Interview with Dr. Laura McKain

This week our guest returns to highlight these 5 experiences you can use to land your first pharma job. She is the founder of the Physician Nonclinical Career Hunters Facebook group which has now over 19,000 physicians. And she last joined us in Episode 214 of the PNC Podcast.

Dr. Laura McKain is a board-certified physician with more than 10 years of pharmaceutical industry experience. She received her medical degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and completed her training in obstetrics and gynecology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

Her career transitioned to the pharmaceutical industry where she was involved in projects encompassing a broad range of therapeutic areas. For example, she provided medical leadership to a high-profile Women's Health clinical development program at Myovant Science.

She is well-known for running the 19,000-member Physician Nonclinical Career Hunters Facebook Group. And she has been coaching physicians and helping them optimize their resumés for many years.

She recently started the Pharma Industry Special Interest Group (PISIG). It is an active learning community for physicians in clinical practice separate from the Facebook group. 

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Pharma Industry Special Interest Group (PISIG)

The PISIG enables members to:

  • learn different pharma roles,
  • acquire knowledge about foundational industry work,
  • build skills to be a pharma/biotech candidate,
  • develop an effective resumé from your training and experience, and
  • receive expert advice and coaching during a job search. 

This learning is acquired during twice-monthly live calls and regularly scheduled recorded seminars.

Highlight These 5 Experiences

These are the five experiences that can be leveraged for the typical practicing physician:

  1. Using evidence-based medicine in practice to assess the risks and benefits of various medical therapies.
  2. Public speaking, such as didactics to students/residents/colleagues, patient educational presentations, and pharma speaker bureaus.
  3. Staying abreast of new therapeutic developments in your specialty.
  4. Involvement in clinical research as an investigator or being a physician who refers patients for participation in clinical trials.
  5. Regularly sharing experiences of adverse drug reactions to pharmaceutical manufacturers or the FDA, or participating in other formal systems for collecting safety information, such as registries or Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) programs.

You can use this information in your resume, during an interview whether it is phone or face to face, and even in your LinkedIn profile. These are things that expand upon what your professional experience is and what your professional experience has included.

Dr. McKain's Advice

“Networking is absolutely critical to making a career transition. I think talking to people who are already in these roles and getting their advice about things to do is really, really important. I think you can run across some of those people in the Facebook group.

“You can certainly find lots of experts on LinkedIn. And I think there's also just a really long list of experts that have appeared on your podcast, John, that people should also look for that are willing and able to help people in their career journey.”

Dr. McKain also reminded us that there are a number of pharma companies that offer fellowships. These drugs safety fellowships and more broad pharma biotech industry fellowships also pay you while you learn. The majority of fellows are offered a job once the fellowship is completed successfully.

During our interview, Laura mentioned that she would provide a written document with examples of phrases to describe your clinical experience in a way that Is relevant to a career in pharma. [Click the link to download that handout for free].


Most physicians can find experiences from their practices that will demonstrate transferable skills when applying for their first pharma job. And there are some tactics that can be implemented and completed in a short time frame. In that way, physicians will be able to improve their chances of getting that job, without acquiring a new certification or committing to a one- or two-year fellowship.

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

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Transcription - Highlight These 5 Experiences to Land Your First Pharma Job

- Interview with Dr. Laura McKain

John: The way I look at it, the reason that you come and listen to the podcast is because you want to be inspired by physicians that have made the transition to an unconventional or alternative career and you want to get advice about doing that. So that's why I brought today's guest back to the podcast. She was here back in episode 214, which I think was in September. I'd like to welcome her right now. Hello, Dr. Laura McKain.

Dr. Laura McKain: Hi John. It is a pleasure to join you again.

John: It's always fun to hear from someone who's an expert in career transition in general, but in pharma, it's always nice, because it's a huge demand and there's a lot of listeners that strongly consider going into a pharma nonclinical job but just don't know how to do it. So, I'm happy to have you here.

