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Top 5 Strategies to Switch From Practice to Pharma


Terry Arnold, PA-C, shares a wide range of opportunities to take clinical experience to a different setting and tips to transition.

For dermatology professionals looking to explore opportunities beyond clinical practice, transitioning into the pharmaceutical industry offers a promising and rewarding pathway. Terry Arnold, PA-C, vice president of medical affairs at DermTech, with over 20 years of clinical experience, shared valuable insights and practical strategies for making this shift. Arnold hopes his own journey from clinic to pharma serves as an inspirational guide for those considering a similar move. Here are 5 strategies, inspired by his experience and advice, to help advanced practitioners successfully transition into the pharmaceutical industry.

1. Identify Your Motivation and Interests

Understanding your personal motivations and interests is crucial before making any career shift. Arnold reflected, “I had the pleasure and the honor really of practicing medicine for the better part of 20 years. And honestly, it was what I always wanted to do... But still wanting something more, wanting to do something a little bit different, wanting to use some other skills that I had, that I didn't feel like I was able to flex in the clinic.” Determine what drives you—be it compensation, fulfillment, or another form of reward—and how these factors align with opportunities in the pharmaceutical sector.

2. Leverage Your Clinical Expertise 

Your years of clinical experience are a significant asset in the pharmaceutical industry. Arnold emphasizes, “A lot of people, you know, have invested a lot of their time and energy and money into getting this medical degree... and that skill set that you've developed in your years of clinic time really translates well to a lot of different industries.” Roles such as Medical Science Liaison (MSL), clinical educator, or medical reviewer benefit greatly from a clinician’s expertise and practical knowledge.

3. Develop Strong Communication Skills

Communication is a key element in the pharmaceutical industry. Arnold asserts, “Most things come back to just two elements, leadership, and communications... If you can master communications, you can find success in virtually any industry.” Focus on honing various forms of communication, including interpersonal, group, and public speaking skills. Engaging in online certificate programs or workshops can enhance your proficiency and make you a more attractive candidate.

4. Seek Out Networking and Learning Opportunities

Networking is essential for a successful transition. “Talk to people, talk to your own, you know, personal board of advisors and see what they say about it,” advised Arnold. Engaging with professionals already working in the pharmaceutical industry can provide insights and open doors to potential opportunities. Consider attending industry conferences, joining relevant professional groups on LinkedIn, and participating in informational interviews to build connections and gain insider knowledge.

5. Be Prepared to Prove Yourself

Transitioning to a new field requires proving your value and adaptability. Reflecting on his own experience, Arnold stated, “When I made that transition... I had to accept that all eyes were on me... you're an outsider, okay, and you're a little bit of a stranger in a strange land at the beginning. So you're really going to have to prove yourself.” Demonstrating your commitment and ability to learn quickly is crucial, especially in highly competitive and sought-after roles like those in medical affairs.

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