Students entering the Doctor of Pharmacy program at UConn generally have a pretty good idea of what’s ahead of them. With solid skills in science and math and a broad interest in health care, at the beginning of their academic journey most expect that they’ll eventually be working in a patient-centered environment in a hospital or community pharmacy setting. Or, that they’ll find a niche somewhere in the pharmaceutical industry, perhaps in research or government relations. But, for a select few, their careers will take a slightly different turn.
As they explore their options, a certain number of PharmD students may have their interest piqued by the opportunities presented when combining their pharmacy education with the management tools earned through a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).
The joint PharmD/MBA program adds one year to their education — 42 MBA credits are required and most are earned through full time study in the School of Business between the second and third professional year. Additional business electives are offered to P3 and P4 students. Graduates come away with dual degrees in both pharmacy and business.
Among the recent UConn School of Pharmacy students who chose this path is Daniel Dimeo ’14 (PharmD/MBA) who is currently working as the manager of pharmacy strategies for United Healthcare in Minneapolis. He says that the dual degree program was helpful in accelerating his career, including providing entry to his current position.
“Pharmacy school teaches facts, and is more ‘black and white’ which is the essence of evidence based medicine; clinicians rely on the most up to date evidence to guide their decision making,” he says. “What business school does so well is teaching students to think through different variations of gray. My MBA taught me how to become comfortable with answering questions that do not have a well-defined outcome and in dealing with situations where there may not even be a right or wrong answer.”
He adds that this is critical in the ‘real world’ where he is constantly required to make decisions when he may not have the time, resources, or even complete information to support his conclusion.
In his role on the Prescription Drug List (PDL) management and strategy team at United Healthcare, Dimeo’s goal is to improve quality and reduce costs, while still providing access to the medications patients’ need.
“We work hard to make sure that the right patient gets the right drug, at the right time, and at the right price,” he says, while giving credit to both the School of Pharmacy and the School of Business in opening up career opportunities he might otherwise never have had.
Jalak Patel ’16 (PharmD/MBA) says that the dual degree program added a level of skill that she was interested in attaining. “I’ve always had business acumen,” she says,” and to be able to mesh both pharmacy and business into my degree program was of great value to me.”
Patel says that the combined degrees enabled her to be a competitive candidate for a Rutgers Fellowship at Johnson & Johnson in Commercial Insight & Strategy where she is in her second year as a post-doctoral fellow. There, she is able to incorporate both her clinical and business skills to provide implications and insights to the team that is responsible for making sure the business provides the best care possible for patients.
Meg Warren, Director of the full-time MBA program in the School of Business, is a champion of the dual degree program because, in her words, “It attracts the highly motivated, energetic students we value so much.”
She adds that students coming from the Pharmacy program share a lot of the same traits as the more traditional MBA students in the program, even though the latter tend to be a bit older with some years of work experience already behind them.
“We find that the pharmacy students are a close-knit group, as are the full-time MBA students, but that once they begin coursework they meld into a pretty cohesive unit. We make sure that students coming from other schools – pharmacy, law, medicine – get split up and added to teams of business students and their diverse backgrounds really mesh.”
She adds that the difference in ages among the students tends to go away once they are focused on a goal.
“The dual degree students bring a fresh perspective and the business students have their real-life experiences to draw upon. It’s a ‘win-win’ for everyone,” she says.
One of the people who can attest to Warren’s assessment is Eric Zaccaro ’16 (PharmD/MBA), manager of Investigational Medicinal Products at Gilead Science in Foster City, Calif.
Zaccaro’s parents were both involved in the pharmaceutical industry and his academic interests were closely aligned with the study of pharmacy, so a PharmD was in the cards from the onset. From the beginning of his studies, he was drawn to clinical research and new product development; two summer internships at Pfizer cemented that goal.
For him, the MBA offered an opportunity to add skills that would complement his pharmacy training. “My pharmacy knowledge is used to understand and interpret the written protocol for a study, understanding pharmaceutics and dosage forms, and how certain options will affect timelines and supply to sites, as well as general knowledge of clinical trials and the immense process that is involved from start to finish,” he says.
And when he refers to the value of his MBA studies, Zaccaro adds that there are too many positive experiences to count, but they include areas of general professionalism, communicating with cross-functional teams, and managing people, including vendors.
He says, “Without the knowledge and experience from the MBA program, I would not be qualified for the position I hold today. We learned everything from accounting, to managing people, to business strategies. I also took many [business] electives relating to healthcare.”
As did Warren, Zaccaro points to the fact that most classes are discussion and project based, thus giving students the opportunity to learn by doing. He says,”A key thing to note is that many of the [traditional] MBA students had at least a decade of work experience and they would provide key insights on many topics. I look at it as an accelerated way of learning from other people’s experiences.”