Careers in Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare

Author: Anshul Tandon

Careers in pharmaceuticals are research-intensive, focusing on creating effective drugs for treating diseases. Careers in healthcare involve not only researching, but also administering treatments. Environmental health scientists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians and, of course, public health practitioners are all examples of healthcare workers.

A career in pharmaceutical research can be subdivided into various areas of interest, including biometry and statistics, chemical technology, clinical and experimental medicine, endocrinology, instrument maintenance, pharmacology, and toxicology (CDRI). Each of these fields is self-explanatory with regard to the particular area of interest it harvests. The skill-set required for careers in these fields primarily depends upon the type of work. A researcher needs a solid background in biological science fields such as microbiology and pharmacology with in-depth knowledge and research experience. On the other hand, a practitioner or a person dealing with the patients should also be skilled in healthcare and the operation of healthcare equipment and most of all should be able to interact with and help the patients.

Firms in pharmaceutical research look for applicants with advanced backgrounds and in-depth knowledge of the field; however, most undergraduate students lack extensive background knowledge. S. K. Rath, a scientist with the toxicology department at the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), says that “undergraduates can join as technical personnel who can assist scientists. Post-graduates can pursue their career as junior research fellows. They can also join as technical officers. Post-graduates with 2 years of research experience or with a Ph.D. degree can join as scientists”. CDRI is one of the oldest and most well-respected drug research facilities in India, with infrastructure and expertise concentrated in the field of biomedical research. 

Another point to note is that pharmaceutical research performed under government owned firms differs from research under private firms. While private firms mainly target the drugs with highest demand in the markets as well as more effective and competitive drugs, government owned firms along with some private firms prioritize the research and development of drugs for incurable diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

M. Krishna, a scientist working for Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, explains the pros and cons of working with a government-based pharmaceutical firm, “There are lots of advantages like very good library and communication facilities, reputed organization experience, hands on experience involving different orientations.” Krishna continues, “[Whereas] disadvantages could [include that the] salary will be according to government fixed pay-scales, not like private organization where you get more incentives in comparison with the government organizations. Less industrial exposure, mostly deals with up-scaling activities not the equipment/machinery problems.”

What are the criteria for hiring someone in the field of research in pharmaceutical and healthcare? Rath subtly condenses this as “a Ph.D. with publications”. Firms hiring research scientists in various fields look for those people with a Ph.D. in the specific area of expertise, as well as a lot of experience and publications. In addition to that, trends in employment in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing project a radical growth of 23.2% from 2002 to 2012 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This implies that pharmaceutical firms are searching and hiring personnel at an elevated rate. Also, statistically, hourly wages of scientists and workers in this field range from $10 for assemblers and manufacturing workers to over $35 for medicinal scientists and researchers (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

A career in the pharmaceutical and healthcare field certainly has its advantages. 

Aside from the most prominent risk factor of being in control of products that affect the lives of millions, a career in this field is a very reputable one. “It is really commendable and you feel responsible for the society,” says Rath, describing his involvement in a field with global outcomes. Nonetheless, some controversies regarding pharmaceutical research have evolved recently. Government policies banning pharmaceutical research and even pricing and marketing of drugs are some of the things which may restrict scientists from researching on topics of their interest.

Most pharmaceutical researchers are employed in a few very large corporations. To find a job in pharmaceuticals, try checking with pharmaceutical companies, the United States Food and Drug Administration, or biotechnology and pharmaceutical research professional associations.


For more information:

Careers in Public Health, Harvard School or Public Health. 

Operational Outlook Handbook (OOH). Bureau of Labor

Research Areas, Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI).