Interview with Dr. Kerri Best-Sule

In this interview, Dr. Kerri Best-Sule shares her tactics for making the switch from full-time pediatrician to drug safety professional in the Pharma Industry.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule is a certified pediatrician who shifted to the safety sector of the pharmaceutical industry at a relatively early stage in her professional life. She received her pediatric residency training from the University of Maryland and practiced outpatient pediatrics for three years before transitioning to the pharmaceutical industry in the fall of 2022. She is presently employed as a Safety Physician concentrating on vaccines.

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Her Journey

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule was seeking a career change to prioritize her family. She wanted to find a position that would leverage her medical degree and clinical experience. She joined the Physician Nonclinical Career Hunters Facebook group and read about people's experiences transitioning to different careers, including insurance and pharmaceuticals.

Kerri also listened to career-related podcasts. She found the safety field in the pharmaceutical industry to be the most appealing. It would allow her to use her clinical skills while working on developing new vaccinations.

She applied for a contract role and staffed a small project after hours while still working as a pediatrician. Eventually, she learned of a full-time position on the vaccine team and applied for it, highlighting her work as a pediatrician to help her land the role.

Transitioning from Clinical Practice to the Drug Safety Professional

Kerri provided suggestions for making the shift from full-time clinician to pharma safety:

  1. Take your time and explore all the options before making a decision to leave clinical practice.
  2. Consider taking a contract role first to see if it's really what you want to do. If possible, continue working as a clinician until you're certain about moving full-time into nonclinical work.
  3. Prepare your resumé specifically for the pharma industry.
  4. Be prepared for a different hiring process than what you may be used to when pursuing clinical jobs. Apply for a lot of positions and be ready for rejection.
  5. Keep networking and making connections as it may lead to opportunities in the future.

Dr.Kerri Best-Sule's Advice

What works for you may not work for someone else.


Dr. Kerri Best-Sule, a former pediatrician, transitioned to the pharmaceutical industry without prior research experience. She started with a part-time contract role and eventually secured a full-time position in Pharma Safety, working with vaccines. Part-time contract positions available in some companies can provide valuable experience for physicians looking to transition to the pharma industry.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode. 

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 299

What Does It Take to Pivot from Caring Pediatrician to Drug Safety Professional?

- Interview with Dr. Kerri Best-Sule

John: I recently connected on LinkedIn with today's guest. She's uniquely qualified to answer some of the questions that I get from listeners, actually quite commonly. Questions like are there nonclinical jobs for pediatricians? How do I break into biopharma industry? And what kind of jobs are there in pharma? So, let's welcome Dr. Kerri Best-Sule to the show today.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Hi, thanks for having me today. I'm glad to be here.

John: Excellent, excellent. I don't know how old you are, but you're one of our younger guests in terms of your career. I usually am talking to people who have been out 10, 15, 20 years. So it's good to speak to someone younger and really you have some experience, which I think a lot of our listeners are going to be really interested in hearing about.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Wonderful.

John: So why don't you just go back and talk to us maybe about your medical education, including med school, residency and so forth, and then how you segued into your first real job.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Okay. For me, I did my undergraduate in Baltimore Hopkins and then I went off to Chicago and I did my medical school at Loyola Stretch School of Medicine. I loved it there, but then brought myself back home to Maryland and did my pediatric residency at University of Maryland. Maryland was kind of my home. I loved peds, kind of took to doing outpatient peds. I liked doing like the well child visits and seeing kids grow. So, my first job out of residency was in an outpatient clinic.

Actually, just to segue, your first job is never really your final job, but I did briefly work at an urgent care which got bought out. So, I was only there for like three months before they got bought out. And then I went to work at a primary care office. I worked there actually for three years after residency. Wonderful.

During that period, I started before COVID obviously. And medicine was very different. COVID happened and then things kind of dimmed down for outpatient and then we kind of went back to normal. It got a lot busier, just because of staffing shortages. Our nurse ended up leaving us. Then we had a lot of MAs leaving and the volume was obviously still there for patients.

