monitoring of drugs after they’re approved.
So it’s the drug safety sort of drugs in the post marketing phase. Versus like drug safety, which is more in the area in the clinical development world. But they all sort of fall under the remit of drug safety and safety, like I said before, it spans the whole lifecycle of the drugs, so it’s perfectly fine to use them. And a lot of pharmaceutical companies use them as synonyms.
And I tell people, I’m a pharmacovigilance physician, you know, it’s sort of all all blurred together there. The other one is this sort of idea of the medical monitor. So medical monitors are usually they’re, they’re the physician that’s sort of in charge from a sponsor side from the pharmaceutical company side of a clinical trial.
So if the investigator, the physician that’s actually treating the patients in a clinical trial, has a question about something and wants to talk to another physician, it’s the medical monitor on the sponsor side that they would usually communicate with.
There are also sometimes medical monitors that will get involved with studies, if we’re having a CRO contract research organization help us with a study, they’ll sometimes find medical monitors as well. We refer to the investigator for clinical treatment of the patients, because they’re the ones on the ground, seeing the patient.
But if there’s, you know, they want questions like, have you seen, you know, this and other patients, what drugs have worked for helping with some of these side effects, things like that, that the medical monitor will usually have that discussion with them. So that’s sort of what a medical monitor does.
People asked about that a lot. And in terms of whether a medical monitor is actively practicing, and whether they need malpractice, insurance and so forth, my impression is generally speaking, like you said, the actual care of the patient is with the PII and the physician who is caring for the patient.
The medical monitor is just providing information and perhaps educating that person so they can make the best decision. So a monitor wouldn’t necessarily carry malpractice or have any liability at all within that patient’s well being right.
Because, yes, ultimately, no medical monitor will tell a physician treating a patient that they have to do X, Y or Z, they will simply remind them that the protocol would say, you know, this is what the protocol says.
But you are seeing the patient when your clinical judgment trumps all; it might end up in a protocol deviation or something like that. But those you know, if the investigator they’re the ones treating the patient, so they’re the ones that we would defer the medical judgment to.
So yes, in general, medical monitors safety physicians, people working within pharma, we are experts on the drug and the protocol. But we don’t make clinical decisions for individual patients and so we don’t need to carry liability insurance.
Yeah, yeah, it’s such a common question. It’s interesting. Okay, well, let me transition if I could, oh, I’m sorry. Any other ones that you feel like are synonyms or are there others in drug safety?
One other one that I do see from time to time, just so folks are aware, and different companies might call them different things. But there’s this idea of like the safety or clinical scientist versus the medical director.
So I do see that a lot, because people will say, like, oh, I applied for this safety scientist job, but the salary was way lower than I was expecting, or, you know, that there are also there’s a whole, you know, it’s not just the physicians that are working element or safety, you know, we need a lot of people to be monitoring the data and help us with things.
So, we do have safety scientists that work with us, which sometimes they’re physicians, but sometimes they’re foreign DS or PhDs, you know, they usually have some clinical background, as well, but they’re not, they’re not usually physicians. And they help with sorting the documents and compiling the data.
But ultimately, there’s a safety physician, that usually is the one that will kind of review the data and make clinical judgments about it, along with the clinical development lead. And on the clinical development side, they have the same.
They have clinical scientists that began their farm, these PhDs, sometimes physicians, and they have a lot of experience writing protocols and stuff. So just to be aware that when you’re looking at jobs in pharmaceutical companies, not everything posted in, in safety science, or clinical science is a physician job. So just be aware of that.
Yeah, that’s great, that’s a great point. And sometimes it can be hard to tell from a job listing. But you know, clearly if a requirement is to be a physician, right to have an MD degree or to be board certified or so forth, then you can be pretty well assured that that’s appropriate.
But if you see something that’s more general, like a physician, or a doctor or a level or other degree, that’s still fair game for folks who are trying to get a foot in the door to apply, wouldn’t you say?
I would. And those are, yes, of course, anything’s fair game. I mean, like I say, technically, a physician can apply for any job they’re qualified for. So if a job asks for some clinical experience, but doesn’t specify MD, yeah, you’re definitely qualified for it, you might not get the pay that you think you’re gonna get.
