You’re a what?
What is your job?
I am a pharmacoeconomist and the global manager of health economics for cancer drugs at a pharmaceutical company. Specifically, I am in charge of the oncology drugs.
What do pharmacoeconomists do?
As its name suggests, pharmacoeconomics combines the studies of pharmacology and economics. We use mathematical techniques to calculate the health benefits associated with a drug but also the money, materials, and other assets attached to the use of the drug. In simple terms, I am the person who decides if investing X dollars in the treatment of Y disease is worth it or not.
I also participate in my company’s design of clinical trials, focusing on quality of life for the patient. We have to quantify patients’ quality of life as one measure of the effectiveness of a drug.
Describe a typical day.
I spend a lot of my day in meetings, speaking with people from different countries to try to determine appropriate pricing for their market.
Most of my meetings take place in the morning, since the company I work for is headquartered in the United Kingdom. After lunch, I spend the afternoon reading papers, analyzing data, and summarizing evidence. I condense all of this information into a slide show to share with colleagues so that we can determine the costs and benefits of a drug.
I spend 35 to 45 percent of my time traveling. A lot of the travel is international, to meet with people working for regulatory groups.
How did you become interested in this occupation?
I am originally from Colombia, where I worked as a physician in a hospital ICU (intensive care unit) for a couple of years. When I was finishing my medical degree, I wanted to learn more about how I could implement research into my general practice. The more involved I got in research, the more I realized that I could have a greater impact on society by helping with healthcare resource allocation than by being a clinical practice physician.
Tell me more about your career path.
In medical school, I had a special rotation in clinical epidemiology and biostatistics. During that rotation, I got involved in developing clinical guidelines for assessing whether the government should guarantee drug coverage. I gained experience using mathematical models to determine how drugs impacted quality of life.
I did not have any formal training in economics or statistics at that point, so I decided to get a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical health services research with a concentration in pharmacoeconomics. I came to the United States for an internship focused on measuring inequalities in care for mental health. After the internship, I completed my Ph.D. and started in my current position with a pharmaceutical company.
My career path is unique, but I think it has helped me in my work. My experiences working in two different healthcare systems, U.S. and Colombia, and as a physician have given me a perspective that others may not have.
How do pharmacoeconomists usually get into the occupation?
There is no easy answer to this question. The field is developing, and it connects multiple areas: mathematics, statistics, public health, health administration, epidemiology, medicine, and pharmacology. However, most of the time, your level of education determines how far in your career you can reach.
A pharmacoeconomist needs to be well versed in health-related topics but also in economics. It is common to see pharmacists who have advanced degrees or fellowships in management and economics or economists with advanced degrees in economics who have done extensive health research.
What do you like best about your work?
That I can combine knowledge from multiple disciplines to guide better decision making. Before I started my Ph.D., I knew I wanted to be in this position. The work that we do will have a positive impact on people’s lives and improve their health.
I also like that I have the ability to move into different areas of the company, if I wish.
What do you dislike?
We spend a lot of time in front of a computer. It is unavoidable. It is a necessary part of the job, but it can be tiring.
Additionally, the marketplace moves so fast that it can be hard to keep pace with all of the changes. There are economic changes and healthcare systems changes.
What advice do you have for prospective pharmacoeconomists?
I would recommend that anyone interested in pharmacoeconomics participate in research as soon as possible in their career or education. There are many kinds of research, not only in a lab but also when talking to people or analyzing data. And although sometimes you may work with limited direction, other times you may need to work as part of a multidisciplinary research team. Try to get as much exposure as possible in different settings.
In addition to having a degree, having an interest in healthcare costs and pharmaceuticals and a good understanding of mathematical models will serve you well in this field.
Pick a job based on where it is going in the future. Look at projections of which occupations are growing, and you can see what skills to focus on. There are exciting opportunities as a pharmacoeconomist for someone with the right training and background.
About the Author
Ryan Farrell is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Ryan Farrell, "Pharmacoeconomist," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020.