Discouraged because all of the job postings seem to require a few years of pharma experience? Wondering how you’re supposed to get a job to get experience, if all of the jobs require prior experience?

Although most job postings are written that way, many of them don’t actually require prior experience in pharma. It’s really a myth – and so important for physicians who want to work in pharma to understand.

In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:

  • Why you CAN get an industry job without prior experience
  • How much training actually happens during the onboarding process
  • What types of programs are out there to encourage career growth

Today, I address a really common misconception about needing prior experience in order to get physician job opportunities within the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. Listen to this episode to understand what I mean:

In this Episode:

[1:30] The “prior experience” myth and getting your foot in the door
[3:50] Why you can – and should – look outside of your speciality
[7:10] What they really want when they hire a doctor into pharma
[10:50] Get with the program!
[13:05] Doing things you don’t know how to do – expected and encouraged in industry!

Ready to learn more about exactly how to find those kinds of jobs, or how to critically evaluate your own skills and experience for transferability? Just click on my course, Industry Insider, and also check out the free webinar that I have related to that course.

Links and Resources:

Industry Insider – learn exactly how to land a rewarding nonclinical career without a new degree, connections on the inside, prior experience, or a pay cut

The Branding Rx – 18 hours of CME, mastering digital strategies for advancing your career, building your business, and growing your professional brand



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Thanks for joining me on this episode of The Career Rx!

TRANSCRIPT: Episode 86 – Getting a Job in Pharma Without Prior Experience

Hey there. I’m Marjorie Stiegler and you’re listening to The Career Rx Podcast, where we tackle the important things they don’t teach you in medical school. Like how to treat your career, like the business it really is, with strategies to accelerate the kind of success that you want, because you deserve a career you love, and a career that loves you back. Are you ready?

Let’s get into it.


Hey there, welcome back to The Career Rx. Today, I’m going to be addressing a really common misconception about physician job opportunities within the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, in particular, that you don’t need to have prior experience. In order to get started, this has got to be one of the top questions that I am asked. And it’s definitely one of the top things that we address in the industry insider course. So if you’re interested in that, check it out, it’ll be in the show notes. But I you know, this, this comes up frequently.

And so I have many, many text messages, and DMS, with people all the time, in which I’m trying to help them to understand that they don’t need to have prior experience, and that they don’t need to be limiting themselves to searching for opportunities within their clinical specialty. So I was giving an example of my own; I’m an anesthesiologist by training. But I have done work now in pharma in the respiratory, as well as infectious diseases in women’s health, even though the job descriptions will often specify that they’d like somebody in a certain clinical area. A lot of times, that’s not necessary.

And a lot of job descriptions will say that, you know, five years or three years of pharma experience are required. But also, again, if you’re applying for the right jobs, that’s almost never necessary. So I had recently had a conversation with somebody. And then I just went ahead and posted it more broadly in a group so that other people could kind of benefit from that. And person wrote that this was confusing and troublesome.

And I’ve heard similar themes to this before, you know, things along the lines of, you know, why would you want to go work for a company that doesn’t require you to have prior experience or that doesn’t require you to, to be an expert in that therapeutic area, as if that somehow reflects a lower standard on the part of the company. And that’s just that’s simply not the case.

So I wanted to take the opportunity in today’s podcast, which I know we often talk about. And we talk about careers, obviously, all the time, and we talk about non clinical careers more specifically. But I wanted to get really highly specific into this pharma career question that comes up very, very, very often.

And if you have ever looked into a pharma role, you undoubtedly have seen that just about every job posting, does specify some type of clinical area of expertise, and also specifies a certain number of years, you’re never going to find a job description that says, It’s okay, if you have no experience, and we don’t care what your background is, right? It’s never going to read that way. It’s always going to read a different way.

But I want to help you to sort of not only read between the lines, but also to understand how you can position yourself to really bring something of value to the table, which is, in fact, the reason they’re hiring you it’s not for your clinical expertise, because you’re not going to be taking care of patients anymore, is going to be an entirely different skill set a skill set that you as a physician have. Let me explain why it is that you can get a job as a physician in the pharmaceutical industry or in medical device, clinical research, without prior experience, and not necessarily limited to your specialty.

Now, I’m not saying that those things don’t matter. Obviously, if you have experience that’s super. And if you are seeing opportunities in your clinical area of expertise, that is super too. But if you aren’t, it should not hold you back from trying and and here are some reasons why.