But it’s definitely you know, you’re qualified for it. And were these types of jobs are also useful, if this comes up every now and then on these types of forums, people that didn’t finish a residency or do a residency, they might have just done Medical School and graduated, it would be very difficult to get a medical director role.
If you don’t have clinical experience like that, like hands on, like residency training, it should jump right to a medical director role, whether it’s drug safety or clinical development, that would be difficult.
But you could and that this is an area where I sometimes tell people, they can look at safety science and clinical science with an MD but no residency training, that’s a possibility that’s something that they could consider and like you said, get a foot in the door, kind of and work your way up from there.
I have worked with plenty of safety medical directors who did not do a residency, but almost universally, people that get to that level without doing a residency usually come with like five or 10 years of pharm experience, not in the medical director role, versus people that we take from the clinic usually have done residency training, at least, and have some clinical experience.
So yes, it’s deaf, all that to say that there are many, many roads to get to pharma, for people with medical training, for sure.
That’s a great point that I see people do ask that question a lot. Let me ask you some things that might sound a little more soft. But I always think are important, because whenever I’m advising somebody about, you know, exploring their different careers, I’m telling them to go meet people who are doing that, and find out what they like about it, and also what they don’t like about it.So you can think about whether or not you would like it.
So when you think I mean, you’ve told us what your day to day is like, but can you tell us maybe like the thing you love the most about your work? And then possibly and of course Genentech not listening, what you maybe don’t love as much so people can know, what’s the what’s the highs? And what’s the lows? Yeah.
I mean, it’s hard to narrow down any one thing that I love about I think maybe perhaps the the thing I love the most is that is as I mentioned at the beginning of talking, one of the reasons why I never really loved being in the clinic, was I just felt like I wasn’t really making a huge impact across the board. Yes, every now and then I’d have a patient that would come in with something I couldn’t fix right away.
But most of the time, it’s things that if patients aren’t compliant, or they’re you know, it’s something that you can get medicines to help with, but it’s not going to give blood high blood pressure, liver disease, things like that. I just never felt like I was making a huge impact across the board.
In Pharma, I feel like I’m doing that. I mean, it’s like a drug gets approved, and it’s helping 1000s hundreds of 1000 people sometimes and it’s just such a good feeling to know that there’s like you know, and one of the things and then tech does, which I love nurses, they invite patients that are directly impacted by our drugs to come and talk to us for various events.
It just gives you such a great feeling to see like these families, people that are just completely transformed by the drugs that we’ve worked so hard on.
And that just gives you a really good feeling, I love I’m really using my medical experience, but also like, get to just everything I’ve changed my life I get to use and I love that aspect of it.
Now I know people can’t see but you’re so smiling and glowing right now I can. I can really feel how much you mean that it’s and I share that it’s absolutely an amazing feeling. And it is a big scale. Right? It’s a big scale of impact. So that’s cool. Okay, what about the flip side?
Yeah, I mean, again, there’s not a lot. I love what I do. I think I would do this until Roche forces me to retire or, or, you know, I have to for some other reason, like I just love going to work. I love the people I work with. I love what we do. I mean, if there’s any criticism, I guess it’s just sometimes we work too hard. I mean, it’s like, it’s probably the same at your company.
I mean, these people were so dedicated to the mission and sort of what we’re doing. Our managers are all very supportive of us taking the time off and being away and recharging and all that. But I think it’s just the fact that most of us don’t want to, most of us just want to keep going.
And it’s just it’s… yeah, I mean, I guess as I’m saying this, I’m realizing that’s not even really something I guess I hate. It’s yeah, yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to really nail down something I don’t like about it. I think like most of us in pharma, have stumbled upon something that if you really love it, it’s like, we’ve stumbled upon a goldmine.
I mean, like, we’re, we’re helping patients, we’re using our scientific backgrounds, our medical backgrounds, we’re doing everything that I think most of you know, that we want to do to help people. Yeah, it’s great.
So when I think about what you were talking about, you know, when people are looking for jobs, like what, what kind of jobs to look for, and so forth.
And of course, when many of our colleagues look at job postings, those documents are like two pages long, and they have so many requirements of all the things you’re supposed to know how to do, and all the things you’re supposed to be.
And generally I view these as extremely aspirational, right, like, nobody’s all of those things. Or at least, that’s my view.
I wonder if you could comment on not only whether you agree with me there or not, but also, what are the just couple of things that you think are really the most important skills? If someone’s interested in drug safety, should they bring that to the table?
That’s a great question. So first, first of all, I completely agree with you. You actually said, Look, if you fit every single description in the job description to a tee, and you had everything they were looking for, you’d be writing?
Yeah, you’d be fine. Be that person’s boss, like so. I think that’s such a great, like, in a nutshell of just how aspirational these job descriptions really are. I mean, certain things are necessary, you need to have the medical background needed, you know, all that is necessary.
But yes, in terms of fitting the bill, you’re not going to find somebody to apply to a, you know, Associate Medical Director job that has 10 years of farm experience has, you know, all this X, Y and Z stuff. I mean, you’re just not so yeah, definitely don’t be dissuaded if you don’t have any direct farm experience from applying to a job, if they ask for something like, you know, two to four years probably have experience that’s, that’s kind of aspirational, but be smart about it, too.
I mean, some, the other thing I see sometimes are people that might be at a certain level in their clinical career, like their department chief or something or, you know, chief of medicine or chief of surgery or something.
And they think that that will translate directly to a VP or SVP role, the vice president or senior vice president role at a pharma company, there. I think he needs to be careful because at those levels, they definitely need to have some experience in pharma. And so it’s not likely that that will translate very well.
So just be aware that it says two to four years experience, fair game that says 510 years experience or more are leading teams that you might really need to have some direct experience either with clinical trials and certainly few people from academia that have run clinical trials for years or RPIs. overseeing a lab with multiple research prod that’s different because you have experience doing clinical research there. But if you’re a department chief of like a clinic, not doing clinical research, yeah.
Just be aware that you’ve applied for jobs with two to four years experience that may not be the VP level. Other than that, I think it’s really the biggest skills I think that folks can bring to the table and things you really want to highlight are working in a multi functional or matrix environment where you are part of the team. I think that’s a huge skill.
That’s a big part of what we do in pharma, we’re working with a whole bunch of other functions. And being able to you’re not the one, you’re not the one, it’s not up to you, you’re not the one making the calls on everything. You’re giving your input from your function.
You have to be able to persuade people if you feel strongly about something, but at the end of the day, it might be the project team lead or the clinical development lead, or the company itself. It’s a much larger decision that’s making the decision and you have to be okay with working as part of the team and not like the head of a team.
I think that’s very important. And then the one thing I always tell people this took me a while to get used to, especially coming from like the most of us probably trained under a Socratic method of medicine.
Well, you know, we all went to morning report, at least internal medicine, we went to morning report and we were grilled relentlessly by our attendings until you know, you get an answer wrong. And that’s what you’re, you know, shamed into going to study later.
So you sort of develop this thick skin about appearing like you don’t know something. Get over that, and pharma, ask questions, don’t be afraid to be that person that you know, hold the meeting a little bit longer, because you want to really get something clear.
Don’t be afraid to think you sound stupid, because it’s cliche to say, I mean, obviously, when you ask a question, everybody in the room probably is thinking the same thing. But just just get over that fear and be able to do that.
Because there’s so much, even if something seems simple, it’s not usually. So just make sure that you can function like that. I think those are really the key things. When I’m interviewing people.
Yeah, I think that’s really that’s important. It’s so interesting, because, you know, because there are so many different kinds of professionals within the industry, and we’re working together in these teams, there really is no, there is no stupid question to be I mean, there really isn’t, because it’s not everybody’s coming from the same knowledge base.
Right. So it’s really just, can we have thought about this this way? You know, can someone help me think about it that way? To be sure that we’re doing a really good job and being thorough, and considering everything, it’s actually a value add to ask those questions.
I think rather than, you know, how you might view it in traditional academics of exposing yourself or having not known something right. That’s, I’ve never gotten that vibe.
Well, I think I mean, we’ve been chatting for a while, I think I’ve gotten most of the questions that are the common ones, at least common ones that I hear, I think I’ve had a chance to ask them. Is there anything else?
Oh, wait, oh, one more? I know that people. Actually, this is a two parter. I have heard that I don’t want to make any generalizations. Every company is different. Every role is different. But I have heard people say that they think drug safety is more conducive to remote work more than other functions.
