Interested in pharmaceutical career options without a US license? Whether you’re an international medical graduate (IMG) or you have not completed US board certification or residency training, this episode is for you.
In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:
- Dr. Rohan Sopariwala’s strategies for getting started in US pharma as an IMG
- How to compensate for lack of experience so you sound experienced in interviews
- What prospective companies are really looking for in physician job candidates
Today’s episode is a detailed interview with Dr. Rohan Sopariwala who is a pharmacovigilance physician in US pharma, but went to medical school in India and has not practiced in the United States. Listen as we go over his journey and experiences with applying to jobs in and out of his specialization.
Special announcement: My course, Industry Insider, is now accredited for up to 12 CME credits. Learn how to land an exciting and impactful role as a physician in the world of pharma, biotech, or medical devices, AND how to do that even if you think you’re not qualified, don’t have any connections, or concerned about a pay cut… I’ve got you covered!
In this Episode:
[1:50] Meet Dr. Sopariwala’s journey from India, through USMLE Step 1 and 2
[5:30] Ways to get pharma-relevant experience with lower bars to entry
[11:00] Filling skill gaps so you can talk the talk
[16:10] Getting in the door, and getting promoted
[18:50] “You are a physician, that’s your strength.”
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.
Links and Resources:
Connect with Dr. Rohan Sopariwala on LinkedIn
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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 104 – Getting a Job in Pharma Without US License or Clinical Practice with Dr. Rohan Sopariwala
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.
So I’m so excited to have as a guest on the show today, Dr. Rohan Sopariwala who is a pharmacovigilance physician in US pharma, but went to medical school in India and has not practiced in the United States. I thought it would be great Rohan to have you on the show, because so many people do ask me, you know, what are their prospects in the United States if they haven’t practiced in the US or they’re not licensed in the US? First of all, welcome, and thank you for being here.
Thank you, Marjorie, it’s like my pleasure to be here. I would be excited to give them and provide my story that might help others to pursue careers in pharma companies.
Great. Absolutely. As you and I talked about when I was asking you to come on the show, I do often have people ask me this question, you know, like, what are my options? Or do that? Or do I have any options in the US if I am an international graduate?
And I know from my own work experience, having worked with many folks who have come from all kinds of countries around the globe, who are not US physicians, and have never been licensed in the US and don’t practice in the US, and they have really robust pharma careers.
So many people who are medical graduate from foreign countries, and they are successfully transitioning, they are working on higher level up to the VP level. So like, you can definitely get it. There is no requirement of license or residency or practice.
I thought instead of me just saying, Yes, I know plenty of people in that situation, it would really bring it to life to have somebody like yourself, come on the show, and just sort of talk to the audience a little bit about, about your, your stories, what kind of physician you are, and like where did that begin for you?
Sure. So like, as you mentioned, I completed my medical education from India, it’s an MD degree after completion of my degree in 2010, I worked over there for a few years like two three years, then I moved to USA and during that time, I was preparing for USMLE and I work as a doctor assistant.
So being a part of a job, I was trying to understand what US system looks like US healthcare system looks like. During that time, actually, I came to know about this pharma company that we used to submit all our adverse report to manufacture a company I did not know about pharma company before that time, but during my job which doctor assistant which internal medicine doctor and cardiologists doctor I came to know about that they are reporting all the adverse event to manufacture company and that got me interested.
During that time I was preparing for USMLE step one, and step two, I completed two exams, started learning about guidelines, ICS guidelines, FDA guidelines, and that made my mind “okay, now I want to transition to the pharma side.” I don’t want to practice as a doctor, clinical practice in the USA. I got my first break in Takeda.
So in Takeda, I was initially working as a safety scientist. So that’s again, a great story that when sigh failed, that I’m ready with all the database and knowledge. I started applying through LinkedIn and Google. And I know that I’m transitioning from like immigrant doctor to pharma company, so it’s hard to get a full time job. So I was focusing on contract opportunities and CROs initially.
And I started applying to so many places, as a contact opportunity through LinkedIn and Google. One of the recruiters thought that I am a doctor, and I have reasonable knowledge. He spoke with me, he asked me the questions about all these scientists’ tasks like aggregate reports and signal detections and how are you managing the things? I responded to him? So he felt that I knew so many things theoretically and I’m a doctor. So he gave me a chance and he submitted my profile to Takeda.
