Are Students Ready to Take on Industry Fellowships?

By Amee Mistry, PharmD, RPh and Jordan Haines, 2019 PharmD Candidate MCPHS University

As a student pharmacist in my fourth professional year, I have started preparing for the stress of the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting and trying to understand what makes an ideal fellowship candidate. More and more there is a trend for PharmD students to pursue opportunities outside of the traditional community or hospital setting after graduation. The biopharmaceutical industry has a number of career options within various departments (i.e. functional areas) for students looking to take on a non-traditional role. Some pharmacy schools offer an industry elective course for students to learn more about the different departments within the biopharmaceutical industry.1 For example, MCPHS University has Fundamentals of the Biopharmaceutical Industry, which is offered as a professional didactic elective in the P3 year (course catalog is here). If your school doesn’t offer an industry elective, there are numerous paid internships available through pharmaceutical companies along with opportunities to complete an advanced pharmacy practice experience for students in the final year of their program. Asking your experiential education department or career services department may be a great place to start!

Pharmaceutical industry fellowship programs provide PharmDs with post-graduate training opportunities, which can be either one or two years in length, and are based in a pharmaceutical industry corporate setting, with or without an academic affiliation. While there are various functional areas that offer fellowships, common areas include medical affairs, regulatory affairs, commercial functions, and pharmacovigilance.2 These areas, along with traditional career settings, demonstrate just how versatile a PharmD degree can be when considering career paths.

What does a student need to do to stand out and increase their chances of getting into a fellowship program? As part of the PharmD curriculum, I am involved in a research project that is looking into which characteristics and experiences fellowship employers are seeking in their ideal applicants. We developed a validated survey by creating a focus group of fellows from various functional areas. The focus group developed the survey tool and then pilot tested it among MCPHS fellows, preceptors, and directors. Based on feedback, modifications were made to the survey prior to the final version being sent out for data collection. A variety of factors can impact an individual’s ability to get accepted into a fellowship program, but the areas below were deemed critical by the focus groups and were included in survey:

  • Related Work Experience and APPE rotations
  • Employer Familiarity with Applicant
  • Professional Organization Involvement
  • Project Management
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Letter of Intent/ Curriculum Vitae/ Letters of Recommendation
  • Interview Performance

The survey was then sent electronically to industry professionals through the Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO) and current MCPHS Biopharmaceutical Industry directors, preceptors, and fellows. The 15 question electronic survey asked respondents to rank in order of importance characteristics and experiences they look for when reviewing and interviewing applicants based on the functional area the respondent works in.

Since not all students have the opportunity to take a pharmaceutical industry elective, complete an industry internship or APPE rotation, we believe the qualities mentioned above can also lead to obtaining a fellowship position. Research from Midwestern University has looked at what residency program directors are searching for in the ideal PGY1 residency candidate, which may differ from what fellowship employers are searching for. This article discovered familiarity with an applicant’s college of pharmacy and their hospital work experience were the most desired qualities of a PGY1 resident.3 We are hoping that our research will help students identify the desired characteristics and experiences that students need to secure a fellowship within the biopharmaceutical industry.

From our preliminary results, a total of 36 PharmD fellows and 72 industry professionals completed the electronic survey. The majority of respondents represented positions which included Medical Science Liaisons (n=19), Global Medical Affairs (n=16), Commercial Functions (n=12) and Global Regulatory Affairs (n=12). Preliminary results suggest that interpersonal skills and interview performance play a major part in a student’s success in getting a fellowship. Here are the characteristics considered most important by respondents across all functional areas:

  • Interpersonal skills (77%)
  • Critical thinking skills (71%)
  • Teamwork (69%)
  • Learning agility (69%)
  • Verbal communication skills (69%)

Of all experiences evaluated, on-site interview performance (95%) and ASHP midyear interview performance (83%) ranked most important. While only 24% of respondents considered relevant industry experience extremely important, 27% considered it neither important nor unimportant. This data suggests that while industry experience is important, students will be best prepared for fellowships if they have a variety of experiences that sharpen their interpersonal and critical thinking skills. While each functional area in the biopharmaceutical industry has certain qualities they are looking for in fellowship candidates, we hope that our preliminary results will give students a better understanding of experiences and skills they should have prior to applying to a fellowship program.

Thank you to the MCPHS Biopharmaceutical fellows who have helped to design the survey tool.


1. Hartman R, Blustein L, Morel D, and Davis L. A Pharmaceutical Industry Elective Course on Practice Experience Selection and Fellowship Pursuit by Pharmacy Students. Am J Pharm Educ. 2014;78(6):Article 126.

2. Fiore J, Hatfield J, Hu K, et al. High Demand: An Analysis of the Most Desired Functional Areas for PharmD Industry Fellowships and the Experiences that Lead to Obtaining a Fellowship. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Meeting; 2016 Dec 4-6; Las Vegas, NV. [poster]

3. Gohlke A, Rau DB, and El-Ibiary SY. Characteristics of the Ideal Postgraduate Year 1 Pharmacy Practice Residency Candidate. J Pharm Pract. 2014;27(1):84-88.

Amee's headshot 2015 FINAL

Dr. Amee Mistry is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Director of the MCPHS Biopharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program at MCPHS University. Educational scholarly interests include research within residency and fellowship post-graduate training standards, immunizations, and optimizing student retention in large classroom learning. In her free time, Dr. Mistry enjoys traveling with family spending time with her two children.


Jordan Haines is a 2019 PharmD candidate at MCPHS University. Educational scholarly interests include leadership development of students and research within orphan product development. In her free time, Jordan enjoys seeing new movies and spending time with family and friends.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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