Maybe I don’t know if you can speak relatively well compared to other functions. But maybe you could speak to that in general. And I’ve also heard some say that drug safety is an easier sort of path for entry into industry in general as compared to other functions. I have no idea if that’s true or not. What do you think?
What great, great questions. And yes, those do come up. Both of those come up for it fairly frequently. So for the first question, remote work.
Yeah, I mean, I think the last couple of years has shown us that a lot of what we can do can be done remotely, whether it’s drug safety, or even clinical. I mean, obviously, in 2020 and 2021.
We were all working remotely and still going forward. I mean, obviously, the biggest success probably in recent history of drugs getting approved quickly happened while we were all working remotely. So yes, it can happen.
And drug safety. I would say maybe it’s a little bit more conducive to working remotely, but I don’t. My personal feeling is probably not any more than any of the other functions that exist. I mean, obviously with lab work and things like that, where you have to be in the lab doing bench work that’s different from any of the roles that most physicians take, whether it’s clinical development or drug safety.
I don’t think one is more conducive to remote working than the other. You know, right now, my company does a hybrid where they want us to be in the office about 50% or more of our time, but they’re flexible on that.
And I think that’s a good balance. I like to be in the office usually about three days a week, just because I like the interaction, the personal interaction, you know, there’s just something intangible about running into people and having conversations and stuff that you just can’t do remotely. But can I do what I do remotely? Yes, I can. And I did for two years during COVID. So you could and I know my company does consider hiring people remotely sometimes but it’s rare to be watched by people to be in the area because we want that personal interaction to happen to but some companies I know who allow remote working for everybody.
And that’s fine. I think we can still do it. So if you’re looking for a remote job, I think pharmacovigilance drug safety is reasonable. But anything, any job, any job in a pharmaceutical company probably could be, is it easier and I want to use air quotes? There are obviously no we can see is it easier to get into pharmacovigilance as compared to other functions? What do you think?
Okay, yeah, good question as well. Um, yes. And that depends as well. I think if you have more of a general background, like you’re an internist or pediatrician, or an ER doc or something, I think probably pharmacovigilance drug safety would be a little bit of an easier road. Because again, we’re not looking for a specific background.
You know, like I’ve said I work solely on oncology trials, but I’m not an oncologist. And nobody, actually one person to work with in my group. As an oncologist, the rest of us, I’m an internist. My boss is an internist. Her boss is an ER doc. And we have, you know, on my team, we have an anesthesiologist, we have an ophthalmologist, we have a pediatrician, and we have an oncologist.
But yes, I think drug safety, there’s definitely an avenue for folks that have more of a general background. And even people that are specialized can certainly do drug safety as well. For clinical development, they tend to want people with either a lot of drugs, a lot of development experience, or they have the background.
So like in oncology, but like all of the medical monitors and clinical development needs I work with they’re all oncologists. Insane for like our neuro studies, most of them are neurologists, or ID studies, and ID Doc’s, there is an exception there too, like this, sort of at this point in my career, and having worked in product development for the better part of 10 years, maybe a little bit more, I could probably implement, I do get recruiters and companies reach out about clinical development programs and oncology and things like that, where I’ve worked. And so you could, after a while getting experience, do that.
But I think it’s much easier for folks with a general background to sort of go into drug safety. That medaffairs I’ll leave to you, I don’t know much about medaffiars. So I’ll leave that part to you.
But in terms of clinical development, drug safety, yeah, I think probably drug safety is a little easier to get your foot in the door. But again, we really, really want people to have clinical experience. So just, you know, just having the MD isn’t enough, we want you to have the clinical experience as well.
Yeah, yeah. I think that’s important. I mean, I when I think generally, I mean, this is sweeping generalization, but generally speaking, you know, for to start a career in the pharmaceutical industry, I feel like you either need to have demonstrated competence as a clinician, so you’ve been a physician for a while, and you, you know, clinical medicine, or you’ve done research.
But probably not both, you know, or if you if you I mean, when the clinical specialty becomes irrelevant, it’s kind of like one of those three things has to ladder up, like you either need to know what you’re doing from a research point of view.
But, you know, you can learn the therapeutic area or the disease state, right, or you need to know that, and then you can learn the research bit, or you need to have really solid clinical experience, and you can learn the whole rest of the thing. If you have none of those three things. It’s a hard sell. But if you have at least one I feel like others can be learned.
