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The Demand for MD Drug Safety and Pharmacovigilance Candidates

Date: 05 February 2018

Pharmacovigilance, the practice of monitoring the effects of licensed medical drugs, is a rapidly growing area of life sciences. Positions in this sector exist across pharmaceuticals, clinical research and biotechnology organizations.

At EPM Scientific we specialize in recruiting for Life Science roles across Development, Launch and Control, giving us detailed insight into changes in the market in areas such as drug safety.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of candidates in this market: those who have gained experience on-the-job and those with medical credentials to support their industry knowledge. Over the last few years, we’ve noticed an increased demand in the pharmacovigilance sector for candidates with a Medical Degree (MD). This trend is particularly noticeable at mid to senior level and candidates with Medical Degrees appear to have the edge in the market, especially when it comes to leadership roles.

MD or non-MD – that is the question

What are the key differences between these two types of candidates?

MD candidates have a Doctor of Medicine and are likely to thrive in more theory-based work. Non-MD candidates are likely to be more focused on operations, and therefore more adept at addressing the technical aspects of a role.

Where there is a fluctuation in the recruitment market, it is often possible to pinpoint an exact cause of the change within the industry itself, and it is likely that the demand for MD candidates could be in response to increased accountability in the sector brought about by a tightening of regulations.

MD candidates are often better positioned to address the medical authority work that is needed to comply with the FDA and other regulatory bodies. They are also more likely to have the medical expertise to be held accountable when it comes to compliance. Physicians are also more likely to think of data in a real-life, human context.

The impact of a poor hire could be inherently damaging for a pharmaceutical company,  it’s prudent for them to ensure best fit when recruiting, particularly for senior positions. As there are significantly more non-MD candidates in this sector, it makes those in possession of a Medical Degree even more attractive to perspective employers. 

Some of the key factors to consider when deciding to recruit an MD or non-MD candidate are…

1) Industry training

Though you may have an MD, there is no replacement for on-the-job training. “Anyone who is hoping to have a career in this field should be prepared to get trained on the job,” Sarala Gudiwada, Associate Medical Director of Global Patient Safety at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. “No book, guidelines or regulatory rules define the job. This field is still evolving, and there are a lot of grey areas.” Although MDs might have the benefit of credentials, real-life industry training is essential and candidates must be adaptive to flourish in this evolving market.

2) Experience matters

Experience matters, but it’s all about the right experience for the job in hand. MDs can be a necessity, particularly for senior roles as Ilona Surick, Vice President of International Product Safety at Eisai Inc points out: "I think that there are some roles that really require a physician as the voice of safety becomes more important and plays a bigger role in collaboration with Regulatory and Clinical. Having a physician in the safety role allows them to speak with a different level of authority."

However, there are roles where a Medical Degree just isn’t necessary. Some areas, such as operational tasks or aggregate reporting might even be better suited to those with specialist industry experience. While case processing, for example, doesn’t need an MD, when it comes to analytical studies, an MD might be better placed to determine additional information for a better assessment.

3) Achieving the right balance

Different perspectives are what push businesses forwards. It’s not just about having staff who are over-qualified, but having the right staff, with the right qualifications, in the right positions. Having a mix of staff coming at each project from a different angle would give the best balance.

“MDs are necessary for the Drug Safety department and I typically like to have a healthy mix,” says Arpad Simon, Vice President of Drug Safety and Pharmacovigilance at Relypsa. “Drug safety is about establishing a space and acting upon the space and that cannot be done without scientific thinking.”

In short, it’s relatively commonplace for someone working in this area to not have a medical degree, however an MD is a physician,while many technical areas do not need an MD, it is essential when it comes to detail-orientated Quality Assurance. Equally, MD candidates are more likely to have the knowledge to spot connections where someone without direct medical experience may not, so these skills can be helpful in analytical roles, too.

Although we are seeing a clear increase in demand for MD candidates in the Pharmacovigilance space, there are still many opportunities for those candidates who have progressed through the ranks without a medical degree, and they should not be overlooked. As our research has found, many industry leaders now prefer to attract a mixture – but what would work for you? EPM Scientific have access to a range of MD and non-MD candidates looking to take their next step.

Get in touch with EPM Scientific today to learn more about this trend in the market and how you can secure these highly sought after candidates.