The pharmaceutical industry typically employs doctors in very distinctive roles which can be related broadly to the medical responsibilities. Each role requires appropriate qualifications. Larger companies often employ specialists while, in smaller companies, some or all of the roles may be combined in a smaller numbers of posts.
Medical affairs physician/medical adviser: A medical affairs physician's task is to understand and interpret the scientific and clinical background of a medicine in order to translate it into clinical reality for the benefit of company colleagues, health technology assessors, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), NHS budget-holders, prescribers, dispensers and patients.
The medical strategist: A medical strategist works either single-handed or, more likely, as a member of a multi-disciplinary, long-term planning group. The strategist's role is to have a vision of the future of clinical medicine and to help convert this into a practical strategy for execution by the research and development division.
The clinical pharmacologist: The clinical pharmacologist's role is to characterise the activity of a new medicine using all physiological or psychological measures to understand its mechanism of action in humans, characterise its metabolism and kinetics, and ensure and monitor its safety at a given dose. There will be continuing close co-operation with the research division's pharmacologists and toxicologists throughout.
The clinical research physician: For Phase III trials, the pharmaceutical industry needs clinical research physicians whose skills with people (negotiating, distance-management and diplomacy), practical clinical experience and ability to bring in results on time, complement their academic achievements and research skills bring life-changing medicines to patients.
Pharmacovigilance and post-marketing surveillance: Many pharmaceutical physicians work in medicines safety in pharmacovigilance departments within companies or regulatory authorities. The work includes assessment of individual cases through to monitoring of, and alertness to, safety issues which could affect the assessment of a medicine's risks and benefits.
Physicians in contract research organisations: In the past 10 to 20 years, pharmaceutical companies have increasingly started to contract out their clinical trials to contract research organisations (CROs). CRO physicians can also get involved in business development activities, particularly if working in a more strategic role.