The pharmaceutical industry has had its ups and downs.
It has been cast as a hero of the populace and a capitalist villain. Its advertising face and big R&D budgets offer a shiny sheen of success, but behind the scenes, crusaders against illness and hardworking researchers toil away at some of today’s biggest challenges.
Pharmaceutical careers often involve a significant amount of specialist education, range from hands-on to management and leadership roles, and tend to be better compensated than many other sectors. There are a wider variety of pharmaceutical career options than you might have guessed, and one of them might be right for you.
For the tenacious problem-solver, pharmaceutical research and development offers incredible challenges with big potential wins. Imagine being on a team that comes up with the next great cancer vaccine. One shot, and you’ve saved lives. The day-to-day life of a pharmaceutical researcher involves quite a bit of repetition, so it’s a good job for people who are focused, consistent, dedicated and have excellent attention to detail.
Lab analysts generally require relatively less education. Depending on the type of research, the job might include working with animals and organic organisms, fluids or chemicals. You’ll probably use advanced technical equipment from microscopes to 3D fabricators. Your mathematical and engineering skills could range from the ability to record data in fairly simple databases, to advanced coding capabilities. There are quite a few different positions available, though, and not everyone works in direct research or production.
Pharmaceutical sales careers are perhaps one of the better-known positions available.
This role is better suited to people who are more social and outgoing. Extroverts with a good memory and a way with people find this a rewarding path.
On the pharmaceutical management side of things, project managers require subject matter expertise, as well as additional skills and competencies. They may direct research, maintain schedules and perform a communication role between researchers on the ground and higher leadership. Quality managers focus more on the outcomes; product quality, purity and consistency; and any side effects. Quality managers may be more focused and less relational than project managers, with a greater focus on technical skills, accuracy and administrative efforts.
Leadership positions are also available. A research and development manager is a highly educated and skilled professional who does less hands-on, repetitive lab work and more creative and strategic direction to investigate and develop new solutions. These roles command higher levels of compensation and can lead to further positions of authority.
There are a few different paths to senior leadership roles in the pharmaceutical industry. A technician might work their way up through the management structure to a higher position of leadership, but specialists with medical expertise in other areas also step into pharmaceutical research as a way to pursue an area of interest and have a hand in creating answers to challenges that they’ve faced in their career or care about.
Erol Onel was educated as a medical doctor and practiced and taught medicine prior to his career in the pharmaceutical industry. He has found success as a pharmaceutical executive at more than one company over the course of his career and has had a hand in pursuing and developing real solutions to significant health challenges.
Doctors and medical professionals can transition into pharmaceutical careers as a way to influence the creation of solutions and use their first-hand experience on the ground, rather than being limited to just prescribing treatments.
Another path is working in a hospital or dispensing pharmacy. These careers require a very high level of accuracy and attention to detail, since they have a direct hand in ensuring that patients receive accurate and safe drugs and treatments. It’s a highly educated position, with significant educational investment, and tends to be well rewarded. Depending on where you work, the pace may also be fast. Hospitals tend to be busy posts for pharmacists, as are many urban dispensaries, while more remote pharmacy jobs might be less bustling, but probably not as well compensated.
Since there are so many different types of pharmaceutical careers, it’s problematic to make generalizations about the whole field. It may be a good choice for those who are uncomfortable with direct treatment of patients or dealing with blood – unless their research involves processing bodily fluids. It could be hands-off and repetitive, or challenging and involve a lot of human contact. The job could involve sterile labs or fieldwork. However, some generalizations are safe to make: pharmaceutical careers are often well compensated, require significant amounts of education, and are a good choice for focused, driven people who want to make a difference. If you’re a committed problem-solver with a high degree of accuracy in your work and you care about doing work that helps people, then you may want to look into getting started with a career in pharmacy.