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A Pharmacist’s Journey to Pharmacovigilance

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There are so many different types of careers within the field of pharmacy—from research and drug development to pharmacy informatics! To highlight some of the more unique career settings in the industry, we’re introducing a new page on our website—Novel Pharmacy Practice Settings—where you can explore these unique career pathways.

In addition to learning more about unique pathways on our new webpage, we’ll also be featuring pharmacists who work in these unique settings on our blog. Today we’re excited to spotlight Sarah Cobb, BSPharm.

Sarah Cobb is the Director of Safety Project Leadership and Strategic Solutions at IQVIA. In this role, Cobb oversees global pharmacovigilance projects to ensure patient safety. Learn more about Sarah’s unique career path and her advice to students.

Please describe your novel practice setting. What makes your career path unique?   

As a Safety Project Director, I direct and oversee the service delivery excellence of regional and global pharmacovigilance projects covering single and multiple lifecycle safety functions. IQVIA is a human data sciences company. We focus on advanced analytics and technology that drive healthcare forward. My career path began as a community pharmacist and included several different pharmacy-related positions throughout my journey.

What led you to this career path? What steps did you take?  

My non-traditional pharmacy career evolved over time. When I was floundering at the beginning of my sophomore year in college, my advisor gave me a career test, and pharmacy consistently appeared at the top. Pharmacy combines my love of people, math, and analytics. Since I love people, I wanted to be in a position to help them. After shadowing my hometown pharmacist and working as a volunteer in a pharmacy during the summer, I concluded I wanted to be a community pharmacist. While attending pharmacy school, I loved everything about pharmacy! I participated in career day my 4/5 year and found a job as a summer intern with Peoples Drug in Virginia. The summer internship allowed me to build relationships throughout the organization, leading to a full-time position upon graduation. I sincerely enjoyed my first job as a community pharmacist! I learned how to be a professional pharmacist while working at Peoples Drug. While working as a community pharmacist, I worked in a hospital pharmacy some evenings and weekends to maintain my hospital pharmacy knowledge. 

After a couple of years, I decided to move closer to Chapel Hill, as I missed going to Tar Heel basketball and football games. I was offered a job at Wake Med and moved to Raleigh. After approximately two years, I was offered a position at a small startup company, Biomedical Homecare, which was a unique pharmacy experience. After marrying a community pharmacist, life continued to change. We moved to the Sandhills area, and I worked for an independent pharmacy. One day a friend who was a sales representative visited our pharmacy and encouraged me to consider being a pharmaceutical sales rep. My next endeavor was working in professional sales for Merck. After my husband and I had our first baby and the overnight sales traveling expanded, I resigned and worked in a hospital pharmacy. Next, I was blessed to have the opportunity to work for GlaxoSmithKline, beginning in pharmacovigilance. I had several positions within the Company, including helping to build a world-class call center. 

After two major mergers/acquisitions and over 18 years, I was sitting in my office, and I thought about how I wanted to return to healthcare directly helping patients and understanding the value of electronic health records. Duke Health hired me as their EPIC Clinical Inpatient Training Manager. What a grand experience being part of such a huge project, all working for a common goal. Once the EPIC implementation was completed, I wanted my next challenge to include pharmacovigilance and data analytics, as I envisioned the benefit of maximizing data analytics to enhance end-to-end pharmacovigilance. I started with Quintiles, and after a couple of years, Quintiles and IMS Health became IQVIA, a human data sciences company. Currently, I am a Safety Project Director. When people ask me what I do, I reply: “I am a non-traditional pharmacist.”

What does a typical workday look like for you?  

Working for a global company is quite different than working a 9 to 5 job. Additionally, the pharmacovigilance clock never stops. We are continuously monitoring global safety projects and ensuring patient safety. I begin my workday at about 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m., solving problems, creating new processes, and ensuring the safety of our clients’ products. Due to different time zones, some meetings may occur late at night. That’s rare, however, a reality. Typically, I try to stop working by 6 p.m. Sometimes I will return to my office after dinner to check emails as my colleagues on the other side of the world are beginning their day. 

Describe the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your (novel) practice role?  

The people! I enjoy interacting with people all over the world. The majority of my day is spent talking to people in the Asia-Pacific and European areas, which is rewarding. I have learned a great deal about different cultures, traditions, and global holidays. I meet new people and learn new things while having the privilege to lead patient safety teams and collaborate with pharmaceutical and clinical research industry colleagues. 

On another note, I recently became a certified pharmacy-based vaccine immunizer to help administer COVID vaccines and other vaccines in the future. The most rewarding experience in my pharmacy career has been observing how appreciative people have been when receiving their COVID vaccines. 

Describe the most challenging aspect of your role?  

The most challenging aspect of being a Safety Project Director is the safety clock never stops (24/7), especially during global inspections and audits.

How can someone learn more about this unique practice setting and the career opportunities it presents for pharmacists? 

I always remind students to maximize their network inside and outside of the pharmacy school. Talk to leaders within the pharmacy school and pharmaceutical industry. An excellent way to get a foot in the door is by doing a summer internship or by volunteering. Several pharmacy students from UNC have worked at IQVIA for that purpose. 

What advice would you give to a current student pharmacist who is interested in pursuing a similar type of practice role in the future?  

I would highly encourage students to become traditional community or hospital pharmacists first unless they’re on a specific career track leading them to be non-traditional pharmacists. If they are not 100% sure what they want to do, I recommend learning to be a community pharmacist while treating patients. As community pharmacists, they’ll learn how to dispense medications, identify drug interactions, and build relationships with patients and colleagues while creating the foundation of their pharmacy career. Community and hospital pharmacy experiences were the foundation of my non-traditional pharmacist career.

What general advice would you give to a high school or college student who is interested in pursuing a pharmacy career? 

I would encourage the student to research pharmacy careers and learn as much about pharmacy as possible via networking or volunteering. Collaborate with pharmacists in various roles. Build a network and attend career days. A big advantage would be to talk to their advisor(s) and shadow some pharmacists working in different pharmacy settings. My husband and I have participated in numerous high school career days as we love to talk with students about different pharmacy-related career opportunities. I would recommend researching pharmacy via the internet and learning more about pharmacy schools. Take the time to explore options.  

Can you share a brief story about a time you had a positive impact on a patient, population, or community in your role as a pharmacist?

Wow, there have been so many! I worked for a startup home healthcare company during my community and hospital pharmacy ventures. As a pharmacist, I was on-call on certain weekends and carried a beeper. One weekend, I was beeped. We had a cancer patient who was out of his saline syringes. I needed to take some syringes to him as soon as possible. He lived somewhere between the Sandhills and Raleigh. Since it was late in the day, my husband rode with me. When we arrived, the setting was like something you would see in a movie. He lived down a long dirt road in a little old house. I walked up to the front door with the box of syringes and knocked on the door. Several family members invited me inside and were so appreciative to see the syringes. The patient was lying in a hospital bed in an extremely small family room just inside the front door. When I walked out to my car, tears rolled down my face. I will never forget that poor little man’s name and his family.

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