Think you might be interested in a career in pharma, but not quite sure how doctors work for pharmaceutical companies? Listen to this episode to learn about physician roles in medical affairs, and see if that might be a potential career path for you!

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

  • What a medical affairs physician does within the pharmaceutical industry
  • How this work helps science, physicians, and patients get what they need
  • Why medical affairs might be the right nonclinical career for you

Today’s episode is a continuation of a series that’s specific to the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industry. In this overview of careers in medical affairs, I highlight the various creative, and exciting roles that fall within the medical affairs department and how those roles help make an important scientific difference.

In this Episode:

[1:30] What is Medical Affairs within industry?
[4:43] Bringing medical insight and clinician understanding
[8:00] Communicating the science to a variety of audiences, internal and external
[11:15] Being the steward of accurate and balanced information

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? Watch this free one-hour webinar on physician jobs in pharma. When you’re ready to get serious, join my course Industry Insider to get you the results you want, faster.

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

Episode 88 – What Physicians Do in Pharma: Drug Discovery and Development



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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 89 – Physician Jobs in Pharma: Medical Affairs

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. We are doing a little mini series on the podcast of pharma related physician jobs. One of the things I’m often asked about is, you know, what, what exactly do physicians do within the pharmaceutical industry, and a lot of people have this image of just bench research, which is certainly part of it, research and development is part of the opportunity. But today, I want to focus on medical affairs and let you know, what does it mean to be working in medical affairs? What does a medical affairs physician do within Pharma?

So in the most general terms, the Medical Affairs Department is the organization within the company, the pharmaceutical or medical device company, that is the master communicator of scientific information, and is really the sort of the integrity, keeper of accuracy, right? The these are the physicians and sometimes farm DS, who have very high level terminal degrees and a deep level of clinical understanding so that they know what the science means.

And when it doesn’t mean, they can interpret the outputs of the clinical trials, and really understand what those tell us, and what they might not tell us, they can also interpret it in the broader scheme of the totality of scientific knowledge in that therapeutic area. So either that disease of that clinical specialty, that class of medicines, and so on, this is really very important, because when you think about the way that that many physicians come to know about medicines, a lot of it is by sales on the commercial side of the organization.

And when a sales rep shows up to the office, and they have, you know, a little detail aid, something that sort of describes the medicine, and that has to be due to regulations, you know, extremely, very strictly aligned to the FDA approved prescribing information. So a sales professional is often the person who sees a physician the most. But that person isn’t really equipped to answer questions that the physician may have.

If the physician wants to engage in a conversation with somebody who is, you know, sort of their educational, or clinical peer. That’s one way in which medical affairs professionals engage in what’s called an external way, right, with physicians who have questions who have either asked their sales professional who couldn’t answer the questions, or have just taken it upon themselves to, you know, call the company. And they have questions and they want answers, right, and they come to get those, and that is one of the functions of medical affairs.

Another one of the key functions of medical affairs is insight gathering and understanding. So obviously, science and medicine evolves rapidly over time. One of the most important things for a company to understand is what kinds of needs exist for physicians and for their patients, what would be a new and different medicine that would actually add some value, right, that they don’t have today, that would be better than what they have today.

And that would be what is worth developing, because as you’ve probably heard, you know, the statistics are pretty grim, when you think about all the medicines that are considered and the drug discovery phase, you know, that are considered to be studied. And then the number that actually progress all the way to approval is really quite low. And it’s extraordinarily expensive, though, to do all that work on all of those potential medicines.

So it’s extremely important to understand from physicians, and sometimes from patients or patient advocacy groups, and sometimes from experts in professional societies, you know, what are the missing things, what would move the needle and really advance the way in which patients are managed today for a specific disease or clinical condition.

So gathering those insights by having advisory boards and consultancies, and going to the conferences and listening to the sessions, and you know, being that physician eyes and ears on the ground to say, here’s what it’s happening for those doctors, and here’s what they need and bringing that back to the company so that they can have informed discussions with people on the clinical development side.

Not only to discuss what medicines might be worth progressing, but also in study designs, what are the most important kinds of outcomes? Right? What are the efficacy data points that the physicians care about the most or that the patients care about the most? Because these aren’t always the same as what the regulator’s care about the most, right.

So if there are things that the FDA wants to see, but things that physicians would like to see, or that, you know, patients would like to know, right, that they would ask their doctor is this going to help me specifically with X, Y, or Z, if those things are really important, then it’s the Medical Affairs function to understand that. And to bring it back to the company to say this is what would really make a difference. This is what people want and need.