Wait, let me just take a second because I know a lot of people listening may not have caught all of that. So you had passed step one and step two USMLE, step one and step two, and but in the time that you were working for the internal medicine and cardiologist, yes, it depends. You got really interested in pharmacovigilance? Yes.
Spent some time learning about what happens when those adverse events are reported post market for medicines that come in, and then decided to stop pursuing, “Yes”, US side of clinical education and begin pursuing getting a job in US pharma in pharmacovigilance. Exactly. Right?
And then because you’ve felt like it might be a little bit of an uphill climb, because as you described, you’re an immigrant doctor and had not practiced here. You first looked at CROs, and also that contract contractor work. So I think that’s very interesting. I’ve never actually talked to anybody about that, although I do know a handful people who’ve worked as contractors. But that’s a very interesting angle. Did you do that deliberately?
Yes. So when I was reviewing the job posting, for the full time position, they were asking you how to have at least five years of experience, six years of experience for the job, and you are just starting in the pharma company.
So it’s very hard that previous experience is not on your side, while you were working on CROs or contractors, they were not that strict on that experience, they were like, okay, one or two years of experience should be enough, or like your medical degree is enough. So that gives me that, once I give up, I will be given the opportunity, I will prove myself and I will be like a full timer. So that was the one thing I kept in my mind and started applying.
That’s a really great point, you know, because I think all the job postings say they want five years of experience. And a lot of times, they really don’t, you know, they will take somebody with less. But I also know that when you’re trying to get that first foot in the door, if feels like you need experience,
So it’s not bad if you are starting in the pharma company, because if you consider like, this was the one thing that I taught that first thing is to get into a pharma company and think about three years where you can be after three years. And that’s what I did. I started as a contractor, converted into full time, and then grew into a safety physician. So like, right now, I’m where I want it to be. And then in the future, I will go up and go up and go up.
That’s great. It’s so true. I think a lot of physicians don’t think about the fact that when you start in pharma, you’re starting at the bottom, we all start at the bottom and there’s a need to go up from there. You go up, do you go up, you go up. But in medicine, most of us are already at the top of where we like is when you’re done with training and you have your you know, your first attending or private practice job. That’s almost the ceiling right there. So yeah, that’s a really, really good point.
I just want to add one more thing, when I spoke with so many internal physician doctors, so many pediatrics, so many surgical doctors, now I have been like for years, it’s kind of veteran status, the people reach out to me on LinkedIn.
I spoke with so many people, they are like they are getting a higher salary initially, then there is no growth of salary and potential. While in a pharma company, you are getting low salary initially, but you have so much growth potential that you can reach, I guess, similar to them within two or three years.
So it’s just a matter of perspective, apart from that you are getting so many bonuses and stock options and your performance, which you will not be getting in your clinical practice. So if you add everything to the base salary, you are getting a really great salary.
Yeah, absolutely. I feel the same way. You know, I’m an anesthesiologist by training. And when I took my first pharma job, I would say it was exactly lateral. I didn’t make more, but I didn’t make less than the anesthesiologist are pretty well compensated. And so was I in my first pharma job, which is now three positions back, right and up and up and up. So it’s a great point.
Can you say just a few sentences about what when you went about your job hunting, I think that where you landed there is you ended up speaking to a recruiter who put you up to Takeda, is that right?
Yeah. So again, I applied to LinkedIn and Google, I did, I did not know any recruiter at that time. I did not have any connection. But I was like, adding as many recruiters in my LinkedIn network. And I was applying on the LinkedIn job and then filtering out by contractor job, and I was applying there was no criteria that I don’t want to relocate. I was open to going anywhere.
That was the one thing, I was in Jersey at that time. And then I spoke, like when I submitted my profile, it goes to the recruiter. So that’s how they came to know I haven’t picked up any recruiter or anything deliberately. But it’s like part of the process for a contract job, it is posted by a recruiter online. So when they reviewed it, they got interested.
