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Ajarvis Cobb, PharmD, BCPP, BCPS 
Associate Medical Science Liaison, Psychiatry
AbbVie, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

Think back on the first time you heard about careers for pharmacists. Most likely, as you entered pharmacy school, you knew about roles in community pharmacy and maybe even hospital pharmacy. Before entering a professional program, most of us built our entire anticipated career trajectory on being that community pharmacist that would help people understand their medications in order to ensure appropriate use. We didn’t commonly think of ourselves of being pharmacists in the pharmaceutical industry, working on a team to help clinicians understand medications to ensure appropriate use for their patients.

Pharmacists are indeed employed extensively throughout the pharmaceutical industry in roles in medical affairs, regulatory affairs, drug development, outcomes research, pharmacovigilance, and commercial marketing. There continues to remain a wide gap in students understanding of pharmacist roles in the pharmaceutical industry compared to roles in community and clinical settings. As IPPE and APPE rotations begin to expand more into the pharmaceutical industry, this article will detail some of the experiences students can be involved in on their industry rotations, specifically in medical affairs.

Medical affairs represents a functional area that has a high clinical focus (reviewing literature, discussing clinical practice, reporting adverse events, supporting clinical trials) and supplements didactic clinical teaching in pharmacy school. Experiences in medical affairs can be internal (to fellow team members or other departments within the company) or external (to practicing providers), and encompass roles from different departments such as medical information, medical science liaising, and outcomes research. Examples of how each department in the pharmaceutical industry can provide internal and external experiences are provided below.

Medical Information

Roles in medical information can be commonly involved in (1) responding to information requests about a product from patients/physicians as well as (2) formulating a database with responses to medical inquiries.

  • Internally – Students could be involved in collecting information to create or update current response letters requiring a review of primary and secondary literature as well as pharmacovigilance (safety) data collected by the company.
  • Externally – Students could review compliance guidelines and strong pharmaceutical industry-based drug information practices to ensure response letters sent to patients/providers are scientifically balanced with good quality evidence, free from disclaimers, and non-promotional.

Medical Science Liaison

Roles in medical science liaison teams commonly involve (1) maintaining relationships with medical experts (2) communicating product data and disease state information internally and externally (3) developing educational materials, and (4) providing support for clinical studies.

  • Internally – Students could be involved in journal club presentations of novel disease state information or competitor/product data to help the field team sharpen their knowledge of the disease state/treatment landscape. Assistance could also involve reviewing primary literature to develop/update training content.
  • Externally – Students could attend health care professional (HCP) meetings and assist with documentation of observations/insights collected from the discussion. Students could also review written responses to inquiries that are sent to providers to ensure they are scientifically balanced and non-promotional.

Health Economics & Outcomes Research (HEOR)

Roles in outcomes research commonly involve (1) maintaining relationships with health care decision-makers (HCDM), (2) communicating data that provides a product’s proof of market value, and (3) publishing and presenting health outcomes research.

  • Internally – Students could be involved in journal club presentations, targeted literature reviews as well as involvement in outcomes research studies with protocol development, abstract/manuscript development, and poster presentations.
  • Externally – Students could attend all HCDM meetings and assist in creating/updating content for field use.

Although many students may have an interest in doing an industry IPPE/APPE, there is limit on rotational experience further complicated by geography since the distribution of pharmaceutical companies is mostly in the northeast United States. Industry professionals and colleges of pharmacy have an opportunity to meet this demand through further collaboration.

Another barrier for students may be faculty/preceptors’ knowledge of these roles. Medical Information, Medical Science Liaison, and HEOR represent three functional areas in the pharmaceutical industry where pharmacists are involved to impact health care, and many students have a keen interest in these roles. Since medical affairs can have a strong clinical component, exposing students to these roles can align with their development. As faculty/preceptors/pharmacy professionals learn more about these roles, it could open up new opportunities for students.


  1. Egly C, Kaakeh Y. The Pharmaceutical Industry: A Pharmacy Student’s Guide. Purdue J Service-Learning and International Engagement. 2018; 5(1): 16. DOI: 10.5703/1288284316836.
  2. Jacob B, Peasah S. An Elective Course for Student Pharmacists on Pharmaceutical Industry Practice. Am J Pharm Educ. 2019 Oct; 83(8): 7037.


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