Yeah. Yeah. Nothing like the job descriptions, aspirational, right. Like it’s all of them.
Yeah. If you have some of those things, you’re you’re you’re at least a viable candidate. And then I think, you know, to your point, I mean, once you have been in the work for more than a couple of years, I suppose.
But for you know, for a little while, then it becomes a whole lot less relevant. What your clinical training was, or what level of you know, what amount of research you have, or to your example, about the safety scientist, once you have experience doing the actual job, all that kind of falls, falls to the back? I think, exactly, yeah. Well, cool.
This has been extremely informative. I know my audience is going to love every minute and learn a lot of it. And, and be really just, I think, very enlightened to have heard a lot of the advice that you said, is there. Is there anything else that you think people want to know, before we wrap?
No, I think this has been great. I’m happy to sort of, you know, be able to do this all at once. I hope I’m glad to hear that it’s helpful for people. I think your program is, I mean, this is a podcast and the materials are great. I think my biggest piece of advice for everybody and I know you’ve done lots of podcasts on this, it’s the networking.
Building the network is so important. I mean, it’s just, yeah, it’s cliche, but it’s just that most of us get our jobs from people that we know. And so in addition to everything that we’ve talked about today, you know, no one’s just going to hand you a job, but just get out there talk to as many people as you can build that network, even if it’s just to drop a note, you know, once every couple of months. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s so important. So I mean, I think that’s the last piece of advice. I would just give people.
Yeah, I, you know, I feel like that cannot be overemphasized. And, yeah, I mean, I was speaking with a client just the other day, who was expressing some sort of frustration, because she had been talking to a lot of people that I put her in touch with. And she sort of said, forget, but all of them got jobs from people that they knew. I said, Yeah, but they didn’t know about them before.
Like, they didn’t know them when they first started. On this, you know, adventure to try to pivot they didn’t, they didn’t know them. First, they went deliberately to get to know people. Yeah. And then, you know, it’s sort of like when the job falls out of the sky. Well, there was a whole lot of groundwork that was laid in advance of that, right?
Yeah, I think that’s the key. I remember having a conversation with somebody the other day, kind of along the same lines. And I think it’s important to know that when we network and get to know people, we don’t mean to be their best friends, or like having worked with them for 15 years.
And like, you know, we mean, like, I think you and I, at this point will consider each other and our networks like that and talk to each other, you know, a handful of times, that’s fine. When I got my job at Genentech, even with my background, it was two people that I networked with, it was somebody that I met at a confined conference and had mentioned, I was interested in moving to San Francisco, and he put me in touch with a bunch of folks at Genentech and the rest was history.
So I mean, that’s, that’s important to just be able to know that when we say people that we know, we don’t mean, these are like our best friends that we’ve known for spending Christmases with them and everything. It’s really just those connections of having a 20 minute conversation with somebody once every six months or so, or just, you know, we follow them on LinkedIn, and you see what they’re up to.
And you reach out to them every now and then say, congratulations on the job. How’s everything going? Little things like that. That’s what we mean by the network. So don’t do that. Just because you don’t have 20 absolute best friends in pharma. That doesn’t mean you don’t have an extensive network. Most people have more expensive networks. And they really even though
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. I think most physicians just don’t use LinkedIn until they are thinking about an industry career. But within the industry, everybody does. And of course, you can also have personal interpersonal networking. But that’s, that’s a place where they do a lot of that heavy lift for you because they suggest to you, hey, here’s people you went to college with, or medical school with, or a friend of your friend.
They help you to know who you might be able to reach out to, and it’s easy to build. Even if you don’t really have anybody that comes to mind today. It’s pretty easy to build that out. Yeah. Well, I’m glad that you mentioned that because I do think that’s really important.
What people seem to think of when they hear the word networking versus you know, what, what we really mean, I suppose. Maybe they’re different.
But yeah, it’s a sort of loose connection, right people that you mean, they’re acquaintances, they’re not besties for the most part, yeah.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. So everybody, you know, this is the business world but that’s, that’s how things move. That’s how things Yeah,
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks again, Patrick. I really appreciate it. I think people are going to come away from this knowing a lot more not only about drug safety, but also just about the pharmaceutical industry in general. So what a great episode. Thank you so much for sharing all your insight.
Thanks for having me.
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