Throughout my time as an undergraduate pharmacy student I was focused on becoming a hospital pharmacist, and for the first few years of my degree I didn’t even consider any other options. It was purely by chance during my third year that I found an advert for an industrial pharmacy summer placement programme and decided to apply – I had always assumed there was no chance of getting into the pharmaceutical industry as it seemed so competitive and I didn’t know anyone who had done that route. But I did get offered the summer placement, and four years on I am now a qualified pharmacist working full time in industry. And I am not the only one – there are pharmacists from all kinds of backgrounds working here, some who started as summer placement students like I did but also lots who came to the industry via other routes with no previous industry experience such as graduate programmes, after completing a PhD or even after spending several years working as a practising pharmacist in a hospital or community sector. There are such a wide variety of roles here that we need people from a whole range of backgrounds and skillsets to fill those roles.
Some of the roles available to pharmacists within industry range from formulation science to clinical trial design and management, quality assurance, DMPK and regulatory affairs. I have met pharmacists working in operations and logistics, large scale drug product manufacture, commercial and finance. Whatever your interests are, there are roles to suit you. What I love most about working in the industry is the breadth of opportunities, and even though I have started work in an R&D function, what makes me most excited is having no idea where my career might take me and where I could end up.
So my advice to current pharmacy students would be to never assume that some things are closed off to you because they are too competitive or you don’t know anyone who has done that before – the skills and knowledge that you develop as a pharmacist give you an incredible advantage over many other science graduates. Not only are you the experts in medicines and medicines design, but you are also able to understand the patients’ perspective and needs to ensure we are designing the best possible medicines; to understand the full drug development process from initial target and compound identification right through to clinical supply and post-approval pharmacovigilance, making you ideally placed to take on higher level project management roles; and you are equipped with excellent communication skills allowing you to work efficiently in large organisations that require continuous collaboration and effective communication to succeed.
Keep your options open, and don’t rule anything out. There are so many opportunities as a pharmacist, some of which you won’t even know exist until you find yourself there.