They asked me questions. I responded to the questions. And they submitted my profile to Takeda. Also, they had an interview panel, and they asked me a question. And I responded very, like at least 70 to 80% of those questions, and therefore I’ll get okay. He knows 70 80% He is a doctor, he will do well. So they just gave me a chance and they just gave me six months of contract.
That’s fantastic. And let me also ask you, you said that you spent some time learning all about pharmacovigilance. During and before you were applying, did you do anything online in terms of getting a cert certificate or qualification that you could add to your LinkedIn or your resume, or just, you just did learning?
So I have not completed any certificate, because I feel that there is no certificate which is valid. Because right now I’m involved in interviews, I know that no company is saying that we will accept this certificate. Unless and until you are doing some masters courses like master course from university or certificate course from university, there are so many people who are running the institute’s about this, and they are charging so much, and they are giving their certificate.
But at the end, when they are going to apply. They’re not valid certificates are not valid. So I did everything from Google and YouTube. I still advise people who are looking to go for the cheapest option that will give them some basic understanding, what is pharma company? What is pharmacovigilance? What is database, and what they need to learn, or they need to be ready for the interview. So they can answer the questions. That’s right. For that you have to have courses, which cheap price you don’t need to go for, like expensive when certificate course.
Yeah, you might be able to find even just great free resources on the FDA website.
Exactly. So that’s what I did. I went to FDA ICS guidelines, I studied all the signals, detections and aggregate reports from the template from Google only. That’s how I did. But if you feel like you are not comfortable doing it, you can select some cheap option that will give you materials and all the videos and you will get knowledge from there.
Yeah, I think what’s so important about what you just said is that it’s not the education itself, or the certificate or the course or whatever that has the value. But it’s that when the recruiter calls you back, or you get that interview, you can have an intelligent conversation, even though you don’t have experience, or envision you successful in the role. Right? Exactly.
It’s all about whenever you get an interview, you have to make them believe that you can do this job. And they might ask you some questions related to TAS, you need to answer those questions. If you don’t answer or if you fumble, that means that they will figure out that okay, you are new, or you don’t know much so they might think or overthink about their decision. So that’s the main reason I mentioned that you have to have some understanding that you can answer the questions asked by the recruiter.
Yeah, I think in some ways, it’s almost like learning a language. I think, you know, there’s, which was actually what med school was like, too. And there’s just so many words, there’s a lot of terminology. And, you know, unless you immerse yourself or talk to a lot of people or take courses and watch, you know, webinars and all that, to really see how people talk about the work until you understand it.
And you also feel pretty fluent in talking about the work even if you don’t exactly know what because of course, you’ll be trained on the job. But you have to be able to have those conversations.
Exactly. That’s, that’s correct.
Well, let me ask you, then you’ve told me a lot about your own story and where you are and how you got here. And I think we also know what you like about your job, because you mentioned the reason that you decided to pursue it. I guess, let me ask you that. So do you find that pharmacovigilance satisfies your intellectual interests the same way you thought it would?
Actually I am very happy. Like before I joined this pharma company, it was kind of like I was in love. I just like those things. But right now I’m working. And I feel that it was some god signals or something that I came here and it’s like, I cannot imagine this, how happy I am after I have been in this field.
I’ve been working on so many different portfolios including rare disease immunology right now I’m working on oncology. So that is also helping to expand our knowledge and like, we are continuously learning, we are applying our mechanism, we are applying our medical knowledge.
So you never feel that you are out of touch. And that gives you a sense of that. You have studied medicine and you are applying your knowledge. And that gives you happiness that you are working like sometimes I’m working late night and in the morning also, that doesn’t matter because I’m like, I love what I’m doing.
So definitely, it doesn’t matter. And again, one more thing, I’m working from home. So that’s like so much relaxation, that if I don’t have any meeting, I am free. If I have a meeting or work then I’m working so that’s so much flexibility.
That’s so fantastic. And obviously my podcast is only audio but if listeners, if you could see Rohan’s face, it is glowing right now I can see the joy and the happiness that you really have with your work. Are you still at Takenda?
No. So like, as I mentioned, initially, I was a Takeda safety scientist. So it was a contract position. and they were very happy with me. So they offered me a full time role within the six months. So I was a full timer with them. And they offered me more than five to six portfolios at the same time.