Dr. Laura McKain: It's a pleasure to be here. That's where I made my leap from clinical medicines to nonclinical career and I love talking about it. So, thank you.

John: Oh, you're welcome. I think some people may remember you from the previous episode, or they may recognize that name because you are the founder of the Physician Nonclinical Career Hunters Facebook group, which I looked at recently and I saw you passed another milestone.

Dr. Laura McKain: There are now over 19,000 physicians that are in the group, which is mind boggling in some ways, to me, maybe not in other ways. I know a lot of folks just join the group. We have to check out what's happening or what the possibilities are, but there are a hardcore group of anywhere between 4,000 and 8,000 members on a daily basis that are interacting in the group. And it's a busy and active and productive place, I believe.

John: Yes, it is. And it probably is mind boggling, at least if you look back to the first year when you started it, you probably never thought, "Oh yeah, someday I will have 18,000 - 19,000 people in here." So, it's amazing. I think there's a lot of groups that have come and gone in that timeframe.

Dr. Laura McKain: It's grown so organically. That's the amazing part. Yeah.

John: Well, we talked a little bit about that last time. And I think most of my listeners know about the group and hopefully most of them, if not all of them are members of the groups. Just go to Facebook and look for the Physician Nonclinical Career Hunters, and you'll find it. It's not really hard to find.

But I came across some other things as I was preparing for today. And that was that you have started something else. When I saw what you started, the name of the group, I thought, "Wait, did she do another Facebook group?" But no. Tell us about this other new thing that you started recently.

Dr. Laura McKain: It's not. It is a group that is on a separate platform that is really meant to be a place for physicians who are looking very specifically to transition their career into the pharma biotech world. It's not a course. It's really a forum for physicians to advance their knowledge, build skills and gain experience for a successful career in pharma. And we are a small group, but a mighty group. We are meeting and learning together and supporting each other during career hunting in the pharma biotech industry.

It has been just a wonderful group of physicians, many different therapy areas that are represented. We meet on a periodic basis throughout the month. We do some what we call office hours, which is just coaching about job hunting, interviewing, resume writing, networking, all of those sorts of things.

And then we have a really exciting monthly session called a regulatory seminar where the members of the group actually do some research and they prepare presentations about issues in pharma biotech, where they're learning, but they're also building experience in preparing these things that they can put on their resume actually. And then we also do some work on resumes as a separate session. It's been a great deal of fun and we've had several members that have gotten job offers and are starting a new career. It's been great.

John: That sounds awesome. And when I was looking at what you've got posted on the website, tell us about what your website is right now, before I forget.

Dr. Laura McKain: You can find information about the PISIG group at

John: Okay. I think there's really these live events. I don't know if they're events, but you're online with these members at least once or twice a month, is that what I'm hearing?

Dr. Laura McKain: We actually have four scheduled meetings a month, and then we also have been doing a couple of popup sessions. For instance, next week, we've got somebody coming to talk to us who has a career in pharma that we haven't heard a lot about. He's going to come and we're going to have a chance to do a Q&A with him. And then the other sessions are live sessions, but if somebody can't attend, everything is recorded so that you can go back and watch at your own leisure.

John: Nice. I thought, well, maybe it was Dr. McKain giving a lecture every few weeks, but no, it sounds like it's very interactive. You have guests come in and they have special expertise. So, if you've made the commitment to jump into pharma, but you're not ready for it, you don't know how to get ready for it, then it is something you should really look into. I know there's a pretty nominal fee, but it just sounds like it would be super valuable.

Dr. Laura McKain: And it really is a way to build your resume, especially if you're a really active participant. We do offer some training that you can put on your resume, but we also offer opportunities for the members to prove that they already have expertise that is transferable to industry. Put down that they participated, that they did a presentation on a certain drug safety issue or that they actually were meeting facilitators, that they have some of the skills that are important in business. It's not about learning. It's also about literally building solid experience that they can leverage.