1) So first and foremost, unlike clinical medicine, in an industry, I guess in business in general, there’s a huge amount of on the job training it’s very formalized, you know, you are not expected to show up knowing everything that you’re supposed to do you expect to be trained. So there’s a huge onboarding process. And I know for physicians, that seems very bizarre because we’re expected to either have learned everything in med school or residency or kind of figure it out as we go. And to sort of show up on a day where you are, you know, fully employed with full salary and benefits and not know what you’re doing seems like a completely foreign concept.

And in many ways, it should because patients are directly in your care in a clinical circumstance. But in pharma that’s a little bit different. So, I mean, first and foremost, there is just a completely different paradigm. of onboarding and training and teaching and developing that is the cultural norm within Pharma. So not as important to have that prior experience or to know everything when you get there.

2) Another reason that it’s not as important and particularly not as important for you to be limited to your own specialty is that you are really being hired for a higher level set of skills. You’re being hired because of the way that you have developed your clinical thinking over the years of your training, and perhaps your clinical work. You’re being hired for your ability to understand literature and scientific research and to be able to communicate it to other people, particularly to non scientists, you are being hired to understand what patients need, right, what do they need that would make it better?

For the problems that they have today, for which we don’t have treatments today or what would make those treatments better? And to understand what doctors need, right, what would make what would make them feel like they had something better in their armamentarium to help take care of patients what what kind of things did they need today that they don’t have? Similarly, what matters to insurance companies, and what kind of information would need to be given to them to help them to understand either the importance of a disease, right, the impact on the patient, or how it you know, a medicine may help.

And of course, their point of view is often quite different and often is sort of financially oriented, but they do care about patient outcomes. And they care about, you know, benefits to patients, and they care about reducing health care utilization and health care costs.

So being able to communicate all of these things, and ensuring the scientific accuracy of both medical and non medical materials, like for example, a commercial right being able to make sure that although it’s a commercial intended for general audiences, that is correct. And that nothing is sort of lost, the accuracy isn’t lost, as it is sort of turned from a scientific study into something that might be more appropriate for general audiences. So those are really just a small handful of examples.

But the overarching point is, you know, you’re really being hired for the way that you think, and the perceptions and perspective that you have, as a physician who has gone through training, who has potentially gone through some clinical practice, and ideally, some clinical practice, although again, I do no exceptions to that rule. And so you don’t necessarily need to be a subject matter expert in the specific disease state or specific medicines that you’re working on. What you do need to be able to do is to understand those.

So if there’s something that you’re not that you don’t know, because it’s not your area of expertise, it’s extremely common practice. I mean, in fact, I would say this is sort of a bread and butter activity, to hold what’s called an advisory board, where you get a bunch of consultants together, who are the leading experts in that field, and you ask them questions, and they tell you what they think. And then again, you’re sort of the translator, so you take back that expert opinion, and you bring it back. And you take a look at like, Okay, what does that mean, to the regulators, right – to the FDA? What does that mean, to the commercial part of the organization? What does it mean to the insurance companies, and so you’re almost a master translator. And you can do this in any specialty, it does not need to be your own specialty, because of course, you can learn it, and you can have consultants in those specialties. So it really is not a limiting factor.

3) Then the third thing to keep in mind is obviously you have to be applying for the right job. So when I say you don’t need to have prior experience, you don’t need to have prior experience for an entry level job. Now an entry level physician job in pharma, is probably mid to even upper level job in general within the company, right it because it, it does take into account your level of education, it the compensation generally matches that that a physician would expect from their clinical work.

So you know, you’re not going to be applying to be a vice president or chief medical officer right away and expect to do that without prior experience. But if you find the right entry level opportunities, which is often a medical director, despite what the title may sound like a medical director or an Associate Medical Director, those you can often I mean, it’s entry level, right? It’s actually not expected that you would have considerable experience and they do expect to onboard and train you.

So part of that is just applying to the right jobs. You know, if you’re applying to the wrong kind of job for which experience is indeed needed, then you’ll be disappointed, right? Nobody’s gonna be calling you back. You will be unqualified. So some of that is just being able to read between the lines of the job posting job descriptions.

And then finally, I’ll say that, you know, many companies have specific programs for the purpose of bringing in physicians and developing them, because they know that we don’t get a lot of business or pharmaceutical or drug development training in, you know, traditional medical school and residency, that’s just not part of the curriculum, generally speaking.

