The penultimate interview to celebrate pharmaceutical medicine’s 20 years as a UK medical specialty is with Dr Maya Morris, who kindly took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about her career in the pharmaceutical medicine.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the people involved and do not represent the views of the any company, nor, necessarily, represent those of FPM.
Dr Maya Morris’s career in pharmaceutical medicine spans almost 30 years, starting with her first job as a medical advisor for a small pharmaceutical company. Maya is a Fellow of FPM and works for AstraZeneca as its Global Head for Medical Quality and Standards; she is also the company’s responsible officer for revalidation.
KO: Why did you decide to leave clinical practice to work in pharmaceutical medicine?
MM: I knew people who already worked in the pharmaceutical industry. They told me about their jobs and I realised that there were some really interesting careers in the specialty – that was definitely the pull for me. And the push was that I was working in the health service at a time when a doctor could be working 100 hours a week on average, and I could see consultants in my specialty who were working ridiculous hours. I was also frustrated that, as a doctor, I was not making sufficient impact on the health outcomes of patients. I felt that too few patients who came to hospital left cured; there were a lot of patients who didn’t make it and there were a lot of patients you helped over a crisis, knowing they would be back in hospital. I wanted medicine to be better, and in the pharmaceutical industry you can help drive change by working with others to deliver new treatments and improve the future of medicine. So, it was a combination of push and pull factors.
How did you prepare for your first role in pharmaceutical medicine?
In terms of getting a job, I looked through the British Medical Journal for recruitment adverts – this was the publication where, in those days, entry level roles into the pharmaceutical industry were published. I was advised that a good way to enter the industry was to go to one of the recruiters that specialised in pharmaceutical medicine jobs. The BMJ adverts were often placed by recruitment agencies so I identified a local recruiter and arranged to meet them. They set me up with a couple of interviews and that’s how I got my first job. I knew people who worked in medical affairs and that it was a good area of the specialty to start my career, so that’s where I applied.
What challenges, if any, did you first encounter when you joined pharmaceutical medicine?
The biggest challenge was joining a specialty that was so different and new, but because I joined after making connections with people in the industry, I was given the very helpful advice to enrol on to the postgraduate diploma in pharmaceutical medicine course at Cardiff University, as soon as possible. And certainly, back then, it was a course that almost every physician joining the industry in the UK went on, and so you quickly built a network of other doctors who had recently joined the industry. The course was a good induction to the specialty, which helped grow my confidence in the role. A longstanding friend, who had worked in the pharmaceutical industry for some time, told me it that it would take a new entrant about six months before they knew what they were doing and about two years before they felt really settled working in the specialty, so I didn’t have expectations on myself that I would know exactly what to do from day one.
What advice would you give a doctor considering a career in pharmaceutical medicine?
Talk to pharmaceutical physicians – don’t be shy about contacting them. Throughout my career in pharmaceutical medicine, which spans over 25 years, doctors have contacted me regularly for advice about how to make the transition from clinical practice to pharmaceutical medicine. All the doctors I spoke to successfully made the move within about six months of our conversations.
Speaking to people working in the pharmaceutical medicine is invaluable because it will give an idea of the different career options in the specialty, which helps individuals to understand what sort of role would best suit them.
Nowadays, companies do their own direct recruitment, so I advise doctors to browse company websites for recruitment adverts and to connect with industry people on LinkedIn. The internet has made resources accessible, but there is more to browse through, so you do need to spend some time doing desk-top research.
What posts have you held in pharmaceutical medicine?
I first worked in medical affairs with a small pharmaceutical company that was part of a huge chemical company. I then moved to what is now Merck Serono as a senior Medical adviser and eventually became their UK medical director. I completed an MBA while I was working there, and the course influenced my interest in working in a global role. That led me to a role leading Medical Affairs for AstraZeneca’s UK affiliate. I was promised this would lead to a global role, which soon materialised as a role in global corporate affairs, leading AstraZeneca’s community support.
It was not a job a person with a medical background would normally do, but it was a fantastic experience because all the community programmes were health orientated and the programmes had a such positive effect on the health outcomes of patients in multiple countries across the globe. I was able to apply my medical knowledge to design programmes that would be truly impactful. After a couple of years working in corporate affairs, I needed to get back to a core area of pharmaceutical medicine, so I moved back to a global role in medical affairs.
Global roles tend to focus on specific work areas – mine was originally medicine promotion. My role grew over time and I started covering other regulated areas such as drug safety, and operations quality for our local affiliates, as well as medicines promotion. I’m also AstraZeneca’s responsible officer for revalidation.
Can you describe the impact COVID pandemic has had on your workload and those of your colleagues?
The biggest impact on my team’s work was the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine. Media interest in AstraZeneca and the volumes of COVID-19 vaccine needed, increased workload in all areas under my responsibility, apart from my responsible officer role.
Is balancing commercial priorities with your role as a doctor a challenge?
People who work in the pharmaceutical industry want to go to work, proud of what they do. A lot of people who work in pharmaceutical medicine are healthcare professionals and scientists and they are rightly proud of the positive impact they have on patients. Most pharmaceutical companies list patients’ interests as one of their core values. As a pharmaceutical physician, you remain a doctor first and have an important role, leveraging your clinical experience, to help non-healthcare professional colleagues to make patient-centred decisions.
Why does AstraZeneca encourage its pharmaceutical physicians to undertake PMST?
It is mostly our UK pharmaceutical physicians who undertake PMST. Those who have taken the specialty training programme, appreciate its value and so encourage new entrants to undertake it. Physicians who have completed PMST have a good understanding of other areas of the company that they don’t work in, enabling them to see the potential opportunities and risks beyond just their own role. So, they will understand how medicines are developed, the commercialisation of products, what is needed for health technology appraisals, drug safety monitoring and industry regulation. Completing PMST helps them become well-rounded pharmaceutical physicians.
Pharmaceutical medicine has been a recognised UK medical specialty for 20 years. Where do you see pharmaceutical medicine in another 20 years’ time?
I’m not entirely sure how much the specialty will change. I do think the use of digital technology will change how the pharmaceutical industry develops new medicines and may lead to a broader product than just new medicines. Remote working will be a bigger part of the job and business travel will decrease, but not disappear.
There will still be a role for pharmaceutical physicians in medicines development. Many doctors attracted to the industry are scientists at heart who are driven by the idea that medicine is a science where they can affect the health outcomes of patients on a large scale.
Before we end the interview, what did you do to maintain your wellbeing during the COVID lockdowns, and did you do anything special to mark the end of the last lockdown?
The only new thing I started was yoga, which I did before work each day. That is until I got a Labrador puppy, and then walking the dog took over the yoga slot.