John: It kind of reminds me of, let's say, like a course or something for medical writing, but as part of that, they actually had to create a portfolio when somebody reviews the writing. So, they're actually creating something that's going to help them apply for the jobs when it comes to that time. And that's why I want to talk to you today, because I want to have you tell us about some of these experiences that one could maybe identify, leverage when applying for a pharma job. Sometimes we have these experiences, but we don't know that they apply. And other times we maybe don't have the experience, but we could spend a few weeks or figure out how to get those experiences while we're preparing to apply for a job. So, that's what I want to segue into now is what about these transferable skills and how do we demonstrate those with experiences we either already have, or maybe can get in the short term. Give us a few examples.

Dr. Laura McKain: Oh, there's so many things. And a lot of the important experience you bring to pharma is your clinical experience. And it's not just saying, "Oh, I take care of patients every day." It's really about being able to articulate the knowledge and the skills that you use to take care of patients to be really specific about it.

For instance, the pharma industry is all about proving that their drugs are safe and effective. And doing clinical trials to demonstrate the benefit risk profile of drugs and building the evidence to support those statements. Well, you already have experience with that every single day. Especially because I think everyone practices evidence-based medicine, which is really looking to science and scientific methods to support the ways that we take care of patients. Just writing on your resume or describing in an interview how you already are very much involved in the use of that evidence generation and the understanding of it. You can simply talk about things about how you always practice according to professional guidelines and what those clinical guidelines are and that they are truly evidence based.

You can talk about things about how you regularly use your formal training, because we all have had some formal training in clinical research methods, how studies are designed, biostatistics and even what we all know about drug development that you use, that knowledge when you personally evaluate the strength of the evidence and how applicable that is to your clinical practice. It's things that you do every day, but it's putting words within that align with what happens in pharma. So that's one example.

John: Now if you were explaining or describing that to somebody or in an interview, I suppose it would be really helpful if somehow you could use the language around like evidence-based medicine, because there are levels of evidence and you're understanding of those levels, which I'm not really at this point able to list, but I mean to say level A versus E or whatever the vernacular is. I did the study and I would imagine too, that in a physician who uses a certain class of drugs a lot and particularly maybe one or two, I suppose, particularly if they're newer drugs, but I can think of cardiologists. I can think of pediatricians that use drugs for ADD or that kind of thing. They're really experts in those drugs. And then, like you said, they could have that conversation about their experiences and how they decided to choose those drugs. That's what I'm hearing.

Dr. Laura McKain: Exactly. Don't all of us pretty much try to stay up to date with the latest, greatest of what's going on in their area of expertise? We read journals. We attend medical conferences. We read safety reports that come out when there's news about some new unidentified risk associated with a therapy that our patients may be using. We stay up to date on all of that and it directly relates to what's happening in what the pharma industry is all about. And we're already experts at that. We're already doing that. So, you just have to remind the people, the person who might be reading your resume or the person that you're speaking to, in the context of an interview that although I'm not working in pharma, I'm using that evidence that's generated there every single day in my day-to-day work.

John: What other kind of ideas do you have, or have you discussed maybe in your group, for example, where you could get someone who wasn't necessarily involved with clinical trials, but could demonstrate other experiences that would satisfy the recruiters?

Dr. Laura McKain: Well, being able to communicate scientific information is very important in pharma biotech. And I think all of us are quite accomplished at that in patient counseling that we do and mentioning how we discuss the risks and benefits and the medical decisions that go into our prescribing practices. But also, a lot of us are involved in more formal ways of communicating information like public speaking. There are so many different forums that we may use public speaking skills, where we communicate scientific information and it's worth mentioning those things on your resume. Whether you are doing didactic lectures for medical students or residents, formal or informal, you could even talk about bedside rounds. You talk a lot about medical evidence and medical decision making in the context of those rounds, but lectures that you may give to students. Maybe you don't, maybe you don't do that.