So a lot of people really don’t have a full understanding, a deep understanding of how a medicine is developed from that bench science, early phase research, late phase research, bringing it to, you know, to make it available for patients through regulatory approval, and then continuing to monitor safety and so forth throughout the, throughout the cycle of that medicine, that they know, the physicians don’t have that so many companies have formal programs that are designed to bring in physicians without any experience whatsoever, and sort of rotate them through, you know, six months in regulatory six months in clinical development, six months in medical affairs, and so on.

And the idea, of course, or the hope is that at the end of that couple of years of that rotational employment, that then you’d be, you know, quite well prepared to take a full time role. I mean, they’re both full time, they’re both full time and they would both be paid, but, you know, to take a more substantial role, and a more senior role as someone who now is experienced.

So companies have these kinds of programs, they are highly competitive, but you can look for those, in addition to just looking for a job. And I think part and parcel with that, too, is to keep in mind that within the pharmaceutical industry, it is, it’s just different from academics in that, you know, it’s your boss’s job, to help you develop and grow skills, and move on to the next job, right, it’s their job to help groom you for a promotion. And maybe that’s true in academics, but I feel like to a much lesser degree.

So you have bosses, right, the people who are going to make the hiring decisions, who are, you know, to variable degrees, more or less receptive. And people who really, really like coaching and developing people are going to be much, much more receptive. My first boss was like that, when I had zero experience, very receptive to bringing me in and knowing that I was going to need to learn everything as a completely green physician. And, and she had a commitment to develop and teach and, and that’s what she does today, as well. And I tried to kind of pull that through and carry it forward, myself.

So you’re going to have programs and you’re going to have people who understand that it’s in the company’s best interest in the industry’s best interest to attract some bright people who could really make a big, big difference for patients who don’t have the experience today, but who are interested, and whom, if they received the right kind of training and support would be good at it. So this is like not a foreign concept inside. So hiring managers are often looking at this.

Now, I’ll caveat this and say, Yeah, depending upon the speed with which something needs to happen, like probably in the companies who are working on various COVID, vaccines and therapeutics, when they had to stand up those groups really, really quickly, they probably were looking for people with experience. So that just makes common sense, right, because that had to get done quickly, it had to get done, right.

But there are a lot of areas in which there’s just much more leisure time, because as you might know, it takes many, many years often to bring a medicine through from early stages of discovery, through the pipeline, and and you know, to be ready for regulatory submission and approval. And in those cases, there is time for people to come in in an entry level physician job and learn what it is that they need to learn.

So I hope that this episode is helpful to kind of make it more tangible. What I mean when I say that, even if it’s listed on a job description, I do not think you should, you should limit your efforts. Or be discouraged because everywhere you look, it says prior experience is needed. Or it says they’re hoping to hire somebody specifically in, you know, a certain type of clinical specialty.

I know firsthand, not only for myself, but also for many, many of my peers and many of my students from Industry Insider, who have successfully transitioned from clinical medicine into wonderful jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, the medical device industry, and even diagnostics, and did not have experience with that before. So it’s absolutely possible. It’s absolutely doable. It’s not going to fall out of the sky, right.

There’s a little bit of work that needs to happen. These jobs are competitive. So obviously you have to be a quality physician, but a lot of the skills that you have that you need are those most transferable and important skills you already have. And if you just take a look Look at your personal professional experience in the right way you would, you would realize that you have them and you’d be able to talk about them in a way that would be attractive to an employer. So, that’s in a nutshell, do not let those things discourage you do not let them cause you to eliminate yourself, you know, you should still pursue and apply for those things.

Even if you see that you don’t have every single thing that’s listed. In fact, even if you don’t have many of the things that’s listed, because as long as you have a lot of the main core skills, about being able to understand and communicate clinical science well, and as long as you are interested in eager and ready to learn, and you’re looking at the appropriate level job that entry level role, then you can have great success without necessarily needing to find something in your specialty and without having prior industry experience.

If you want to learn more about exactly how to do this, how to find those kinds of jobs or how to critically evaluate your own skills and experience for transferability. You can learn more at my course Industry Insider and also the free webinar that I have related to that course. Those links are in the show notes and you’re welcome to check them out. I also of course hope this podcast helps you and you may get rejections but just be sure that it’s not you rejecting yourself, not you limiting your own potential opportunities by not applying.

That’s it for today’s episode. Bye for now. Before you go, please review, share and subscribe to this podcast. Your support makes all the difference and it truly helps this information reach someone who may really need it. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Please be sure to leave me a review on Apple and don’t forget to send me your questions so I can answer them and give you a shout out on a future episode.

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