Entering the pharmaceutical industry as a graduate
Tom Woods is an ambitious young graduate. Having started his career on a placement at MSD, he has held the roles of student business analyst, medical representative, business development associate and is now a business analyst for IQVIA. He shares his plans for going global and being at the forefront of industry developments.
What attracted you to working in pharma? When I was researching employment options at university, I found vision and mission statements of organisations fundamental when deciding where to work. Most pharmaceutical companies champion the idea of putting patients at the heart of the business to improve lives, which resonated strongly with me as a core ambition.
I wanted to become more involved with organisations that prioritise charitable medicine donation projects as well as develop my professional skillset along the way. I also found pharma an easy industry to relate to, because so many people have benefitted from medicines that scientists have discovered, developed and produced.
“I believe healthcare professionals increasingly recognise the importance of engagement with the pharmaceutical industry and its contribution to advancements in life sciences”
During my degree, I gained an appreciation of the effort and time experts devote to synthesising new drugs, but I was curious about how these medicines are commercialised and eventually get to the patients that need them.
How did it help you get into pharma? I studied Chemistry with Management at the University of Bath, which allowed me to gain real world experience on a placement year. I worked as a Student Business Analyst at MSD. In this role, I learned from subject matter experts and other placement students about how the industry operates. I became increasingly knowledgeable about key therapeutic areas and the NHS environment by working across the MSD medicine portfolio. A few highlights include receiving an excellence award for creating a customer segmentation and targeting plan as well as cultivating collaboration with a large private healthcare provider. These projects were pivotal for starting my career in pharma and I feel very fortunate to have worked with a such a supportive mentor, manager and team during my first role in the industry.
What has been your path to your current role? After completing my placement year and degree, I decided to further my understanding of pharma by undertaking a customer-facing role. I joined Chiesi as a Medical Representative via CHASE, a contract sales organisation.
Daily discussions with healthcare professionals allowed me to gain a first-hand appreciation of the challenges faced by the NHS and experience how the pharma industry interacts with its customers.
I then explored a new position at Tanner Pharma, a pharmaceutical services company focused on providing solutions across the product lifecycle. Here, I honed my skills in business development by expanding a product sourcing network and helping to supply comparator products for clinical trials.
I recently joined IQVIA as a Business Analyst to support life sciences’ commercialisation. The team provides strategic recommendations to pharmaceutical clients of all sizes, making use of a wide range of data to help make every healthcare decision the right one.
What do you enjoy about working in pharma? The multifaceted nature of the industry means there is always the opportunity to learn from people from different backgrounds, different experience levels and different departments. I learned how to analyse trends to investigate the intricacies of pharmaceutical markets and I find this extremely interesting.
If a medicine is gaining market share, I like to examine the market dynamics and the associated drivers behind them in order to share best practice.
I take pride in providing high-quality insights and enjoy developing my skills in presenting, teamworking and critical thinking. It’s a genuinely great feeling to work alongside like-minded colleagues who share the same vision and provide strategic recommendations to the industry’s biggest players. Everyone I meet is passionate about enhancing the health of society and I think a great deal of this enthusiasm has rubbed off on me.
What were your impressions of the industry and have they changed? Before I joined, I was aware that pharmaceutical companies received some negative press for the work they do. In previous decades, regulations weren’t nearly as stringent as they are today, and I wanted to explore the extent to which the industry has progressed.
In my experience, there has been a decisive shift from a solely product-focused approach to a more patient-centric way of operating. For example, pharmaceutical companies now offer supplementary education as well as supporting resources to improve medicines adherence and compliance and foster better patient outcomes. In doing so, they have earned a more trustworthy reputation and have developed close working relationships with educational institutions, the Government and the NHS. I believe healthcare professionals increasingly recognise the importance of engagement with the pharmaceutical industry and its contribution to advancements in life sciences.
What advice would you give to other graduates? Many pharmaceutical companies, consultancies and market research agencies offer graduate schemes which are an excellent path into the industry because they often involve a series of rotations. Working across different departments allows the attainment of a broad perspective and opportunities arise to explore new areas of the business.
However, I took a different route, by first working as a medical representative, which is a great way to gain experience on the frontline of pharma and pass the ABPI exam. I learned a huge amount professionally and personally, not to mention benefitting from a company car and going on an international business trip. Graduates should read the Pf Graduate Guide and get in touch with an agency to find out more about available positions. There are many opportunities for people of the right calibre so find something they are passionate about, take every chance to network and be prepared to work hard.
What are your plans for the future? In the short term, I aim to deepen my expertise in driving maximum value for our customers, by providing them with commercial and scientific insights. In the longer term, I want to develop my managerial and leadership skills in addition to attending global healthcare conferences to expand my professional network. I also hope to gain experience in the USA and learn from people who have a culturally different perspective on healthcare provision.
Pharma is changing rapidly worldwide with personalised medicines, real world data and artificial intelligence becoming increasingly key to its success. I intend to embrace how these technological trends are disrupting conventional thinking and make an impact by helping to solve future healthcare challenges, allowing people to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Ultimately, I aim to stay at the forefront of the sector by guiding strategic priorities, striving for better patient outcomes and driving greater innovation across the industry.
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