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How to kickstart your medical affairs career

Medical Affairs is a fast-paced sector and the work is so varied that no two days will look the same. Medical affairs professionals working in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries are commonly known as the bridge between healthcare professionals (HCP), key opinion leaders (KOL), stakeholders and commercial teams. They use their scientific and clinical expertise combined with their strong communication skills to facilitate the sharing of data between medical employees and the pharmaceutical industry, thereby making sure that the information about the safety and efficacy of a treatment is made available to everyone.

Medical affairs teams play an essential role in the wider life sciences industry and the sector is continuing to grow at an impressive rate, with experts predicting that medical affairs market will be worth $2.65 billion by 2026. Working in this sector is the opportunity to make an impact on patient’s lives but how can you kickstart your medical career?

The state of the market

Knowledge within medicine and science has grown exponentially and each year the latest breakthroughs in small molecules, medical devices and genetics boosts the demand for subject matter experts who can relay information accurately. McKinsey’s Pharma Medical Affairs 2020 and beyond report highlights the growing demand for transparency and, as a result, the demand for Medical Affairs professionals who have the knowledge and objectivity is booming too.

 

The qualifications and skills you’ll need

Qualifications

While it’s not a key requirement, candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field are more attractive to employers. However, if you have experience working in a pharmaceutical company and can demonstrate a good understanding of medical terminology, this is an alternative way to get your foot in the door and kickstart your Medical Affairs career.

Good communication

Throughout your career in Medical Affairs, you’ll be responsible for developing contacts with key clinicians, university teaching groups, group purchase organisations and other scientific groups. You’ll also work closely with internal customers, helping them to develop and execute a plan that meets both the business and the clinical objectives. Therefore, strong communications skills are essential.

Language

Life sciences is a global industry and many companies have offices across several continents. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to see fluency in a language listed as a requirement for a Medical Affairs job. So if you’re fluent in another language it’s important to highlight this on your CV and if not then why not make it your goal this year to learn one?

An ability to work autonomously

Autonomy in the workplace has been linked to higher job satisfaction and it’s a key skill in Medical Affairs. Employees are expected to take a proactive approach to goal setting and use their initiative.

Numeracy

Medical Affairs professionals work with data published from clinical trials. Therefore, numeracy proficiency is considered key.

Organisation

This sector demands someone with good organisation and time management skills, who can quickly source accurate medical information and report it back.

Evidence dissemination

You’ll need to take complex scientific information from publishing reports and clinical trials and interpret it so it’s comprehensible for those stakeholders making marketing decisions. This evidence dissemination is a pillar of Medical Affairs.

Your career routes

When mapping out a medical affairs career pathway, it help to know your options.

A typical route into Medical Affairs is to start in as Medical Information Officer. You’ll handle product information enquires from internal and internal teams for which you’ll consult the company product information, and for more complex enquiries you’ll need to research literature. If you’re a recent graduate, careers fairs are a great opportunity to engage with companies, ask about entry-level roles and hear about training opportunities. Many candidates will start in this role to gain exposure and get experience before moving up to more senior roles, such as a Medical Science Laison.


If you already have experience working in a pharmaceutical setting and have previously handled medical information there are opportunities to kickstart your Medical Affairs career at a higher level. But taking on a more senior role is likely to demand a higher education degree such as a PhD, PharmD, or MD.

Pharmacists who have handled over-the-counter medication and have offered medical advice about medication have experience that is directly transferrable to Medical Affairs. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical physicians have one of the most diverse jobs in Medial Affairs but to break into the sector you’ll need to demonstrate an interest in the commercial side of a business to advise the commercial and market access team.

Alternative routes include experience in drug safety and previous work as a research assistant, as long as you have the right qualifications. Both these roles show experience reporting medical information about pharmaceutical products and the ambition to push the boundaries of healthcare. Whichever route you take, you’ll need to be aware of the changing ethical and legal regulations. After all, it will be your role to ensure that a patient’s wellbeing is the critical factor in any marketing decision.

Network

Reach out to senior Medical Affairs professionals via LinkedIn and build your network. Not only can they provide useful insight into your career options they may also know of upcoming opportunities or offer to become your mentor.

There are various professional organisations in the life sciences industry that are focused on building a community within Medical Affairs, including The Medical Affairs Professional Society - which offers a mentorship programme - and the ACMA Society.

Build a career with greater purpose at IQVIA

At IQVIA, it’s our goal to make a difference in human health. For that, we need people who are curious, talented and driven. We’re an equal opportunity employer and value diversity within our teams. Our diversity allows us to maintain a dynamic environment with professionals around the globe. Explore our Medical Affairs jobs around the globe and see where a career with IQVIA could take you.

 
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