There are other opportunities for you to prove that you have reasonable public speaking skills. And I would say in this day and age, it is really easy to do that. I had a physician I was working with recently that was really looking to get into industry and she wanted to demonstrate that she was a good speaker. And so, she produced some videos talking about how she counsels patients about whether to choose COVID vaccine or not. She posted them on Facebook and then actually took them off there and put them onto YouTube and then put a line in her resume with a link to where the videos were so that the hiring manager could actually just click on the link and see what a great speaker she was there. You can make your own opportunities for some of these things. And it's not hard to do in this day and age. Creative but very, very useful. And she got hired because they could see that she was really great at communicating information.

John: It's funny because probably the other 50 people applying for that job had done something similar, but they just had never taken the next step of putting it on Facebook, putting on YouTube, recording it in the first place. They might have done the exact same kind of presentation, but they didn't present it in a way that a recruiter or a manager, hiring manager, whatever, sees it.

Dr. Laura McKain: The other thing you can do, those videos can be useful because instead of giving the same speech over and over, you could hit play, walk out of the room, finish your note, come back in and say, "Now what questions do you have about this?" So it could actually be a time saver too, if you think about it that way.

John: Yeah. For patient education.

Dr. Laura McKain: Exactly. Yeah, yeah.

John: Yeah. Very interesting. Okay.

Dr. Laura McKain: And then talking with your peers. There are opportunities there. How many of y'all participate in pharmaceutical speakers' bureaus? There's a product that you really believe in, tell the drug rep that visits your office to put you in with your regional medical science liaison and say, "Hey, is there a speaker's bureau I would love to participate in?" And it's a great opportunity to gain experience speaking to your peers. Physician to physician type communication of scientific information. It goes right on your resume.

I know for a fact that that counted as industry experience when I got my first job, because I was a huge advocate of the HPV vaccine and I had signed up to be on the speaker's bureau. And it was enough to demonstrate that I actually had industry experience. Those opportunities are there. Sometimes they come to you to be a speaker, but sometimes you need to go to them to say, "I'd like to do that." But it's worth pursuing.

John: Yeah. I have colleagues and friends that are actually on different speakers' bureaus. And we'll have a medical society meeting, we'll invite them to present to us. And obviously they're going through all the data on the drug, what the studies showed, any biases it might have been involved in, or confound any factors, all the statistical stuff, which would, to me, seem to be important if you're going into some kind of pharma job.

Dr. Laura McKain: And if you get on one of those bureaus, they do fabulous training and teach you.

John: That's good too.

Dr. Laura McKain: They do. They teach you how to present the data. And if you have questions or the things you don't understand, they take the time to explain it. But it's a learning opportunity also.

John: Now you've got my mind going here in other ways to apply that. Are there other things you can think of where someone who's been in practice can leverage some experience they've had?

Dr. Laura McKain: Well of course, going into pharma, they oftentimes like to hire people that have been involved in clinical research. And some of us have, and a lot of us have not. But even if you are not specifically involved in clinical research, one thing that you can do is you can become aware of the types of clinical research that is going on and the conditions that you commonly take care of. And potentially you can refer patients to participate in clinical trials.

And you can say that in the context of an interview, or you can even put it on your resume. Regularly refers patients to participate in clinical trials or that you have associations that you interact with the folks that are doing the trials. Because they're everywhere. Clinical trials are absolutely everywhere and they're easy to find. It's so easy to identify what clinical trials are happening in conditions that you commonly take care of by simply going to, putting in a condition of interest. And you get an immediate list of all the development work that's going on in those conditions and a list of sites where the studies are ongoing.

You can actually use that as a networking opportunity. You can go to the site that's nearest to you and ask to speak to the principal investigator, to learn more about the study, and how you might refer patients to get their experience. And it could actually become a good networking opportunity for you also. So, it's something that all of us can do. And we should be aware of the clinical development that's going on, and to be able to demonstrate that as you're seeking a new job.

