Saturday, December 26, 2009

Psychiatrists entering the pharmaceutical industry in the UK

Do you live in the UK? There are many opportunities in pharma. Back in 2003, there was an article published in the Psychiatric Bulletin titled, "Psychiatrists entering the pharmaceutical industry in the UK." It was an "Opinion and debate" piece that was written by the following individuals:
  • Peter Aitken, Lead Clinical Research Physician; CNS Medical Eli Lilly and Company Limited, UK and Ireland
  • David Perahia, European Physician - Neurosciences; Eli Lilly and Company Europe
  • Padraig Wright, Head of Clinical Neuroscience, Senior Lecturer (hon); Eli Lilly and Company Europe; Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London SE5 8AF
Here's how the story starts:
As a junior doctor, it can be extremely difficult to imagine a working life outside the NHS. Appointment to a consultant post brings some opportunity to practise medicine outside the NHS, but few contemplate a move to an entirely commercial setting. Those of us who have moved to work entirely in a commercial setting, as pharmaceutical physicians, tend to be regarded with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion by our peers and colleagues, who often reveal a great number of misconceptions about our roles and responsibilities. Yet, currently some 731 physicians are registered with the British Association of Pharmaceutical Physicians, with 25 recording psychiatry or neuroscience as their area of expertise. There are 1400 physicians registered on the mailing list for the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Physicians. It was through reflecting on the level of interest as to our motives and rewards that we were moved to write this article. To colleagues in the NHS, it can seem as if we have moved into an unknown and suspect world. This article aims to describe something of the role of the pharmaceutical physician and the initial experience of moving into the industry.
The interesting section is titled, "What skills are required?" The authors answer this question:
It is almost impossible to describe a typical week in the life of a pharmaceutical physician, such is the variety of the demands on time and the continuing revision of priorities. Skills in personal and group management, time management priority setting and problem solving are prerequisites for managing the constantly-changing scene. The first contrast with clinical practice is that for the most part there are no patients, although some companies will support a continuing clinical session once a week. Nevertheless, the demands of colleagues working to tight deadlines and agreed plans more than makes up for this, and the atmosphere is in many ways more urgent and pressured in its intensity than that in clinical psychiatry...
From an entry level position in a mid-to large-sized global pharmaceutical company, there opens up a range of career opportunities. These can be looked upon in a number of ways. On the one hand, there are routes for technical experts in science, therapeutic areas, regulatory areas or pharmaco-vigilance. On the other hand, there are routes for those interested in the commercial side of the business. Both require leadership and management skills. For the technical expert, skills in individual and project management are needed. For the commercial physician, it will be skills in managing people and groups. These skills can be obtained through time spent in a variety of posts in each of the relevant medical areas, supplemented on the commercial route by time spent in sales and marketing or corporate affairs. In-work experience is complemented by a personal development plan, incorporating courses appropriate to the learning need. The plans are worked on in a climate of managed supervision, in the context of a performance review structure.
Even though this article was published in 2003, I find that many of the point addressed in this paper are still relevant today. It's important to understand the corporate culture within the pharmaceutical industry. It's very different from the clinical world. Here in the United States, we really don't have anything like the National Health Service (NHS) yet. Perhaps a close example is the VA medical system. Or, maybe another example would be working in a health district. Regardless, I think we can all anticipate that change will occur in the American health care system and perhaps this will motivate more physicians to explore career alternatives outside of clinical medicine.

To read the entire Psychiatric Bulletin article, click here.

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