And I was working closely with my safety physician at that time, but they knew that I am a physician from India. So one day I will transition. So my safety physician taught me so many things. So I’m really grateful for her. At that time, she taught me everything about being a safe physician, what I hope to do, and then after two and a half years, I felt that I’m ready.
So I asked internally in Takeda at that time, but unfortunately at that time, there was no opening in Takeda. So they said that they would love to, but there is no opening. So I started looking outside, and I got a chance in Beijing.
So Beijing is another oncology based company. It’s a Chinese company, which is now a global portfolio. And they have like multiple indications. So I’m working on one product with nine different indications as a safety physician, where I represent the safety of those nine trials. So that’s how I started as a contractor scientist to full time right now full time safety physician.
And quick, quick question now, did you find and I hope I mean, answer this honestly, there’s no right answer. Right? Did you find that when you decided you wanted to look for that next opportunity, having had the two years or so and Takeda under your belt?
Was it much easier to find your second opportunity? Or was it just as difficult? Because still, you were not a US physician? And you had less than five years experience? Like that second job?
Yeah. That’s a great question actually. So, as I mentioned, once I became full time or indicata, after two and half years, I was getting many opportunities, but as a safety scientist, not a safety physician, because now I had enough experience as a safety scientist. So I was getting a higher role like I was working as a safety scientist manager, there are higher roles like principal safety scientists or senior medical director or Associate Medical Director, as a safety scientist.
But for a safety physician, it was not that easy initially, because they were like, you have to have at least four to five years of experience. But again, I had a very profound portfolio, I mentioned that I was working on five to six products. So I got an interview from a bigger company, and out of three, Beijing, they offered me first so I went with them, because it was oncology.
Many people have a dream to work in oncology companies. So yeah, so I’m working right now, as a safety physician. In Beijing. Again, I have jumped very early, usually people take five years to switch from scientists to physician, I just switch after two and a half and three years, it’s up to you that how comfortable are you can confirming performing the task and make them believe they will definitely give you?
That’s fantastic. That’s really great. Well, my very last question is, I mean, I guess we’ve covered a lot of it already. But do you have advice for other people who might be in your similar background? Who are thinking today that the deck is stacked against them that it will be very, very difficult for them? And that is not even worth trying? What would you say to that person?
I would suggest that you are a physician, that’s the first thing that’s your strength, whether you are from India, whether you are from Australia or China or wherever you are from, you are a physician, that’s your strength, you will be getting it again, you are transitioning from something new, it might take a time so don’t get frustrated. Keep applying.
That’s the first thing. The other thing I mentioned target contract position and CRS, they are very lenient on contract and CRO compared to full time. So, just make a mind and keep applying. You will definitely get it, you are a physician. So definitely, there is no way you can be stopped here because pharma companies, it’s growing company and there are so many medicines and vaccines and devices coming.
So there is no way that there will be a pause or something like that will be job cuts coming in our field, especially physician field. I’m not talking about other aspects of Pharma. I’m talking about physicians, especially safety physicians or clinical physicians. So there will be no job cutting in that way.
I think that’s a great point. A lot of people do worry about job security and even though at a given company or for a given set of medicines. It’s true that drug development programs could be stopped. There could be reorganization, your role could be eliminated. But across the whole ecosystem of Pharma. There’s no startups coming always there’s mergers or acquisitions, but they’re still always going to need a doctor in these roles
Definitely like in Boston, only there are so many pharma companies that I don’t even know the name, like, based on my four or five years of experience now what they, every week, I’m getting minimum two to three recruiters to call so many companies.
Rohan, thank you so very much for coming on the show and sharing your own personal story. I know this is going to help a lot of people.
Happy to support. I’m very happy to be part of this. So yeah, if anyone has any questions, I’m always there. I’m just giving back to the community because I was in a similar situation for years back. Right now I am in a position to guide them. So that’s what I’m doing.
Oh, that’s great. Is it okay if I leave your LinkedIn in the show notes? Sure. That will be great. Thank you. That’s very generous. So I’ll do that. So you can look in the show notes for ro Hans LinkedIn link and you can be in touch if you want to ask some of these questions. Thanks again, Rohan for coming on.
Thank you. Bye bye
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