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Why a Medical Doctor Needs a Strong Commercial Background

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The demand for doctors in Asia has never been stronger, but in the pharmaceutical game, this challenge hits a particular nerve. The lack of talent is a stumbling block, but not only that, talk to anyone in our industry and you’ll find a disconnect between patient care and the bottom line.

“Generally medical doctors (MDs) who work in hospitals have no idea about what we do in the company,” remarks a particular head of medical affairs at a leading American biopharmaceutical company.

Another believes MDs should practice listening 90 percent of the time, using only the remainder to talk. Not to downplay the role of doctors in our industry, but to highlight what’s most important — seeking genuine understanding before jumping in with an opinion.

To get to the bottom of it we went straight to the source, interviewing a broad cross-section of executives in key roles across the pharmaceutical industry.

Our goal, to understand what it means for a doctor to have a “commercial mindset” and the particular questions you can ask to uncover if a potential candidate has any business acumen. Ensuring they are best positioned to become a valued asset in your team (before you hire them).

What it means to be a commercially-minded doctor

I was surprised at the variety of responses to this question, but ultimately, they all tied back into a particular theme.

What’s most important for doctors is to remember they are part of a larger commercial endeavor. Inside any pharmaceutical company, every employee is responsible for maximizing sales, while ensuring the best possible care for patients is a top priority.

But not only this, commercial success requires a patient-first approach. The truly successful MDs are those who can serve not only the needs of the individual but look bigger, to the needs of the company and also the population at large.

One particular vice president of marketing believes the ability to translate the science behind a product and convey the value it brings is paramount, while a medical affairs doctor in Tokyo provided excellent insight into the question.

“Commercially oriented doctors must understand what is good for the patient and what is good for business. Such doctors, however, should be able to make the right treatment decision in favor of the patient…to find the best drug for the best patient in the best market.”

 However, more than just commercial acumen, MDs are also being evaluated on their ability to lead, their ability to remain agile in their learning, and of course, remain cost-conscious while integrating medical activities into the overall strategies of the company.

Of course, a handful of comments also touched on the value an MD provides, believing they can make the most significant impact in their particular specialties, and leave the commercial functions to others. It was even raised as a risk, whether or not a doctor would be completely objective in making decisions between the ethical and medical treatment options, and the business case behind it.

Ultimately, it comes down to each MD.

But how do you determine if a candidate is savvy enough to understand the business needs yet remain focused on providing the best possible patient care?

How do you identify whether a medical doctor is a business person first?

To answer this, we asked each respondent for the questions they ask when screening and qualifying MDs in their companies, and in doing so received insight to the hiring process from top executives at some of the best pharmaceutical companies in the world.

In the following sections, learn what to ask when determining if a doctor will become a valued asset within your organization.

To determine if a particular MD has a commercial mindset…

  1. How would you minimize the impact if the revision of a package insert affected sales levels?
  2. Explain the commercial opportunities this product (example shown) brings to the company.
  3. What is the size of the (example) product business?
  4. Which country of the (example) product business is one of the top three in sales?
  5. How would you recommend promoting this (example) product?
  6. What is your opinion on (example) product, will it be a business success?
  7. Please explain the P&L structure of the company you currently work in.
  8. Which activities in your current company have the best ROI?
  9. Would you prescribe your company’s product to a patient who really needs a competitor’s product?
  10. Using your medical knowledge, please explain how you would increase company sales?
  11. What is the most critical unmet medical need to be solved in the next ten years?
  12. What are the most interesting medical advances that could be applied to future therapies?
  13. What could be the differentiating points of a new drug from existing therapies (example provided)?
  14. How comfortable are you meeting customers?
  15. Are you comfortable with the term “customer” in our industry?
  16. Do you believe it’s important to work with sales and marketing? Why?
  17. Have you helped a compound break new ground, helping with its introduction after new approvals or reaching new groups of patients?
  18. How can you contribute to new therapies or new ways of using old drugs compared to a candidate who can only describe the basic science behind their research interests?
  19. What is the most successful pharma company in your opinion, and why is it successful?
  20. What are the core competencies of this company?

To determine leadership abilities and learning agility…

  1. Have you ever had to supervise junior staff as an MD? How did you manage them?
  2. Have you held any leadership positions outside of your medical career? Tell us about them.
  3. Give an example of a success in your career and explain how you contributed to the success.
  4. What do you think is important in leadership?
  5. How would you lead a small team if you were tasked to do so?
  6. Have you ever had to influence someone who didn’t agree with you to meet a specific goal? How did you do it?
  7. Have you ever had to deal with someone not doing what they were supposed to do? (or if no direct leadership experience, focus on dealing with other staff in the hospital/lab). How did you deal with the situation?
  8. Can you describe a major change in your career? What challenges did you face, and how did you deal with them?
  9. Describe a time when you needed to work with a person that you didn’t like.
  10. Describe two relationships you formed: one with a group inside your organization and one outside of your organization.
  11. Tell me about your experience working in a team. What kind of role did you play? What was the biggest hardship? How were you able to overcome the hardship?
  12. Describe your scientific capability. What are your major achievements?
  13. Describe your relevant clinical experience. How could that experience be translated into clinical development or a medical program?
  14. Describe your experience in clinical research.
  15. Describe a time that you led a team. What challenges came up for you?
  16. Describe a time that you had to adapt to a new environment. Looking back at that experience, what did you learn about yourself?

Other questions prudent to ask…

  1. What do you want to do when you join this company?
  2. How are you going to contribute to this company?
  3. Why are you excited about working in pharma?
  4. Are you interested in leading technical functions based on your medical knowledge?
  5. Are you interested in creating, managing, and leading a key opinion leader (KOL) group with your knowledge and experience in a hospital?
  6. Are you interested in improving the academic knowledge level at an organization with your knowledge and experience in a hospital?
  7. What do you think is the greatest difference between clinical/research and business?
  8. What do you want to learn, and how do you want to grow in pharma?
  9. Describe a few of your contributions and past achievements.
  10. Give an example of how we can turn an unmet medical need into an opportunity for the organization.
  11. Give an example of how you have put across the case for an increase of resources for the medical department in the past.
  12. Have you been involved in product prelaunch and launch work? What role did you play?
  13. Discuss any examples of actual experiences to explore potential treatments/therape.
  14. Tell me about an unsatisfactory experience you had with an existing pharmaceutical company in clinical practice.
  15. Talk about your experience managing a treatment team composed of different functions.
  16. Tell me about your experience achieving things at a project level.

The war for talent is on, and it is important that pharmaceutical companies are not only seeking the right capabilities in their MDs but know how to screen and qualify for these traits. More than knowing what to look for is the probing questions to ask to get a candidate to open up.

While the best use of doctors within pharmaceutical companies remains up for debate, what’s clear from our study is a mastery of basic business fundamentals is imperative. The market is calling for business people who are MDs, as opposed to MDs who only happen to work in the pharmaceutical industry. Use these insights and screening questions as your toolkit, and build a winning team.

Written by Philip Carrigan, (Pharma, Medical Device Recruiter Japan). Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Morunda should be your choice of recruiting partner in Japan and Asia Pacific. Why? Because we live and breathe the pharmaceutical industry in Asia and the Pacific—we’re specialists!

Morunda has completed over 400 managers to director-level placements since 2001.

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