“I don’t want to do retail.”
“It’s pretty common,” Mike Stauffis, Senior Career Advisor at MCPHS University, told us when we asked how often students come looking for non-retail opportunities. “PharmD students are very driven and passionate about pharmacy. But sometimes they aren’t sure what they want to do—besides not retail.”
So what can you do? In this week’s article, we want to show you that pharmacists can and should be involved in industry too! We caught up with Zack McCormack, one of our fellows at Sanofi Genzyme, to talk about how he got into industry and some of his advice for pharmacy students.
What attracted you to industry?
I think it was multi-factored. Just to give a little background on myself, I started off thinking that retail pharmacy was the route I wanted to do, and that was probably more of my idea of what pharmacy entailed. Growing up, I think that’s kind of the main thing one’s exposed to. After trying to work in that area, there were certain aspects that I don’t think was giving me everything I was looking for in a career.
After I got into pharmacy school, it became very clinically heavy in terms of what they present and the post-graduate opps that they advertise. I didn’t get that level of satisfaction that I was looking for. After doing some more soul-searching, having had some more exposure to alumni who have worked in the area, my interest piqued in industry.
For one reason, you’re working on projects that have more of a universal impact. It’s much more dynamic—you can work in a wide variety of areas that may or may not have a lot to do with one another. You’re constantly learning and applying that [knowledge] to different scenarios to an extent that I feel doesn’t exist in other avenues of pharmacy—you work with people from other backgrounds.
Can you give a brief summary of your fellowship positions?
My position is a Global Commercial Oncology fellow for Sanofi Genzyme, and I am the first fellow in this role. It’s been defining, and as it’s gone along, it’s kind of come into form that I will have done/will do four rotations that are roughly six months each. I’ll be doing a sales rotation, and to be determined for the last one. Three out of the four have been very amendable to my interests, and the needs of the company, which I haven’t got much flexibility.
The first one was global marketing, which was one that I definitely had an interest in, though it’s kind of the “required” rotation if you will. For that [rotation], I worked on a couple different projects whether it be social media marketing, international congresses, assessing different clinical data sets for our marketing messaging. You’re working with affiliates from across the globe on different projects, which was exciting and an eye-opening experience.
I’m currently on a six month rotation—I’m finishing up in US market access. Market access at a high level is once a product has been approved, ensuring that patients are able to receive it. [Ensuring] it’s covered on different insurance formularies—or you know, insurance providers cover it—and has a higher place on formularies. Things of that nature, so you’re kind of seeing a different side of the business.
What is something that would surprise people about what you do day to day?
I guess there are two things, for pharmacy students, if I were a prospective applicant. One, the extent that you work with so many different people. Particularly with marketing, you’re always in meetings. It could be one in medical, or if you work with your folks in regulatory or legal, and obviously there are lot people in commercial backgrounds as well. You’re able to really interact with a wide variety of diverse groups of people, which I find intellectually stimulating.
I can also say that I feel that commercial has a misperception that we’re getting a little away from science, which I’d argue is not true. A lot of commercial decisions are founded in having an understanding of the medicine and the science landscape. So if you are a PharmD student, you really are applying your background knowledge and then adding on this acumen and understanding. You’re not going away from your science background necessarily, you’re using that as the framework to make commercial decisions. The people who are very good at what they do, from what I’ve seen, are ones who really understand the science.
What is one thing you wish somebody told you before going into industry?
You naturally compare yourself to your colleagues, and it’s easy to get caught up in this game of titles and who’s a director and who’s a manager. I think it’s important to really like what you’re doing and make that the priority. “Do I enjoy the work I’m doing? Do I enjoy the people I’m with?” Things like contributing and not putting so much emphasis on titles.
I mean this wasn’t something that I heard right when I started, but shortly after someone had told me, and I feel like it makes sense. Although I haven’t really experienced it personally to a large extent so far, I can definitely see it being a factor. Again, it hasn’t been a large issue for me yet, but I think it’s something wise that people should keep in mind.
Looking back on your first year, what are some of the lessons learned about being in a fellowship or being a pharmacist in industry?
Being a pharmacist in industry, I’m in commercial but my colleagues are in medical and some are in reg, clinical development you name it. Particularly, MCPHS [University] does a good job of showing that there’s fellowships in every discipline. Really, the role of pharmacists in industry can be very broad, and you can really make that whatever you want.
Students who are thinking whether or not this route is “right for me,” I think that your background—and I understand that a lot of pharmacy schools don’t have industry specific courses or curriculum—but I think that by nature of what you learn throughout pharmacy school, you really are well suited to a career in industry. Your didactic training will provide a good foundation.
Looking forward, what are some of the things that you want to accomplish in the coming year?
Well certainly, get a full time role after my fellowship would be number one. At the moment, I’m most heavily considering marketing positions, so hopefully it would be one for a launch product if possible. Later on down the road, I’m considering going back for an MBA either full time or part time.
And further down my career—and to my point earlier, I’m trying not to make it as much about what I want to be at this specific role at this stage—but being able to contribute to decisions in more of a leadership manner. It’s something I see myself doing or hope to accomplish in either marketing or market access—they’re the two rotations I’ve done, but I’ve also really enjoyed them both. Keeping an open mind, but contributing in the commercial arm of pharmacy and hopefully more of a leadership role.
Zack McCormack, PharmD, is a Global Commercial Oncology Post-Doctoral Fellow with MCPHS University and Sanofi Genzyme
Curious about industry roles for pharmacists?
Check out our blog series on the different functional areas our program offers here, and watch our Summer Webinar Series on our Youtube channel!