What is a Pharmaceutical Physician?

Posted on: Saturday 26 August 2023

Embarking on a career in pharmaceutical medicine is a journey into a world that is as varied as it is rewarding. With its roots deeply embedded in the scientific, ethical, and commercial aspects of drug development, pharmaceutical physicians play a pivotal role in shaping the future of healthcare. In this blog post, we delve into the multifaceted realm of pharmaceutical medicine, exploring its challenges, excitement, fulfillment, and the international endeavor it represents.

Working life

The landscape of pharmaceutical medicine is expansive, catering to individuals with interests ranging from drug discovery to medicines regulation and medical affairs. In the commercial sector, pharmaceutical physicians must possess a comprehensive understanding not only of the science and ethics behind medicines development but also of pharmacoeconomics, marketing, business administration, and the broader socio-political landscape affecting public health.

How can I kick start my career?

While it’s possible to enter pharmaceutical medicine immediately after GMC registration, most employers prefer recruits with at least four years of clinical practice. Postgraduate training courses, examinations, and qualifications in pharmaceutical medicine provide a structured path for aspiring professionals.

Professionals often pursue advanced qualifications to enhance their expertise and career prospects. Two notable qualifications in this domain are the Diploma in Pharmaceutical Medicine (DPM) and the Certificate in Pharmaceutical Medicine (CPM).

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Is there any career progression?

Pharmaceutical medicine offers flexibility in career development. Some physicians gain experience across disciplines before taking senior roles, while others specialise early. As physicians accumulate experience, they may transition into management roles, contributing to corporate strategy and company management.

Where could you work?

Pharmaceutical medicine thrives in a challenging multidisciplinary environment, demanding high-calibre doctors who uphold the highest professional standards. While many pharmaceutical physicians work in pharmaceutical companies, others contribute their expertise to regulatory authorities, charities, and various positions requiring pharmaceutical medicine proficiency. Despite their predominantly non-NHS roles, these professionals maintain close connections with their medical counterparts in primary and secondary healthcare as well as universities.

As the physician gains experience, he or she is likely to become involved in line, team and project management, playing an increasingly important role in the development of corporate strategy and company management. Some physicians, having started in pharmaceutical medicine, then develop careers within the industry outside the medical remit and it is not unheard of for physicians to become managing directors or other senior nonmedical figures within pharmaceutical companies.

Even after more than 20 years, administering drugs that target new mechanisms of action still fascinates me. Will they do what we expect? Will any of the animal safety signals be found in man? Will this drug produce real clinical benefits? Will it be the next ‘blockbuster’?

Dr Phil Barrington MFPM
Senior clinical pharmacologist


What roles are there in Pharmaceutical Medicine?

Pharmaceutical physicians are engaged in various roles along the drug development pathway. Whether in clinical pharmacology, clinical research, or medical affairs, their in-depth medical training equips them to contribute effectively to the field. Some specific roles include:

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Clinical Pharmacologist

Clinical pharmacologists work closely with laboratory researchers involved in the preclinical stages of drug development. They are involved in the design and monitoring of studies of the effects of a new drug when they are tested in patients. They may take medical histories or perform physical examinations on people taking part in clinical trials.

Clinical research physician

A clinical research physician will contribute to a range of activities that may include advising on the design of clinical trials or conducting safety reviews of new medicines.


Medical Assessor

Medical assessors work within drug regulatory bodies and are involved in approving new trials and in the licensing of new medicines. They will carefully evaluate the evidence for whether a drug is safe and effective for patients.

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Regulatory Affairs

Those working in regulatory affairs are responsible for ensuring that companies comply with the strict regulations and laws that apply to the pharmaceutical industry. By overseeing the appropriate licensing, marketing and legal compliance of medicines, they play a key role in ensuring they are effective and safe for patients.


Medical Affairs

Working closely with marketing and sales colleagues in the commercial part of a company, medical affairs professionals will carry out a wide range of activities, including publishing reports from clinical trials, developing educational materials and providing safety information for healthcare professionals and patients.

Climbing to the top - steps


Pharmaceutical physicians working in pharmacovigilance are responsible for the monitoring and reporting of the effectiveness and side effects of medicines. They carry out analyses of clinical data to identify the safety profile of a medicine both during its development and throughout the time it is prescribed to patients.

I love the diversity of the role. Every day is different, and I get involved in such varied projects. I interact with external clinicians to support the drug development teams, sales and marketing to develop campaigns, and even politicians, charities and patient groups. I even still enjoy all the travel!

Dr David Montgomery FFPM

Senior Medical Advisor – Oncology

A career in pharmaceutical medicine is not just a job; it’s an adventure into a dynamic, ever-evolving field where professionals contribute to the well-being of populations globally. The diversity of roles, the international collaboration, and the continuous advancement of medical interventions make pharmaceutical medicine an exciting and fulfilling journey for those passionate about making a difference in healthcare.

If you’re intrigued by the prospect of becoming a pharmaceutical physician or want to learn more about this fascinating field, explore our Careers in Pharmaceutical Medicine FAQs for valuable insights and guidance on your journey.

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