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Pharma Careers: A Discussion with Ken Sommerville, MD

Many thanks to Ken Sommerville, MD, an old friend and colleague, who discussed his 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.


When I was in training, my academic mentors considered Pharma the “dark side” with the implication that such a career was unworthy of a physician with Oslerian aspirations. Ken provided welcome enlightenment on this narrow perspective.

A colleague’s unexpected invitation prompted Dr. Sommerville to consider working in the pharmaceutical industry. While excited by the possibility of trying something new, he was very reluctant to leave his patients and community after 11 years of private neurology practice. However, with his wife’s encouragement, he signed on as a clinical scientist to help develop new epilepsy drugs. Dr. Sommerville remembers that leaving clinical medicine was “one of the toughest decisions of my life.”

Dr. Sommerville described how difficult it was to transition from an intense clinical practice to a nonclinical career. He had to master the science of drug development and the art of navigating a large organization’s politics. He discovered that both of these objectives were equally challenging.

Dr. Sommerville described his work over the next thirty years with several pharmaceutical companies, both large and small, and offered insights on each. He explained that the pharmaceutical industry is “not for everybody,” but allows one to help many more people than can be accomplished by treating patients one at a time in a clinic. His role of shepherding effective new drugs to market proved enormously satisfying. Dr. Sommerville also maintained his identity and mission as a physician even while working in the corporate world.

I hope you find our 30-minute discussion both informative and entertaining. If you have any inkling of joining the ranks of Pharma, this program is a must-listen!

For more episodes of “The Art of Medicine with Dr. Andrew Wilner,” please subscribe! Feel free to share these programs with your friends and colleagues. Comments are appreciated. #pharma #nonclinicalcareers #locums #locumtenens #theartofmedicine #pharmaceutical #drugdevelopment

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