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Getting Started With Consulting

Career Paths
Consulting
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Working as a consultant with a health and life sciences background could easily put you at the top of the earnings scale and give you a great sense of diversity on the job. This kind of job often appeals to those who enjoy a working on a range of projects, don’t mind a bit of travel and appreciate having a steady job involving a great deal of multi-tasking and variety. As you may already understand, a consulting firm contracts out your services to client businesses that need PhD or other postgraduate-level consultants for a specific project or for help with a given stage of a technical, biological or chemical process. Pharmaceutical firms, for example, routinely outsource their clinical trials to neutral third parties.

Your job as a consultant will be to solve strategic problems the client has using your skills in research and strategizing or to participate in implementing a business process that does not make sense for the client to handle in house. This may mean that you join a specific strategy team within the consulting firm, often involving others with complementary skills. In some cases, you may work with only one or two others to help organizations solve a problem that can’t be done without the expertise of someone in the health or life sciences field. There are two types of consulting companies that mesh well with science backgrounds: (1) Strategy Firms and (2) Contract Research Organizations (CROs). Strategy firms offer the highest paying positions in return for a need for experience and, in some cases, a one or two-year degree MBA. While getting your MBA in advance would make you an attractive candidate, the requirement is far from absolute. Strategy firms offer positions to self-motivated individuals in all skill areas of the life sciences and health. The work is more business-oriented than with Contract Research Organizations and can be highly exciting and forward-thinking. Strategy firms often hire PhDs and MDs at the post-MBA position of Associate. Contract Research Organizations are more research-focused and often do work in the clinical sciences that has been outsourced by another corporation. The consultant then works on various projects for the client which can differ from project to project. There are nearly a hundred North American contract research organizations listed by the International Biopharmaceutical Association. These are corporations hiring research consultants throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Position titles include titles such as clinical study managers, principal investigators and field application scientists. There are five major strategy consulting firms that employ those with advanced degrees in medicine and the life sciences. Each is unique and has websites for you to explore. McKinsey and Company: McKinsey is the leading, worldwide general strategy firm with strong departments in pharmaceuticals, healthcare and medical products. They employ experts in health and the life science in order to help their clients identify new technologies, drugs and new therapies in genomics, informatics and proteomics. They also have an animal health division. Visit the McKinsey website to view a sample, interactive scenario that provides a good idea of what working for this type of partnership is like. Boston Consulting Group (BCG): This global general consulting group has specialty areas in healthcare and technology.

They use their consultants to work in the fields of pharmacology, biotechnology, medical devices, new technology, and research and development strategies. As a consultant, you would work in a team serving large company clients with needs involving the above areas. Bain and Company: This strategy firm works for multiple industries including healthcare. They help clients manage research and development, enter new markets and improve operations. The firm has worked over 700 different healthcare cases to date, and has an emphasis on business healthcare solutions. Booz Allen Hamilton: This is consistently one of the top ranked healthcare consulting firms in the U.S. Their clients include research organizations, pharmaceutical industries, medical product manufacturers and healthcare suppliers. They also work for all major agencies at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and need some of their consultants to have military and/or intelligence clearances. Mercer, Inc: This global corporation has over 15,000 employees in 41 countries.

Its Government Human Services Consulting Division works to provide practical solutions, clinical record review and program planning for clients that include the Medicaid-covered behavioral health programs. They have areas in clinical quality consulting that are directed toward improving quality of care and pharmacy management consulting. The latter group looks at pharmaceutical program design, develops cost feasibility studies and analyzes pharmacy data. A few contract research organizations include the following: Quintiles Transnational Corporation: This large contract research firm has several healthcare divisions including The Lewin Group and divisions in biotechnology, medical devices, the regulatory industry and pharmaceuticals.

The Lewin Group offers multiple research and leadership positions, primarily located in Falls Church , Virginia. The other divisions are actively hiring individuals at the MD and PhD level as well. Omnicare Clinical Research: A corporation since 1985, this company specializes in helping clients perform clinical research and development as well as in the commercialization of new drugs. They offer global employment opportunities and have a specialty area in geriatric research. MDS Pharma Services: This is a Canadian corporation with career opportunities worldwide. As with all consulting firms of this type, work comes from clients who choose to outsource research work to consulting firms. Many pharmaceutical corporations outsource their clinical research studies to consulting firms, so there is a great deal of opportunity in this field. In addition, the government outsources many of their clinical, medical and scientific research to various consulting firms who bid for government contracts. Careers in consulting can be exciting, well-paid and offer a great deal of variety and opportunity for travel.

Far from having each day be the same, consulting offers the excitement of diversity and an intellectual challenge few other positions can offer. What you learn from working at one consulting firm will carry over to working up the consulting ladder in another firm. Developing a personal “business sense” in the form of a one or two year MBA would give you an edge in this hybrid world of research and client-oriented business.

Christine Traxler, MD practiced medicine for fifteen years in rural Minnesota before turning her love of writing into a career. As a medical writer, she has worked on projects designed to make medicine simplified for the popular audience. She has two daughters and resides in Minneapolis.
Copyright Christine Traxler, MD
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