College students gain industry finesse

Pharmaceutical Representative

Program prepares students for the world of pharmaceuticals.

In the 1950s, virtually anyone could be trained to be a successful sales person in the pharmaceutical industry. All it took was a friendly personality, a good trainer, the ability to learn and understand product features and benefits, the skills to discover customer needs and the ability to match those needs with product features and benefits.

In the '80s and '90s, however, science, technology and the way health care is delivered evolved significantly. Products became more sophisticated, and the management of health care created new market demands for more effective, safe and economical product delivery and utilization. In the future, competition will drive the knowledge required by all involved in the sales and marketing of pharmaceutical and biotechnology products well beyond traditional medical, clinical and product information to include the pharmaceutical sciences, pharmacoeconomics, the principles of pharmaceutical marketing and sales, economics, business communication and management.

Until recently, one would have had to obtain a Bachelor's degree in pharmacy and a Master's in business administration to obtain that kind of background. However, in 1997, the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, under the direction of Professor Mickey Smith, launched the unique Center for Pharmaceutical Marketing and Management, which offers an undergraduate and post-graduate program leading to a B.S. in Pharmaceutical Marketing and Management. No other university offers a pharmacy school-based degree with this emphasis.

Andy Hartnett, director of education of the former Astra Merck (now part of AstraZeneca) and a past president of NSPST, said that this program represents a unique alliance between academia and industry, blending pharmaceutical science and business. "Such alliances will be critical to the future," said Hartnett, who is a member of one of the program's advisory boards.

"The program is designed as a two-way pipeline between academia and all segments of the health care industry, including pharmaceutical research, manufacturing, marketing and sales, and ultimately managed care and others involved in the field of health care," Smith said.

Kenneth B. Roberts, dean of the School of Pharmacy, added: "We expect the pharmaceutical marketing and management track to become a regional and national leader in preparing exceptional graduates for the pharmaceutical industry."

An innovative program

During the first two years of the four-year undergraduate program, students take the traditional math and science courses pursuant to a Bachelor of Science degree. In the third year, Smith said, "The curriculum is identical to that of the Pharm.D. program, with the emphasis switching to pharmaceutics, human physiology, and pathophysiology, bio- and medicinal chemistry, pharmacogenetics and pharmacoimmunology."

In the fourth and final year, the emphasis of the program shifts into marketing and management, with classes split between the pharmacy and business schools.

According to Smith, "The curriculum was developed based on our own experience but tempered by the advice of our two advisory boards." One of the advisory boards is made up of key people in the pharmaceutical industry; the other consists of supportive alumni. Three students graduated with the new degree in 1997, the first year of the program, and seven graduated in the class of 1998.

In addition to those formally enrolled in the program, there are a number of business majors involved in the course work who are seeking placement in the industry. "I believe that most of our students will continue to be seeking careers in marketing and sales," Smith added. "But we also are looking to expand the program into other areas."

Industry response

The reaction of the pharmaceutical industry to the program has been very positive, accordingto Smith.

"We've had a long-standing and very good relationship with the industry, doing research and placing students, and we've had some excellent cooperation with this program from a few very supportive people," Smith said. "Beyond that, we'll have to wait and see what others do."

Overall, the program is one way the industry can prepare for the rapid rate of change it will experience in the years ahead, according to Hartnett. As the health care market evolves, he predicted, companies will move from vertically integrated structures to horizontally integrated structures. When that happens, "all employees will need a broader knowledge base and an understanding of the interrelationship roles within the corporation to achieve corporate goals," he said.

A way to achieve this may be through a four-year program specializing in the unique marketing and management needs of the pharmaceutical industry. PR