John: I remember at the hospital where I was a CMO, we had studies going on. They were part of obviously larger national studies, but we had just a few physicians who were always interested in being involved in those. And so, even if you're not the person doing that now, obviously they would have an issue maybe. But if you're in your clinic and you're sending patients, because you think they fit that study and maybe you're interacting with that local PI, if that's what they're called, investigator, then yeah, you can connect with them, and you can connect with medical monitors or whoever and just learn about the vernacular. And I never thought about that.

Dr. Laura McKain: About the eligibility criteria for the study, you can learn about how they're studying, what the endpoints are that they're going to be looking at to demonstrate efficacy, all of those sorts of things. It is a great learning opportunity and it shows that you have true interest in the industry, even if you're not the one that's specifically doing the work.

John: Anything else? What else have you got for my listeners?

Dr. Laura McKain: For folks that are interested in drug safety, one of the things that you can easily talk about is how you already possess a knowledge of the risks associated with a large number of pharmacologic therapies, because we all do. We know what the side effects or the adverse events associated with drugs are.

But you can even take it one step further, and actually, we all have public health responsibility to do this is that if you ever see a patient that have an adverse drug reaction, especially one that is unusual, you can report that event to either the manufacturer or to the FDA using a MedWatch form and just Google MedWatch and you can figure out how to do it. And it's worth saying that you regularly participate in the formal systems for collecting safety information on pharmaceutical products or even devices because they take adverse event reports for medical devices also.

And it shows that you understand something about the systems that are in place and that you participate in that reporting to provide the appropriate clinical information that the manufacturers and the FDA need to make decisions about whether we fully understand the risks associated with those particular products.

The VAERS system. The vaccine adverse event reporting system is another one. Patient who has had an unusual vaccine, you can report that through the VAERS system. And a lot of people don't know this, but it's public health. You're making these reports in the interest of public health. So, you actually do not need the patient's consent to make a report to the manufacturer or the agency. That it's actually one of those loopholes in the HIPAA rules that allow you to anonymize the data, but share potentially important public health information for the greater good. And it shows that you understand industry and that you're already doing drug safety because you are involved in those reports.

I gave a talk last week on pregnancy drug safety at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I had an audience of probably about 50 people at this particular lecture, and there was not a single person that had ever submitted an adverse event report to the FDA. And I was just shocked by that. And I think it's because people don't know how easy it is to do and that we are permitted to do that as physicians. So I encourage that also.

John: That sounds like it'd be great to do that. I think it's almost like when there's a crime and there's a hundred people looking at it, and no one takes action because someone else probably will report that.

Dr. Laura McKain: Exactly. Yeah.

John: So, it never gets done.

Dr. Laura McKain: It's not hard to do.

John: Which makes you wonder, whatever's reported must be just a percentage of what really happens.

Dr. Laura McKain: Well, unfortunately, probably most of the reports come from patients and they don't include the rich medical information that the agency really wants to fully evaluate those events. So, we, as physicians, should be doing more of that type of reporting in my opinion.There are other opportunities also that you can actually participate in safety registries as a physician. I was talking about pregnancy drug safety but did you know that there are pregnancy drug exposure registries where you can help patients to participate in a registry when they've had an inadvertent pregnancy drug exposure?

There are registries that are run to look at the outcomes of those pregnancies to gather more safety information since we don't specifically test drugs on pregnant women. But as a physician participating in a registry like that, it could also show that you have some pharma experience. And they're really easy to do. The data collection is simple. It doesn't take a lot of time.

REMS programs. Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy programs for drugs that have been identified to have significant risks. Oftentimes to be able to prescribe certain drugs with known risks, you have to be a registered prescriber who's been fully educated on the risks of the drug and made a promise to do adverse event reporting if something comes up with a patient that you've prescribed for. It's another way to demonstrate that you have some pharma experience. So, all of it's available in the context of usual clinical care.