Another core feature of medical affairs is very similar to the kind of work that academicians do right that academic doctors do. And that is helping to develop study protocols. Now, usually, these are studies that are done in phase three, B, or four. So around the time of approval or post approval. These are not the studies that demonstrate the basics of the efficacy and safety.

But these are something that answer, you know, deeper questions or more specific questions, questions that we’ve heard then from physicians and other organizations that are really important to answer about medicines. So helping to conduct some of those studies, or helping to support external groups who want to conduct some of those studies, and then helping to present those studies. So they need to get written up just like anything else, abstracts need to be presented.

Oftentimes, the data are presented at conferences, major congresses, for the societies and specialties. And manuscripts need to be written and then published, right. So this is another core function of medical affairs, is to take the information that has been studied, and communicate it to this the scientific world

A subset of this is a type of research called Health Economics outcomes research, HEOR sometimes goes by other acronyms, but this is basically looking at the impact of treatments on the economic burden on the healthcare system overall. So this might be a study, for example, that looks at if a particular medicine is used, versus the current standard of care.

Does that shorten hospital stay? Or does it result in reduced emergency room admissions or something else? Right, that demonstrates that not only is this good for the patient, but it also makes good financial sense.

And the reason that’s important is because of course, insurance companies and payers want to know this information. So when you think about, you know, how easy is it, it’s important to a pharmaceutical company, that it’s easy for patients to get their medicines that patients can afford the medicines, that patients medicines are covered under their various, you know, formularies, and with all the rules. And so there are groups within pharmaceutical companies whose entire job it is to present this kind of data to payers and those kinds of decision makers, to help them understand the benefits of the medicine and how it fits into sort of all the other options that one might be able to choose, and help them to understand really, what are the health economic ramifications of that.

And then finally, another core function of medical affairs professionals is to be that internal translator, if you will, again, a communicator of the science, it’s really, really important that the medical affairs group helps all of those various functions understand again, what the studies say and what they don’t say. So what is an appropriate and accurate statement to make about the medicine?

Or what is an inappropriate and accurate visual representation about what an average patient might look like might be able to do what are their activities? What might what benefits might they expect to experience and to make sure that that all stays within what is scientifically accurate, because, of course, the skill sets of people who are in sales and marketing. And that kind of thing is obviously quite different. And those are often not scientists.

And so it’s the Medical Affairs physicians job to help ensure that there’s integrity and accuracy being reflected and pulled through all of those materials. And this is actually a lot of fun. I mean, I find this to be an extremely creative part of the job because it does revolve around, you know, the scientific contribution is that of medical accuracy, but it is in a totally different type of activity than one might really ever do in academic medicine.

So you can see that medical affairs is extraordinarily diverse. A lot of it is talking to and listening to physician experts as well as organizations that are advocating for patients and professional societies in that area, a lot of it is studied design, and study interpretation. And then writing about the studies, right abstracts and presenting them, writing papers and submitting them and doing some of the work that is essentially in parallel.

But that is presented to insurance companies to help ensure access and affordability for patients, and then working together with the commercial colleagues to ensure that the creative concepts that they have also reflect an accurate representation of the kind of patient and what their abilities would be and what they might experience with the medicine.

And just to ensure that, you know, anything that that comes forth in a, in a piece of marketing, or informational material that’s intended to make physicians or patients aware of the medicine is truthful and accurate and balanced and includes not only what they might be able to expect as a benefit, but also what are the cautions, what are some of the things to keep an eye out for, so that there’s that balance between efficacy and safety.

And that is always accurate, both in its words, and in sort of visual implications, really creative and really fun. So on any given day, you could be doing one or multiple of these kinds of things. It’s an extremely varied and really exciting type of career.

One of the things I know is really, really important to the many physicians who come to me who are curious about jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, is that they want to be sure that they continue to make an important scientific difference, right, they want to be sure that that impact that they’ve had one on one with patients is not lost, although they won’t be treating patients one on one anymore, they still want to have that really important, scientifically accurate impact for patients to improve health and like and that is, you know, a core part of what makes them feel professionally fulfilled.

And they wonder, you know, will working in a pharmaceutical company, give me that same satisfaction. And in my opinion, Medical Affairs is absolutely one of those places where you can have a really, really big impact on all of those things for very large numbers of patients. It’s extremely rewarding. It’s academically challenging, and it’s creative.

I hope this has been helpful to you as you think about the different ways in which you might look out physician jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. Please do check out the rest of the episodes in this series. To understand a little bit more about what doctors do in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries. It’s really great stuff.

And again, if you’re interested in really learning more about how to make that transition for yourself, please do come check out Industry Insider. This does not need to be mysterious. It is absolutely something you can do. And I can help. That’s all for today. Bye for now.

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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