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So, You Want to Be a Pharmacoeconomist

4 AUGUST 2000

So, you're part way through a Ph.D. in biochemistry, but reading the other articles in this feature has piqued your interest in pharmacoeconomics as a career. How many opportunities are there, and what do you need to do to get the qualifications to become a pharmacoeconomist? To find out, Next Wave spoke to two prominent pharmacoeconomists--Jean Paul Gagnon, currently director of public policy at Aventis, and Mark Fendrick, associate professor of both internal medicine and health management and policy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


In addition to his medical degree, Fendrick holds a bachelor's degree in economics and chemistry. He became interested in pharmacoeconomics when he realized as an undergraduate that he'd be working with patients much sooner as a health management student than he would going the premed route. And now, with his varied responsibilities in the clinical practice, clinical research, pharmacoeconomics, health policy, and teaching domains, he is delighted with the career choices he has made.


Like many practicing pharmocoeconomists, Gagnon's path to his current position has also taken a number of turns. And whereas Fendrick's background includes both economics and clinical work, Gagnon's focus--he has a B.S. in pharmaceutical sciences and master's and Ph.D. degrees in pharmacy administration--has always been closely aligned to the business management side of things.

Gagnon's interest in pharmacoeconomics as a discipline grew out of consulting projects studying the cost-effectiveness of medicines and other treatments as well as his familiarity with health policy bodies in the U.S. He stressed that there is currently a distinct shortfall in the numbers of working pharmacoeconomists, the result, in part, of rapid advances in medical research and technologies, the cost-effectiveness of which need to be properly evaluated. Because of this shortfall, and because of the multidisciplinary nature of the work, Gagnon says, individuals from all backgrounds, including research science, are welcomed into the pharmacoeconomics fold.

Fendrick echoed Gagnon's point, pointing to the steady increase in health care costs as a percentage of U.S. GDP and the ongoing need--from the perspective of both pharmaceutical companies and clinicians alike--to deliver the best possible health care at the best possible price. The pool of available pharmacoeconomists is being depleted further, says Fendrick, as pharmaceutical companies shift toward ever earlier analyses of cost-benefit predictions during the drug discovery process.

Both Fendrick and Gagnon proffered a number of suggestions for individuals interested in pursuing careers in this "wonderful meld of the world of medicine and the world of business." Both scientists mentioned the burgeoning numbers of dedicated training programs--mostly at the master's level and often in association with pharmacy or medical schools--that are being established on both sides of the Atlantic. And if you'd prefer not to go for a master's degree, Fendrick stated that the University of Michigan is one of a small but growing number of U.S. universities that are offering postdoctoral training opportunities in pharmacoeconomics.

Another good possibility, said Gagnon, is the 10 to 20 fellowships sponsored by pharmaceutical companies each year in the U.S. These fellowships typically are established in conjunction with university departments and often allow successful applicants to continue their existing work while learning the ropes (and making excellent networking contacts!) at the sponsoring company. A third alternative that Gagnon said is particularly popular in Canada and the U.K. is short (i.e., 2 weeks) on-the-job training courses that allow for the rapid acquisition of new skills.

As for the longer term opportunities for those just starting a career in pharmacoeconomics, Gagnon's own resume would suggest that, as is the case in academia, senior management possibilities exist for those interested in pursuing them. And Fendrick--pointing to predictions of double-digit growth in the costs of health care as the U.S. population continues to age--made it clear that the current boom in opportunities for pharmacoeconomists is unlikely to slow any time soon.

Still interested? Visit Next Wave's resources page to find links to sites that should provide you with the detailed information you'll need. Happy hunting!