John: Well, I like this last part you've been talking about the safety, because if I can imagine, if I'm spending time, I'm reporting and I'm part of a registry, then I'm going to understand all these rules and regs about how to report it and what actually is an adverse reaction. That has to have some weight when you're trying to convince somebody in pharma that you know what you're talking about.

Dr. Laura McKain: Absolutely.

John: That is so good. I would think too, anyone that has a lot of exposure and use of one or two major drugs and does many of the things you've talked about involving those drugs, why not, since you're supposed to be the expert in many ways when you're practicing in that field and using the drugs.

Well, there's a lot here now. I'm going to have a hard time keeping track of all this. I'll have to listen to this episode myself a few times. We were talking about maybe you're going to put something together that we can use to kind of summarize some of these issues.

Dr. Laura McKain: Absolutely. I'm going to offer the listeners a little handout about some of the things that we've talked about today. And in the handout, I will not only include sort of the activities that you're already involved in or could be involved in but I'm going to also include some sample language that might be helpful when you're writing your resume or actual language that you might use in the context of an interview to help you sell yourself and to sell the experience that you already have to gland that pharma biotech job.

John: See, that's a good point too. I almost forgot. I should have asked you how and where we use this information? So, you've just said it. In your resume, during an interview, whether it's phone or live face to face, and then maybe somehow to put it in your LinkedIn profile.

Dr. Laura McKain: Even in your LinkedIn profile, sure. These are things that expand upon what your professional experience is and what your professional experience has included. Those are perfect places to put them.

John: And if I remember correctly, and maybe it's something of yours I read or elsewhere. If you're putting these things into a resume, they should be kind of front and center if the things are pertinent to the job description. They shouldn't be buried on page three somewhere.

Dr. Laura McKain: Absolutely. They should be a part of you describing your current clinical practice, your current professional experience. And it can be one of the bullets in that section where you talk about what your skills and accomplishments have been in your current position.

John: That's good to know. That's fantastic. This is like a little master class here, a little 20-30-minute master class. Okay. Well, I think we got enough to chew on for today. Laura, I really appreciate that. Any final advice for my listeners? Some of them are very early in the process. Some are sort of trying to figure out what industry to go into. Any advice you want to give them besides what you've already told us today?

Dr. Laura McKain: I think networking is absolutely critical to making a career transition. I think talking to people who are already in these roles and getting their advice about things to do is really, really important. I think you can run across some of those people in the Facebook group. You can certainly find lots of experts on LinkedIn. And I think there's also just a really long list of experts that have appeared on your podcast, John, that people should also look for that are willing and able to help people in their career journey.

John: That's absolutely true. Now here's a question from left field, but as you were talking, it occurred to me talking about getting mentors and coaches and networking. Have you ever heard of anybody shadowing someone in pharma?

Dr. Laura McKain: I haven't experienced that nor have I really seen people do internships or anything like that. However, there are a number of companies that offer fellowships. Drugs safety fellowships, or even more broad pharma biotech industry fellowships. That is an opportunity for people to learn about the industry, to be taught about the industry and actually to be developed to hopefully be a future full-time employee. There are a couple of those that are out there and I've worked with a couple clients that have completed those fellowships.

John: And you get paid while you're doing that, right? It's not a lot of money, but at least you're getting paid so you can survive while you're doing your fellowship.

Dr. Laura McKain: Not only do you get paid, but successful completion I would say 99% of the time results in a job offer.

John: Nice. Okay. I shouldn't forget about that. There aren't that many out there, but they do exist and you can land something like that. Well, we're going to stop there. We could go on forever. I really, again, appreciate you for being here today, Laura. And I will have that link for the listeners that kind of goes through and how to do the language and some of these tactics or demonstrating your experience and your transferable skills. With that, I'll just have to say goodbye and see you next time.

Dr. Laura McKain: Thanks John. It was a pleasure.


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