comes a point in everyone's career when they stop to consider their
options for advancement. The typical career path for pharmaceutical
sales representatives takes them through the training department and
into sales management. Other sales managers and representatives set
their sights on their company's marketing department. While most
companies offer training for reps entering a new position, a graduate
school degree in pharmaceutical marketing or management can be a great
way to gain the skills that can't be learned through internal training
or picked up in the field.Before you decide
Before you decide whether you want to go to graduate school, however,
you need to take a good look at where you are and where you plan to go
in your career. "The first thing I would ask [a prospective student]
is, do they want to commit their career to the pharmaceutical
industry?" says Terese Waldron, director of the executive
pharmaceutical Master of Business Administration programs at Saint
Joseph's University in Philadelphia. "If they love the pharma industry,
they're inspired by the good work that's done in pharma and they really
want to make this a career path, I think the industry-specific and
focused programs that we have are ideal for them."
It's also important to consider how much experience you have in the
industry. Some graduate programs require significant industry or even
management experience before you can apply. For example, both Saint
Joseph's and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia require
that applicants have at least four years of pharmaceutical industry
Consider that a graduate program will take you at least two years to
finish and that you will most likely be working full-time at the same
time. What is your free time like? Do you have commitments outside work
that would prevent you from completing your course-work? "The best
candidate has to be pretty motivated, because when they do a degree
like this, it's incremental work," says Harold E. Glass, a professor
and the director of the graduate program in pharmaceutical business at
the University of the Sciences. "Even if the company gives them some
time off, they don't really get their workload cut, so they have to be
pretty motivated to be willing to do this." Because the programs are
designed for working professionals, there is some flexibility as far as
how long students can take to graduate (Saint Joseph's allows students
up to six years to complete their course-work), but the burden on one's
time can still be substantial.
"You do have to be willing to make a sacrifice," says Joe Truitt, a
graduate of Saint Joseph's program and the vice president of sales and
operations for Orapharma, a division of New Brunswick, NJ-based Johnson
& Johnson. "There's a lot of homework. There's a lot of pre-work.
You have to understand what you're getting into. It's not something
that you are going to just show up, check the boxes in the classes and
be done." On average, you can expect to spend between 10 and 15 hours
per week on course-work, according to sources from various graduate
programs who were interviewed for this article.What to look for
There are several things to look for when choosing a graduate program.
First, any program you plan to attend should be accredited by the
Tampa, FL-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
According to the AACSB Web site, this accreditation ensures that the
* Manages resources to achieve a vibrant and relevant mission.
* Advances business and management knowledge through faculty
* Provides high-caliber teaching of quality and current curricula.
* Cultivates meaningful interaction between students and a qualified
* Produces graduates who have achieved specified learning goals.
It's also important to look for schools with faculty who had experience
in the industry prior to teaching. "A degree like this requires a nice
balance between teachers who have worked in the industry and are good
teachers and then more academically oriented teachers," says Glass.
"It's really important that the faculty have worked in the industry and
have a good industry knowledge, because there are just so many things
that are very specific to the pharmaceutical industry."
Flexibility is also critical for a working professional. Does the
school offer an online option for those who live outside the state?
What class attendance is required (even online programs require that
students fly to the school several times over the course of their
studies for orientations and meetings)? "I think that [prospective
students] have to look at the feasibility of the way programs and
models are set up for them," says Waldron. "There's no value in
starting a program when the model won't work for you -- if you travel,
or if you are up for promotion all of a sudden, your graduate program
can become a barrier to your success, not a component to your success."What you'll learn
For individuals who have spent their whole career in the sales
department of a pharmaceutical company, a graduate degree in
pharmaceutical marketing or management offers a way to expand their
knowledge. The curriculum can include courses in business subjects like
human resource management, finance, accounting and organizational
theory, as well as healthcare-specific topics like healthcare law,
pharmaceutical marketing, pharmacoeconomics and new product development.
"The program allowed me to really learn about all the other companies,
how they operate, the products that they market, how they market them,
how they launch them, how they manage them," says Truitt. "So it was
very broadening from the perspective of really learning about the
general industry. The second component was, I basically had come up in
a sales and marketing function; that's all I had ever done. And the
Saint Joe's program is basically designed to teach you how to become a
general manager. So I started learning about supply chain, logistics,
[research and development], regulatory, finance -- which in my current
capacity is critical."
Finance courses are essential for reps and managers who haven't been
exposed to those skills on the job. "Those skills are very hard to
learn unless you're in a specific finance position," says Peter Taffe,
program manager at the University of Colorado at Denver. "Learning
about accounting and financial management is hard to do in the field,
so [students will] get specific skills and training in those areas as
well as economics."
What students learn in an M.B.A. program comes as much from their
exposure to other students as it does from exposure to their
professors. Classes contain people from research and development and
marketing, as well as the sales department. In fact, one of the reasons
schools require prior industry experience is to facilitate classroom
discussions. Students are expected to use one another's experience to
build on their learning. "It just [makes for] a really robust
discussion in class," says Amy Thurston, a specialty business manager
with a large pharmaceutical company and a graduate of Saint Joseph's
M.B.A. program. "I learned so much, and fortunately in my class there
were a lot of people that had a wealth of experience in a lot of areas
that I personally do not that weren't just sales."
Even individuals who choose to take their graduate courses online are
exposed to other students through online discussions and the occasional
trip to the campus.Onward and upward
Though no training or additional education ever guarantees a promotion,
getting a graduate degree in a pharmaceutical industry-specific program
can certainly boost one's prospects for advancement. When asked whether
his career changed as a result of getting his M.B.A., Joe Truitt's
response was "Absolutely." After graduating from Saint Joseph's, Truitt
went on to a position at Fairfield, CT-based IMS Health for two years
before moving to the biotech start-up Orapharma. "I can tell you that
pretty much everyone we started up the business with had an M.B.A.
behind their name," he says. "The CEO, the CFO, the director of
marketing. I was the vice president of sales. Everyone had an M.B.A.,
and it helped when you were doing a start-up."
At the very least, the additional education will give you the skills
you need to perform better in your current position. "I feel like I
have such a better background of knowing more about the areas that I
didn't have experience in previously, like manufacturing," says
Thurston. "You get a touch of managed care, but this is more in-depth
than managed care, and you get the international global view from
school that I wouldn't have otherwise learned being in the field."