5 Career Options for Pharmacists in the Pharma Industry in 2021

The year 2020 has proven to be full of surprises. From COVID19 to a presidential election full of unprecedented events, all of us have had to shift our way of living and that includes our careers as well.  For many pharmacists, the shifting work-life dynamics creates a need to explore new career opportunities and options in new areas.  One of the fastest growing career options for pharmacists are opportunities within the pharma industry.  

Evolving Role of the Pharmacist

Traditionally, pharmacists have worked in three primary work settings. Retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, or in an academic/research setting. However, in the last two decades, more opportunities have evolved for pharmacists interested in working in an industry setting. In this article, we will cover the five career options for pharmacists interested in making the transition to the pharmaceutical industry.  

Pharmaceutical Industry Overview

The pharmaceutical industry provides the largest array of career options for pharmacists, which is why we put it first. In particular, pharmaceutical companies have five areas where the pharmacists’ skills can be very useful.


1. Medical Affairs

In short medical affairs is the arm of a pharmaceutical company which is involved in both the dissemination and education of scientific and/or clinical information to the medical community and the generation of new clinical data for an existing product. Medical affairs is a large department typically covering several areas, all of which can be great opportunities for pharmacists.

First, medical information is the arm of the company that handles inquiries that come in from health care providers (HCPs) about a company’s product.  Many medical information specialists are pharmacists and they develop standard response documents and materials that get sent to HCPs.  They also provide clinical guidance aligned with the drug’s prescribing information (PI) to ensure the product is used in accordance with FDA regulations. Pharmacovigilance (or drug safety) focuses on the gathering of safety data for a product to monitor the drug’s behavior in a real-world population and to identify any safety signals that may be concerning. 

Medical affairs also includes the medical science liaison role.  Medical science liaisons (known as MSLs) are a field-based team primarily responsible for educating key thought leader physicians and other HCPs on the company’s products. They provide in-depth scientific education and information to help the medical community learn about both the disease state and the product.

Medical directors provide overall strategic direction for a particular product or disease state.  Pharmacists with a strong clinical background can be a great asset to any medical affairs department.

2. Regulatory Affairs

Regulatory affairs departments offer more career options for pharmacists. These departments help drug companies gather all of their pre-clinical and clinical data so that they are ready to start an investigational new drug application (IND). Ultimately, regulatory affairs teams help companies get to the point where they can submit data to regulatory bodies so that the drug can be made available to the public. Regulatory affairs pharmacists help companies develop strategies to enhance approval for a new drug applications, biologic license applications, or other marketing applications. 

Once a drug is approval, regulatory affairs plays an important role in ensuring that pharma companies comply with promotional rules.  Regulatory affairs pharmacists need to have both a great understanding of the science but also a strong understanding of regulatory affairs and compliance rules and regulations that pertain to the life sciences industry.  As with medical affairs, there are ways to enhance your knowledge of regulatory affairs by becoming certified. The Regulatory Affairs Expert Program is a certificate program that covers all of the basic fundamentals that are important for any regulatory affairs pharmacist

3. R&D

Research & Development (R&D) is one of the most well-known areas to industry outsiders. R&D is where products are create and develops.  Although many R&D departments hire MD and PhD professionals, Pharmacists with a strong background in a pre-clinical setting or in basic pharmacology make great candidates for R&D.  R&D roles are usually in a laboratory or ‘bench’ setting where you are conducting experiments and analyzing data. 

4. Marketing

Although this might come as a surprise, it shouldn’t.  Marketing departments are keen on providing career options for pharmacists who have a strong business sense. Many pharmacy schools today offer joint PharmD/MBA programs.  If you are interested in the business side of the pharmaceutical industry and enjoy sales and marketing, working as a product manager could be a great fit for you for instance.

5. Clinical Operations/Development

Once a drug is ready to enter the clinical phase, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of clinical trial design, patient recruitment and collaboration with clinical centers of excellence.  Pharmacists who enjoy designing clinical trials and the nuts and bolts of clinical operations will enjoy working in the clinical department.  If you enjoy managing projects, medical writing, and the clinical side of the drug development process, you will enjoy working in clinical development. The Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist Program or BCMAS includes a lot of great information and training on clinical trial design.  It’s also an important way to distinguish yourself when applying for these competitive positions in the pharmaceutical industry.


In conclusion, there you have it! Whether you’re a pharmacist currently working in retail and want to make the transition over to the pharmaceutical industry or if you’re currently in an industry role and exploring your career options certainly, we hope this article was useful.  

Related Posts