Student Feature: Erin Gorse
Erin Gorse is on a mission. Having spent 10 weeks this past summer working as an intern at the global headquarters of Celgene in Summit, NJ, the PYIII Duquesne University School of Pharmacy student is determined to do whatever she can to let her fellow students know about an exciting and challenging career opportunity that could be theirs for the taking.
While just about all student pharmacists are aware of the career pathways of retail, community and hospital pharmacy, as well as academia, very few have a broad knowledge of the wide-ranging possibilities for Pharm.D. professionals in industry.
"Industry is a very big catchall term for working at a pharmaceutical company or a vendor therein. There isn't a lot of awareness that industry is an option - people don't know what that means. It's just a different option and it's just as equal to the other options that we do know and we do emphasize," said Gorse.
"The most visible and the probably the oldest part of pharmacy is your community pharmacist, your retail pharmacist, who are so important because they're on the front lines and dispensing drugs, and face to face telling each person how it works and how they need to be taking it. There are hospital pharmacists doing clinical rounds, and in academia there are professors who also do hardcore research. In industry there is leeway effect a ton more people, but maybe not as deep."
Within a pharmaceutical company, there are multiple departments that utilize the skillsets offered by a Pharm.D. "The easiest way to get in, and also where I was this summer, is medical affairs. Which also is a very broad name and there are several different types of medical affairs depending on where you go, but the big functions there tend to be drug information, putting together package inserts, taking information from package inserts and making modules, applications, or an iPhone app - something that would be easy for a doctor or clinician to explain the medication to their patients," Gorse said. "I was in the global knowledge center, which is under the medical affairs umbrella. Our group was in charge of all of the research that was going on in the company."
She added that Scientific Communication also an industry segment that utilizes pharmacists. In that capacity, pharmacists operate call centers, fielding calls from clinicians, hospitals and patients, troubleshooting issues and answering a wide rage of questions. Pharmacists are sought after for those types of positions due to their knowledge how drugs work and their ability to effectively communicate with those in the scientific community as well as laymen.
Gorse said that a there are also "a lot of pharmacists in clinical research and development. A lot of them work on protocol design - writing protocols, getting data, doing data analysis, getting conclusions, and putting it all together in a nice neat package and presenting on it."
Another branch of industry is Regulatory, and Gorse said that pharmacists are needed there because they understand what the medications do, but also understand the FDA regulations. "There are a lot or pharmacists who are in advertising in regulatory, who have to make sure ads aren't misleading don't break any laws. Having that awareness, since we take so many law classes and we know what all these medications do, it's a perfect place for a pharmacist to sit.
She said that fewer but still a good amount of pharmacists on the Commercial Development side of industry, and they tend to have more of a business background as well as a pharmacy background. Those pharmacists are valuable to the organizations where they work due to their ability to talk about how a business should be run in the context of the scientific world. Pharmacists also work in the area of competitive intelligence, looking at the piplelines of other companies and how to best market theirs to be ahead of their rivals.
One aspect of industry that Gorse finds appealing is the ability to move around within a company or companies to try all of the departments until they find a good fit. At Celgene, Gorse spoke with many pharmacists and learned that many of them move laterally. "As they learn, they move around and don't have to stay in the same practice. You can learn as you jump around, and you can always move up, too. If you spend two years in regulatory and decide it's not for you, there's nothing stopping you from reaching out and saying that you want want to go into medical affairs. It's very fast paced and constantly changing. You can always challenge yourself to do something different and there's always opportunity.
"Especially with the personalized medicine that we're sort of coming into now - there's this whole arena of biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology that has yet to be discovered and explored, and as we get better at personalizing medicine to specific patient populations and even specific patients, there will just be more and more room for someone with a Pharm.D. training to go into this environment and help dictate where medicine is going to go and sort of change how we practice medicine. It's extremely exciting."
Gorse said that the contribution that pharmacists make to patients is just as important as that of community pharmacists, but isn't as transparent. "You can have a very close relationship with your community pharmacist, and that is a very important relationship - you need that trust and rapport. People aren't going to know me from Adam when I'm sitting in a cubicle or office somewhere. I won't have that deep personal relationship with my core group of patients. What I will have is the ability to affect change on the industrial program and protocol levels. I'll affect a wide breadth of people, but not to the same degree. We have different interactions, but our goals in the end are similar - we want patients to get better, to be cured, symptoms to be relieved. There are just different ways of going about it."
She said that the process of a student pharmacist deciding which branch of pharmacy to enter into as a career is "sort of discovering who you are as a person, and what skill sets you have, and in what arena you would be most useful to that end of the goal. Over the last couple of years I've worked in a ton of research labs, I've done some hospital work, community retail work, and compounding work. It was important work and all so interesting, but I didn't feel like it quite fit my skill set. I think it's very important to go out and experience everything I can, and by experiencing it can I find out if it's meshing with who I am as a person. The 10 weeks I spent this summer at Celgene was my first time at a job where I thought ‘this is where I need to be.'"
Getting an internship in industry is extremely competitive, and it can be more so if a student is not from a university that is located near a major pharmaceutical company. Gorse sent out 400 applications and for her Celgene internship, 9,000 people applied and only 150 were accepted globally. Her fellow interns consisted of not only pharmacy majors, but also students who were majoring in physical therapy, engineering, biology, chemistry. The interns were put on teams that maximized their skill sets, so they could bring out the best in each other to work towards the common goal of changing the world.
Gorse says that pharmacists can apply directly to pharmaceutical companies after graduation, but fellowships, although extremely competitive, are a good way to get in and move up more quickly. She said that each year spent in a fellowship is the equivalent of 3-5 years of on-the-job experience. Student pharmacists who are interested in pursuing a career in industry should start to do their research early, since applications for fellowships are due in the 4th year of pharmacy school, and applicants should start looking at a year or 2 in advance.
She said that while they're still at Duquesne, student pharmacists who are interested in pursuing a career in industry should be in close communication with the School of Pharmacy's experiential directors so that they can prioritize time and open up the possibility of taking summer internships. She would also encourage them to take advantage of APPE rotations. "We learn a ton of skills here, and we're very, very valuable healthcare professionals. In this setting, they know how valuable we are, and they want us. There are so many opportunities. Industry is extremely complex, extremely lively and dynamic and things are always changing. Get on email lists and identify what companies, products and missions statements you like and what resonates with you."
Gorse didn't originally plan to become a pharmacist. She spent her freshman year as a chemistry major at Villanova University, where she also planned to get a masters degree and end up in sports dietitian sciences. After transferring to Duquesne, she spent two years as a chemistry major before transferring into the professional phase at the School of Pharmacy. "I always knew chemistry was my passion. Back in high school, chemistry was what made me care about school and made me a good student. I wasn't a great student before I had gen chem, but something clicked in my mind and I thought ‘this makes sense,' so I went that direction. But I felt was losing humanistic portion. It seemed like pharmacy was a good fit to have the science and the chemistry that I loved, but also be able to communicate that and have the goal to better to world for patients, and that meant something to me."
Gorse grew up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Shaler Township and graduated from Shadyside Academy. Her parents are both trade athletic trainers who ended up in education. Her father, Keith, is a professor of athletic training at the Duquesne University Rangos School, and her mother, Betsy, is a middle school athletic director, gym and health teacher, and coach of multiple sports at Shadyside Academy. Her younger brother, Tyler, currently studies business at the University of Mt. Union in Ohio.
Last year, Gorse had the opportunity to represent Duquesne University School of Pharmacy on both a national and a global level as a member of the first place team for both the national and international segments of the Novo Nordisk 2016 Innovation in Action Case Competition.
Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.