Pharma for PharmDs

Are you feeling stuck in your "traditional" pharmacy job? Are you a student trying to avoid working in retail? Do you want the ability to work from home or have a hybrid job? If so, maybe it's time to seriously consider other options.

Pharma for PharmDs
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko / Unsplash

Are you feeling stuck in your "traditional" pharmacy job? Are you a student trying to avoid working in retail? Does the work life balance of an inpatient role leave you wanting more? Do you want the ability to work from home or have a hybrid job? If so, maybe it's time to seriously consider other options.

Pharmacists have so many choices available to them after graduation when it comes to career selection. Most people think of retail, residency, inpatient, outpatient, ambulatory care, etc... These are the jobs that pharmacy schools promote the most to their students, likely because of familiarity and previous experience.

When I was a student, I worked for a retail pharmacy chain for 3 years and hated every second of it. I had some of the best co-workers in the world, but they couldn't make up for the misery that I was experiencing. For that reason, I took an inpatient pharmacy tech job at a local hospital that I stayed at for another 3 years. I enjoyed the hospital side of pharmacy much more than retail, but it still didn't feel like I had found a career that I was really passionate about.

This left me with a tough decision to make as a third year pharmacy student. Should I pursue a residency, even though I didn't think I would genuinely enjoy the experience? Maybe I should get a PhD and follow my research ambitions?

I believe I would have done well in residency, but the work life balance sounded awful. I also wanted to work more with new clinical trials and data rather than patients and basements. Getting a second doctorate degree also had some appeal, but the time commitment and job opportunities afterwards didn't make sense for me.

This led me to exploring the pharmaceutical industry as a career option, and it felt like I had entered a whole new world. Let me introduce you.

four people all on laptops, two men and two women, listen to person talking in a board meeting
Photo by Mapbox / Unsplash

There are 4 general functional areas for pharmacists to work within the pharmaceutical industry.

  1. Medical Affairs
  2. Regulatory Affairs
  3. Clinical Development
  4. Commercial

I'll give you a very broad overview of each, but we'll take deep dives in the future. You should also know that this is a very narrow look at the industry, and many pharmacists find themselves in related roles like HEOR and drug safety.

Medical Affairs

Many pharmacists end up in medical affairs and for good reason. As a PharmD, you'll have the expertise required to communicate with other healthcare providers across the country. There are a number of different departments that would be considered "medical affairs" including medical information, medical science liaisons, medical strategy, medical communications, etc... All of them are meant to address one or more of the cornerstones below:

4 Cornerstones of Pharma Medical Affairs

Regulatory Affairs

Broadly speaking, regulatory affairs deals with an organization’s adherence to regulatory policies. For instance, they are responsible for communicating with the FDA, EMA, and other agencies around the world. This involves everything from compliance, labeling, promotion/advertising, and regulatory strategy.

Clinical Development

"ClinDev" is essentially responsible for proving the efficacy of medications through clinical trials. If you want to be involved in clinical trial management, this is the area for you! "ClinOps" supports the entire clinical trial process from start to finish. As a reminder, there are 4 main phases for clinical trials:


Last but not least, we have the commercial side of the pharmaceutical industry. If you're someone with a PharmD/MBA, this might be of particular interest to you. This is the home of sales and marketing.


If you're a student and find any of these 4 areas intriguing, you might be wondering how to get into the industry in the first place. The best way (though certainly not the only way) is through a fellowship program. I myself went through the Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship (RPIF) which is the largest program in the country. RPIF data from 2016 shows what kind of fellowships are available and what student interest generally looks like.

As you can see, most students are interested in medical affairs and regulatory affairs, so you can expect those positions to be the most competitive. Just something to keep in mind.

I hope you've learned something about PharmDs in the pharmaceutical industry! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

*Information presented on RxTeach does not represent the opinion of any specific company, organization, or team other than the authors themselves. No patient-provider relationship is created.