So, it became very busy, but I still liked it. During this period I became a mom, so I had my first child and then I felt like a lot of my priorities kind of started to change, which is what took me into finding different career options that would help me for my lifestyle essentially.

John: Okay. What kind of a clinic or what size was it? Were there a couple of you there? Were there lots of people around? What was that like?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: We were a very large clinic. We had eight providers total. We had two nurse practitioners, a physician assistant, and then the other five of us were doctors. So we had a very, very large patient population and we all pretty much split call. We didn't work on weekends, which was good. But we did have evening hours until 7:00 PM and we did walk in. So kind of like an urgent care in the morning also.

John: Now you were saying you got really busy because of the pandemic and the staffing. Was it that more responsibility was put on the physicians to kind of handle things?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Yes. When we lost our nurse, we started to lose MAs. A lot of the work kind of got shifted so the nurse wasn't there. So the providers kind of just picked up the work that she was doing. We would do our own prior offs. Now we didn't have anybody to triage our phone calls, so now we had to do all the phone calls. When we're short in MAs, that means we had to double up. So we're sharing an MA with somebody. And a lot of times in peds, we double book patients anyways because we're trying to make sure we can get our sick kids in. We have to get those newborns in after they're delivered. So a lot of times we double book, but if we're short at MA, usually that means some of the providers we end up triaging our own patients. So we're getting our own vitals and stuff that usually MA does.

It just became very busy because we're trying to double book, we're trying to act as an MA, we're trying to triage patient phone calls. So essentially, we were working through lunch, we were staying later at the end of the day to see patients and then at the end of that we would have to go through the MyChart, which all physicians love of course. And do all the patient messages that came through.

It just seemed to be like a never ending task and then you would go home and be on call. So there was always work, especially for the outpatient. I feel like a lot of the outpatient providers understand there's always work.

And for me, when I became a mom, for me, my priority number one is my family. I want to spend time with my daughter, I want to spend time with my husband. And before I had a child, I was totally okay. I can go home, I can finish my notes, things like that. After I had my child, I felt literally I was always running to do something. I would get home and then it's like, "Okay, you have to cook dinner, you have to get her stuff ready for daycare the next day, you have to give her a bath. Once she sleep, now you can finish trying to do any notes." On the weekend I was always finishing notes. So it was a very different ballgame than the lifestyle I have now having entered pharma.

John: Yeah, that kind of reminds me of a couple things. We were talking before we got on here, it's like, I forgot that big thing happened that a couple of years ago, the pandemic. But it reminded me I was in the clinic once, because I was working in urgent care at the time and we went from just shutting our doors for a little while to once the testing came out, we were collecting and sending out tests and I remember being on my chart and it took me 25 clicks to be able to open, look at and then import the record of the test done of the COVID by the patient and then call the patient. But it literally took me longer to put the result in. I think I put those days out of my mind.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: These are going to be forgotten.

John: Definitely, I don't want to think about it. Now everything is integrated like it was, but there's still staffing problems going around I think.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: There's still a very much shortage for healthcare. I feel like a lot of people have kind of gotten burnt out from it or just had a sour taste in their mouth.

John: Yeah, absolutely. So, you had your priorities of course and said, "Hey, I need to try something different. I can't be not spending time with my daughter when I'm going home. It's kind of ridiculous." So, what did you decide? How did you go about thinking, "Okay, what am I going to do?" You could have done maybe some different form of clinical, you could have done nonclinical. So take us through that thought process.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Yeah. When I initially figured out, okay, I need to make a lifestyle change for me in order to prioritize my family and things like that, I started thinking of other careers. I still wanted to use my MD. We worked so hard to get this degree. I still wanted to use my MD.

A friend had told me about the Nonclinical Careers for Physician's Facebook groups. I joined that. I read through tons and tons of posts about people going into the insurance realm, people going into pharma, which for me I had never knew anything about. I feel like I actually spend a few months kind of just watching people post things and reading things.

