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June 2022 is Pride Month which celebrates LGBTQ+ communities. To mark this month, we wanted to reach out to members of the LGBTQ+ community who work in pharmaceutical medicine to talk about their experiences.
We talked to FPM Fellow Dr Wally Landsberg about his career journey, his experiences working in pharmaceutical medicine, Pride Month and more. Read our interview with him:
Please could you tell us your name, a little bit about yourself and what work do you do?
I’m Wally Landsberg and I live in the UK and am employed by Kyowa Kirin (a Japan based global pharmaceutical company) as VP, Global Head of Medical Safety.
Please could you tell us about career journey? For example, how you moved into pharmaceutical medicine, your special interests?
I completed my primary medical training (MBChB) in South Africa followed by two years of Senior House Officer rotations in the NHS. On my return to South Africa, I completed my specialist training in General Adult Psychiatry. After working as a psychiatrist both in South Africa and in the UK, I joined the pharmaceutical industry in 2002 as medical adviser after serving on a regional advisory board a few months earlier. Since then I’ve worked in UK, European, and Global roles (mostly in medical affairs). My first manager in the industry encouraged me to enter the Diploma in Pharmaceutical Medicine course which I did back in 2002 and I subsequently progressed to being awarded my Dip Pharm Med and MFPM. I was elected as a Fellow of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine in 2010.
When and why did you join FPM? What does it mean to you?
I joined FPM in 2002. To me it offered the opportunity to join a community of like-minded professionals, and is invaluable for networking. Even now I still appreciate these privileges, but FPM has developed so much since I first joined. The ongoing professional development opportunities for pharmaceutical physicians, as well as the annual appraisals for revalidation have become more prominent over time.
June 2022 is Pride Month which celebrates LGBTQ+ communities. If you celebrate Pride month, could you tell us how you celebrate it and what it means to you?
I do celebrate the month but in a more subdued way now compared to the late 2000s. Although the message behind Pride has always been of a more political nature, it is the music, colour, sparkle, and characters that first attracted me to Pride events. To me it means a celebration of freedom and not having to apologise for who we are. It raises awareness of people living in situations or in countries where that right doesn’t exist or it is met with paranoia and persecution.
What do you personally feel can be done at individual and collective levels to raise awareness about the important issues that impact the LGBTQ+ community during Pride month and beyond?
We can send a clear message to existing and future FPM members that it is fine to be different in the way we live our lives, the way we express ourselves and how we identify. As professionals we all deserve to be judged on our professional knowledge, ethics and conduct and apply the same when dealing with others that we come across in our careers. Facts and experience shared with the community as well as an openness to learn from the LGBTQ+ community will go a long way.
Could you tell us how you feel about inclusivity and diversity within pharmaceutical medicine? Additionally, how do you feel about the issue of representation of the LGBTQ+ community within pharmaceutical medicine?
I have never experienced overt adversity or discrimination as a pharmaceutical physician, but I have previously (especially in the early days) been more selective and cautious when disclosing my orientation to colleagues. This approach in my single days unfortunately landed me in a couple of peculiar and funny situations where I had to turn down advances from others. I suspect however that caution may still be applied by others in all fields of medicine. Partly this may have related to the culture within the profession (which has changed dramatically for the better over the last decade or so), but also around the perceived awareness amongst colleagues on these issues. I feel this is where representation and discussion of the diversity of professionals within pharmaceutical medicine (and medicine as a whole) is extremely important, to encourage and allow all to feel comfortable and open to discussing their own identities on a personal and human level, if they should choose to. My experience is of course only from a white gay male perspective and does not represent the possible negative experience other members of our community may have endured in their careers.
What, if anything, do you feel can be done to improve diversity in pharmaceutical medicine, particularly as relates to the LGBTQ+ communities?
The fact that FPM reached out to individuals like me to share our experience is already a very positive step. However, more work needs to be done to improve knowledge and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues. Perhaps a Diversity in Action piece specifically focussed on LQBTQ+ experience within the speciality, and how the industry has taken significant steps over recent years to encourage openness and discussion of such issues, would be of benefit. Many pharmaceutical companies also celebrate Pride month and we can possibly share our experience with FPM and collectively devise a robust plan to improve diversity in our field.
Additionally, do you think there are any pressing health issues in the LGBTQ+ community that the science and specialty of pharmaceutical medicine should do more to address?
Not necessarily a health issue, but I think we can still do more to attract diversity of people into clinical research. As an example, clinical trial advertisements (guided by clinical trial protocols) often only mention male and/or female subjects in terms of gender, and therefore exclude everyone else not identifying into those two groups. The same approach is often followed when interpreting laboratory results with limited time spent on other potential options. This is an evolving field and by no means do I have the answers to these often complex situations, but I know that we need to get better at how we reach patients and healthy volunteers in the clinical and research environment.
We’re interested to hear about the experiences of members of the LGBTQ+ community who work in pharmaceutical medicine. Do you feel you have experienced any issues/ prejudices directly or indirectly as a result of your sexuality and if so what was the effect of it? Have things ‘changed’ over time?
I have not experienced any issues in my pharmaceutical career so far, and I have also asked a few friends who came up with a similar reply. There used to be a quite a bit of anxiety associated when moving to a different role or to a different company until you know that you are there because of your talent and not your orientation or identification. A decade or two ago, society in general was more conservative, and the workplace reflected that but I have certainly experienced much more ease in the industry especially if you choose to discuss these matters with colleagues.
Is there anything that FPM can do to better support our LGBTQ+ community?
None that I can identify personally or from experience of working with others. With particular focus on mental health and wellbeing as with other organisations and professions, a cultural acknowledgement of diversity and promotion of inclusion would be of paramount importance for improving wellbeing within the specialty. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful if we could reach a point of knowledge and acceptance so that we don’t need Equality, Diversity and Inclusion groups in organisations anymore.
Is there someone who you look up to who has made a difference to the LGBTQ+ community?
There have been too many exceptional people who have set very courageous examples to mention only one. My personal favourites include trailblazers as activists, artists, authors, sporting heroes as well as pioneers like Harvey Milk, Marsha P Johnson, Barbara Gittings, Peter Tatchell, and RuPaul Charles. I also admire the courage of individuals like Tom Daley and Nicola Adams who positively use their fame as a platform to convey the message that acceptance of yourself doesn’t mean you have to compromise on success in whatever you do in life.
Dr Wally Landsberg
FFPM, DPM, MBChB, MMed(Psychiatry)