Here is Sonal’s intriguing interview on her unusual career as a pharmacist working within the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry.
Q: After pharmacy school, did you go straight into the pharmaceutical industry?
Yes, I accepted a Fellowship position in the pharmacovigilance department at a large pharmaceutical company. I helped the company analyze and report potential safety issues with post-marketed products. I learned a lot about how complex the industry is, and how challenging it can be to ensure that products are safe and effective. This got me interested in learning more about how a new drug makes it to market. So, after I completed my Fellowship, I moved over to the R&D part of the business as Project Manager.
As a Project Manager, I worked with drug development teams to move new drugs through the pipeline. I was responsible for managing the timeline, budget, and resources for a drug device combination product. I worked with a cross-functional team that included functional representatives from across the business including Clinical, Pre-Clinical, Regulatory Affairs, and US and Global Marketing. I learned a lot about the drug development process.
Q: How did you develop your management skills?
A lot of my skills came from on the job training. I was fortunate to have an amazing mentor that was also the Program Leader for the drug development team I was working with. I learned from her how to prioritize, make decisions, and gain influence without authority. I discovered that I enjoyed the strategic aspects of the role and made the decision to continue my education to learn more about business and management. I pursued an MBA in Health Care Management at the Wharton School of Business.
At Wharton, I learned a lot about how the broader healthcare industry works from professors and classmates who came from a variety of healthcare backgrounds, including some who had clinical backgrounds. I also learned a lot about the challenges the US healthcare system faces, since I was in school at a time when policymakers were focused on health care reform.
I wanted to apply this knowledge on the job, so I explored management consulting through an internship at Deloitte Consulting. Deloitte Consulting is a firm that that serves a large number of healthcare clients, including many large pharmaceutical and medtech clients. At Deloitte, I had the opportunity to work with several different companies, which allowed me to develop a broader understanding of the industry.
Q: What did you gain from your business education?
After business school, I joined Deloitte full-time. As a management consultant, I had the opportunity to consult on a variety of issues for a number of clients. My projects ranged from improving productivity in research and development, marketing strategy, to post-merger integration. My business education helped me understand what’s important to clients faced with these challenges, and how to develop recommendations that help client leaders achieve their goals.
My education in Health Care Management taught me how pharma companies work with the other sectors – health plans and providers. It helped me think strategically about how the ACA would impact pharma. So, I spent some time researching this topic and wrote a white paper. That got me interested in thought leadership as a career, and I have since transitioned to Deloitte’s Center for Health Solutions, the research arm of Deloitte’s healthcare practice, where I lead our life sciences research.
Pharmacy schools are not traditional recruiting targets for management consulting firms like Deloitte, and it helps to have business school or equivalent business experience before looking to join a consulting firm. Management consulting firms have a growing need for consultants that can combine clinical expertise with business applications.
Q: What are the differences between working as a project manager for a single company versus a management consultant for many clients?
The trade-off is breadth vs. depth. I enjoyed being a Project Manager because I was able to focus on a single product and develop a deep understanding of the specifics of that product and its target market. But, I enjoyed working as a management consultant because I got to see the bigger picture and help multiple clients solve different problems.
There are also considerations in terms of lifestyle. The biggest downside to being a management consultant was the constant travel. You are typically required to be at the client site during the week, and clients can be anywhere in the country. So you end up spending a lot of time in hotels and airports. On the other hand, working for one company requires that you live close by and pharma jobs are not available in every part of the country. I was fortunate to have graduated pharmacy school in state (NJ) with a high density of pharma companies.
Q: What are some common traits of a good consultant?
Being collaborative and motivating people to work together. As a consultant, you are being hired to offer your expertise, but you do not have authority over the team you are working within the organization. And you need their participation to build a strong recommendation.
You also need to be adaptable and be able to learn quickly. In consulting, you may be working on entirely different projects from one week to the next. You are expected to understand relevant trends and be credible and knowledge in a wide variety of environments.
Q: What advice would you give to pharmacists who are ready to leave the “normal” pharmacist job and seek out their Dream Career?
Look for opportunities to develop yourself and don’t be afraid to showcase your value. You are in charge or your career, so have confidence in your abilities and be motivated to continue your own personal development. You can apply your pharmacy knowledge to business or whatever else you want if you are open to the initial discomfort that comes with learning and growth.
Sonal has pursued many interesting opportunities which nicely integrated her pharmacy and management background. To me she personifies what it means to be an “intrapreneurial” pharmacist.
Key takeaways from my interview with Sonal:
- There are many aspects of new drug approval and managing post-marketed products that I had not considered to be part of a pharmacist’s position
- A pharmacy education provides an amazing segue to a management role within the healthcare industry
- Having a background as a healthcare professional can open many doors
- Developing your “personal brand” in order to show your value is key in today’s job market
- Keep up with relevant trends and continue to grow personally and professionally