And then I went onto different podcasts. A lot of people recommended podcasts. So I started listening to episodes and throughout that I felt what resonated the most with me was the pharmaceutical industry and more so the safety field of pharma, which is what I currently work in. I'm a safety physician for a pharmaceutical company and I work in vaccines.

And I felt like that resonated the most for me just because in safety you can use a lot of your clinical skills while they're working on developing new drugs. And then for me, since I'm on the vaccine team, more so new vaccines. I felt like my skills would translate a lot easier going into safety than there would if I were going into a research job. Just because for me, I haven't done research in years and years. So, I felt I could actually use my clinical skills more so on the safety side.

John: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense because like you said, they might be looking for people that have some actual hands-on experience with research if you're looking at the clinical investigative side. But yeah, sometimes you can get around that. But you're right, with the safety or some people call pharmacovigilance or whatever, you really have to assess just patients to see if they might be having some complications, some adverse side effects, whatever from a drug or a vaccine. But it does make me think about pediatrics, vaccines, is that kind of the tie in to this?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Yeah, that's how I actually decided on this. When I first decided I wanted to go into pharma, going into pharma is very hard and we don't already have it in. It's lots and lots of applying. I actually had applied for a contract role first, which is my first job that I got with GSK, the company I work now. And that was a contract role for a small project. I was still working as a pediatrician. This was a project that I was staffing after hours and it was on the farmer side. So, with the drugs, not with the vaccine.

And while I was doing that, then I learned that the vaccines team had a full-time position opening. So I applied to that and that's how I was able to segue into that role. And a lot of farmer jobs do want you to already have pharma experience. A lot of times it all just depends on being able to translate your skills into how it will help for that role. But then for me also since I had been in that contract role, that helped. And then the hiring manager also spoke to my boss from the contract role to ask about me, because he told me about that. I think that helped me be able to get this full-time role with GSK.

John: Okay. Now, that's something I have not heard before. Now, I've heard of contract research organizations that sometimes hire physicians on a contract basis. And then that's a good segue. Was this a so-called contract or 1099 or whatever you might call it? Was that through GSK directly or was it through a third party?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: It was not. It was through a third party. When I applied for it, it actually didn't even say the company that it was for. And then when the lady told me they wanted to interview me, she told me it was for GSK, which really shocked me. I was very excited about it and they were actually hiring pretty fast to get a worker to work on because it was for a position to cover their evenings and to staff the project on Saturdays.

So, it allowed me to still work my pediatrician job because most clinical jobs you have to give a notice. And my job required 90 days notice. I didn't have to do my notice at that time. I could work on the project and still do my peds job, see if I actually liked the role. And when I realized I did like it, that's when I knew, okay, I'm going to pull the trigger, I'm going to apply to this full-time role in vaccines and I'm going to put my notice in.

John: Now when you were looking for the position, tell us, first simple question. Was it listed as a part-time job so you knew from the get go at the beginning?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Yeah. It was a part-time job and the website that I had used, it was called SystemOne. And anytime you apply for jobs, the same lady would call me based on the job. I think she was the person based on my location. She had called me actually about a different job that I had applied for and she told me that this job was going to be listed but it hadn't been listed yet. So, she told me to look out for it the next day so I could apply to that too. But yes, on the role it said it was going to be part-time and it told the hours it was going to be and that it was just for a contract role.

John: And how did you come across? You said it was called SystemOne, was the company she worked for. So, where did you find that?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: I feel like I ended up on the website just from a Google search. When I was searching from jobs, I used LinkedIn, I used Google, I literally went through so many different avenues to try to find pharma roles because not everything is on LinkedIn, but a lot of the roles are. But when you first start I felt like I just wasn't having any success with LinkedIn. And when I found that website I at least felt like, "Oh, well, at least a person is calling me and I know they're putting my application through to someone." A lot of them still weren't successful, but that contract role ended up being successful. But I think I just stumbled upon it based on Google.

