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Volume 38, Issue 3
How one pharma vet helped create the first industry-wide training standards for aspiring medical affairs professionals.
When it comes to medical affairs, Dr. William Soliman is no newbie. He has held a number of key positions where he was instrumental in launching a variety of innovative platforms expanding the role of medical affairs across the pharmaceutical industry.
That experience, at companies such as Retrophin, Veeva Systems, Eisai, Gilead Sciences, Abbott Laboratories, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Merck & Co., has led Soliman to what could arguably be his most influential role to date-the developer and chief advocate for the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA).
Although, technically, his official title with the organization is founder and chair, the mission of the ACMA-to establish, certify, and maintain the competencies of qualified medical and scientific professionals who have a focus in medical affairs within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries-is uniquely the result of Soliman’s personal experiences and keen observations of the industry.
During his 20 years working in medical affairs, Soliman observed a number of situations that all led back to one basic concept: there was a lack of universal medical affairs standards when it came to training people for these roles. While each company Soliman worked for had its own internal training, there was no industry-wide standard.
Toward the end of 2013, Soliman gathered a mix of medical and pharmaceutical school deans, medical affairs professionals, and others to pursue the spark that had been burning inside his head for a while.
“‘Wow, that’s going to be a lot of work,’” says Soliman, with a laugh, as he recalled what the most common initial reaction was to his idea to create a set of standards. But, Soliman points out, such reactions were always quickly followed by unanimous support and agreement that this was a missing key to the medical affairs training puzzle.
It took about two years to design the program, which includes a board-certified medical affairs specialist program that consists of 20 different modules, progress quizzes, and case studies.
The program has been translated into over 10 languages, and since its inception, has had approximately 3,000 people go through it.
“I never thought it would get to this large of a scope this quickly, especially from an international perspective,” says Soliman.
A component to the ACMA’s success and something especially important to Soliman is the partnerships they have built with academic institutions to help provide training in a subject area traditional medical or pharma schooling doesn’t typically offer. Some of these institutions include Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and NYU’s School of Medicine.
But, it doesn’t stop there.
Most recently, Soliman says, the city of Chicago has approved the ACMA as the provider of continuing education to support license renewal for the mandatory pharmaceutical representative credentialing program.
To be an effective medical affairs professional in this day and age, one must understand compliance and regulations, have a broad knowledge that includes genomics and diagnostics, and have a comprehensive understanding of the ever-changing healthcare system, among other things. ACMA’s program is updated regularly to keep up with those changes.
For pharma companies, Soliman stresses that an essential takeaway from this program is that it is a way to mitigate risk, especially in such a highly regulated environment.
“This is a way to empower the industry, and empower us as professionals,” says Soliman.