Why I Chose a Career in Pharma, in Sweden

Hippocratic Adventures is all about taking your medical training and going anywhere in the world.  While the focus of this community is international clinical practice, physicians are also uniquely qualified to work in various non-clinical industries.  

In the 3-part series, The Ultimate Guide For Physicians Transitioning to Pharma Abroad, I share insights and expert tips on the types of work, transition,  application process, and lifestyle for a physician in Industry based on my almost decade of experience working for pharmaceutical/biotech, digital health, and consumer health companies in the U.S. and Europe.  

This is the final part of this series, and in THIS blog I share more about my own transition to pharma and my move to Sweden

It Was Serendipity

Unlike the meticulous planning of the rest of my medical career, my transition to industry was much more random.  Towards the end of fellowship, I was burnt out.  I had realized that my dream of becoming an academic physician-researcher who saw patients, taught students, and did research was not the reality I actually wanted.  

I can say now that I was depressed. I had worked for the past decade through medical school, residency, and fellowship. I didn’t want to continue on this path, but I had been so focused on this destination that I didn’t even know what other options I had now.  

However, it was around this time that I serendipitously received a LinkedIn message from a recruiter who was looking for an endocrinologist for an industry role. I naively wrote back saying I was ‘almost’ an endocrinologist, but I had never worked outside of a hospital and academia.  Could I still apply?  He immediately replied with ‘Of course!  You are just the type of applicant we are looking for!’

Bryan, Victor, and their Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Ruth in Stockholm. Photo Credit Dr. McColgan

So, I interviewed, liked the people I met with, and then I ended up taking the job.  The interviews were honestly very laid back.  They knew I had never worked in industry, but they – like me – were endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, and infectious diseases physicians who had transitioned.  They knew what it took to become a doctor, and they knew I could learn everything else on the job.  

Keep this in mind when applying for your first industry role.  Physicians in industry – myself included – will not expect you to know how it works because you have never done it.  We just want to know you and see how we will work with you.

The Transition Is Deeply Personal

Transitioning to industry is a deeply personal and subjective decision.  It’s important to think about what matters most to you, your career, and your life.  For me, I was burnt out, and I felt I wasn’t having the impact that I wanted to have as a clinician. I was also frustrated at the slow pace at which academic research moved.  

Given these concerns, I adapted well to life in industry where the impact of developing a new drug or device can be huge, and the pace of development – while still on the order of years – feels much more rapid on a day-to-day basis than academia because the challenges of grants, funding, recruitment, and operations are either not challenges at all or work like a well-oiled machine in industry.   

That said, patients are no longer the people we get to know, who trust us with their lives.  Even if you are as burnt out as I was, it’s still hard to give up on this very special part of being a doctor.

Moving to Sweden (Without a Job!)

In the prior post, I mentioned that one of the best options to work in pharma AND move abroad is to apply for a US position at a global company and then transfer abroad. This option is much more appealing because the company helps navigate all the hard and cumbersome parts about moving abroad – shipping, travel costs, immigration paperwork, residency permits, setting up bank accounts, finding a place to live, and getting kids plugged into school. 

This is not what I did, as I moved abroad following my husband.  He had always wanted to live in Sweden, and so in 2020, we made our way through the pandemic from California to Stockholm.  Fortunately, his company did help with some of the aspects mentioned above, but it still meant that I arrived in a foreign country without a job.  Luckily, Sweden is one of the countries that is advanced in terms of industry, which made it easier for me to find a job

Being a Doctor Can Mean Many Things

Being a doctor can mean many things.  How you choose to be a physician, the work you do, the impact you have, and the country you live in are all open to you.  Industry is one path that can allow you to travel, live abroad, and have your own Hippocratic Adventure. 

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you transitioned into a career in Pharma?

  1. What have you enjoyed the most about this work?
  2. Is there anything you miss about clinical care? 

Let me know in the comments below. 

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Dr. Bryan McColgan is an endocrinologist and entrepreneur who recently founded BabyMoon Family, an online resource for queer men embarking on family building through surrogacy.  He has lived abroad in Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Switzerland, but Sweden is the first country outside the US that he has lived in since becoming a physician. You can learn more about his move to Sweden here.  He’s also excited to help you transition to Pharma/Industry Abroad. Click here and learn how!

In his free time, he enjoys exploring nature with his fiance, Victor, and dog, Ruth (whom you can follow on Instagram @corgiruth). He is also an avid science fiction reader and enjoys all things Harry Potter and Disney. More info is available at https://www.bryanmccolgan.com.

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