John: And do you remember, had you at that point submitted many resumes online?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Oh yes. I'll definitely recommend for me, I feel like when I started applying, I was applying pretty blindly. I hadn't updated my resume and select the pharma resume yet. I feel like I started blindly, which was very bad and I would never recommend that to anyone because I felt like I was immediately getting those auto rejections. And then going through that Facebook group, people recommended sites to help translate your resume into a pharma resume and not just your clinical resume. So, that's when I did that and then started to apply more directly. And then I felt like I start to get some success.

John: Nice. Well, that's good though. You got started, you were trying to submit but then you learned as you went and you just tweaked it and proved it and got better at it. So, that's great. All right, that's really useful information for our listeners I think. You're early in the career here. How has it been so far? Even the contract job. Has it been pretty? Have you liked what you're doing so far?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: I love what I do so far. In terms of the safety side, we do causality, so assessing for any safety signals. As a physician when you see something you're trying to determine is this adverse event related to our product or could this be something else? Obviously, if somebody submits the patient had a heart attack, but then you're like, "Wait a minute, this patient was obese, they're old, they're a smoker." You see all these other factors, then you can weigh what you think on that. But I feel like it's a lot of using my clinical skills.

Now safety also does a lot of other things too, working with the regulators and doing a lot of different reports to report the safety profile for the vaccine. So, there are a lot of tasks that we do, but I actually really like it because I feel like there's so many smart people in pharma. You get to work with epidemiologists, you get to work with scientists. All these people are coming together. So, it's a lot of collaborating versus as a physician it's just you and your patient.

And sometimes I do feel like I might miss that patient care. But I know the sacrifice I made is more so for my family. And I am still helping patients. I'm helping a greater amount of patients because we're working to make sure we create new vaccines that are safe for the population.

John: Now in the current role, are you working on pretty much any kind of vaccine or is it mostly the ones in children?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: We have a range of profiles for vaccines. The project that I am on, I'm doing one adult vaccine and one kids vaccine. So I kind of have a mix of both. It's actually really, really nice.

John: Did you get a sense, was it your work ethic and maybe your background and so forth with your education? Was it the fact that you were a pediatrician? Did that have some impact on it or was that immaterial?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: I will definitely say for this role, I think being a peds person with a peds background helped because in the job role they asked if you were a pediatrician or infectious disease. They wanted somebody from those two backgrounds and actually, our team had hired a bunch of people at one time. So, we hired three doctors and then three safety scientists. And of the three doctors we hired, we were all pediatricians. And our VP for our team is also a pediatrician. It really helped because we're on the vaccine team. So they pretty much wanted peds or infectious disease, somebody who works with vaccines.

John: Do you have a sense from the other people that you're working with, the other pediatricians, was their background a lot different from yours or was it very similar?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: I will definitely say I am the one with the least experience from the pharma side from what they hired. I do feel like since it is very hard to get into pharma, they do like a lot of experience. One of the other pediatricians that was hired has been working in pharma for a medical reviewer for about four years now. So, she's switching from just doing medical review to doing the whole pharmacovigilance. But she's been in it for four years.

And then the other pediatrician they hired has been in it for numerous, numerous years, way longer than that. I'm the one obviously with the least experienced. But again I think it helped me just because since I had that contract role with GSK, they actually had somebody they could talk to, to vet me on like my work ethic and how I was. And I think that kind of helped push me forward a little bit.

John: All right. The other question I wanted to ask you about, since you were relatively new out of training, three, four years or so. What advice do you have if you want to go back to let's say the residents that are still back there thinking about their first job, looking back at what you did and how that worked out? Any advice for them in terms of how to decide about your first clinical job.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Yes, especially for me. I would definitely say try to speak to other workers from the company because again, since my first job was at an urgent care that I thought they hired me and another person at the same time. We did our onboarding at the same time and at no point was it mentioning that they were going to be getting bought out. So we went through all this and then when we started they were like, "Yeah, in a few months this will be no longer." I feel like it would've been very helpful for me to actually talk to an employee. They probably would've told me that beforehand and I wouldn't have been in that situation.

When I went to find my next job though, one of my co-residents had already worked with the group. So, I was able to talk to her and she actually loved it. And I loved my teammates from that group, they were all wonderful. I loved working with them. But for me again it was just more so where I am at in my life right now, it was not the best thing for my family. I think that's important for everybody to realize. What works for you may not work for someone else.

But for me and my family I just really needed to switch out of the clinical to get a better work-life balance. I felt like a lot of women when we become moms we often get to the point where we feel like we have to go to part-time or decrease even more. And I did decrease my hours when I had my baby and it still felt even though I come my hours short, since we were double booking, I was still pretty much staying the whole time. I'm in a physician mom's group and a lot of us, we ask "How do you do everything?" And people are like, "Oh, hire a house manager, switch to 20 hours." And I'm like, why should we have to sacrifice this much just to have a reasonable work-life balance?

And now in pharma, you get to work from home, you can go into the office once a week. If you have a doctor's appointment, you can go. If your child is sick, you can get them. Before, if daycare called me I'm like, I'm sorry, you need to call my husband or call grandma because I cannot leave. So, it was very different. Just for me where I'm at right now and my family life, this is what made the best decision for me. It worked best for me.

John: And the job you're doing now is a full-time job, correct?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Correct. It's a full-time job.

John: So, it's easier in the full-time job working for pharma than the so-called part-time job doing clinical.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Exactly. That's why it's so crazy that literally every day I'm like, "Why?" I don't understand why we feel like we have to sacrifice so much to do it, but I feel like we put in a lot of work in medicine and I feel like that's just the expected norm, but we should also be able to still balance our life.

John: I could pontificate on this. I think as professionals in the past it's like, "Okay, well, you have to be responsible for your patients so you need to be available all the time." But really I think it would almost be better if they just paid us hourly. And if I'm working, I get paid. And then if I stop working, I'm not getting paid. Fine and I'm going home.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Then they would realize all the extra work they get to do because there's so much work that has to be done on home hours basically.

John: Okay. Well, maybe you've had this conversation with the other members of the physician moms groups or the Facebook group, but we're going to end it a little bit here. So the last thing I want to ask you about is what advice do you have for someone like you early in their career? Maybe they have already started their first job but they are already getting burned out. Any particular advice that you'd like to give to those physicians?

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Yeah. I would definitely say obviously don't jump the gun. You definitely want to explore all the options. You really want to make sure leaving clinical is what you want. Again, for me, I put my foot in the door by taking the contract role first. I was able to do two at one and kind of decide if that's really what I wanted to do. Not everybody may be able to do that, but you really just want to take the time to actually process and see if you are okay leaving patient care behind.

A lot of physicians if they don't know for sure, they will still do locums on the side. A lot of the pharma companies will still let you do locums on the weekends, things like that, one day a month if you still want to get some clinical care. But you really want to make sure you know for sure. And then please don't do what I did. Make sure you prep yourself. Make sure your resume is transitioned into more that corporate pharma resume and not your clinical resume. We do things very different when you're applying for clinical jobs.

And then lastly, I feel like when we're applying to clinical jobs, it's very easy as a physician when you apply to a job. You pretty much almost get whatever job you want. But when you're going out into the corporate world, it is very different. So you will have to apply to a lot of roles, you may get a lot of rejections, it takes a lot, but that is just the process. So, don't feel discouraged, just keep going. Try to make connections, try to network as much as possible. Sometimes it won't lead to anything, but you never know if you keep in touch with these people. If a role pops up in the future, they may think of you since they know you want to switch over to pharma.

John: That's really good advice. And I think this is just the kind of interviews that my listeners really like. Someone that's done it, done it recently, been successful and there's just so many different bits of tips and strategies that they're going to find useful. So, I really appreciate you coming on and talking to me today. It's been great, Kerri.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Thank you for inviting me.

John: Oh, you're welcome. All right. With that I'll say goodbye and hope to see you around LinkedIn sometime.

Dr. Kerri Best-Sule: Thank you. Goodbye.


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