Careers in Health Economics: Pharmacy Schools
By Rebecca Myerson
A pharmacy school can be a great environment in which to pursue an academic career in health economics. However, health economists training in economics departments or public policy schools may have little familiarity with this option. To help bridge this gap, the goal of this article is to describe the research environment health economists may encounter at pharmacy schools. Naturally, this discussion is subject to the caveat that every school is different and my own experience is limited to the University of Southern California’s School of Pharmacy.
Pharmacy schools frequently hire health economists, and indeed, some pharmacy schools have more health economists than you might find in a typical economics department or policy school. At USC, the Department of Pharmaceutical and Health Economics includes eight ladder-track faculty. We run a Ph.D. program in Health Economics, and department members also help to organize the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics seminar series. For economists who plan to focus on topics related to health throughout their career, environments with a critical mass of health economists may be particularly appealing.
You may also find a range of sub-fields within health economics represented within a pharmacy school. One particularly important field of health economics commonly represented in pharmacy schools is pharmacoeconomics. For those not familiar, pharmacoeconomics research aims to quantify and compare the value of specific health technologies to patients, the health care sector, and society, including consideration of both costs and benefits. These value measurements have a direct impact on the policies of numerous payers and decision makers, including governments around the world. To learn more about this field, you can seek out resources from ISPOR (International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research) or SMDM (Society for Medical Decision Making), and read journals such as Value in Health, Medical Decision Making, Pharmacoeconomics, and Medical Care.
Naturally, faculty at a pharmacy school will hail from a wide variety of disciplines, not just health economics and policy analysis. At USC, my colleagues range from biologists and chemists who focus on the basic science underlying drug development, to regulatory scientists familiar with the steps of taking a drug to market, to pharmacists with an active clinical practice. Because this diverse group has a shared focus on pharmaceuticals, multidisciplinary collaboration can arise naturally.
Pharmacy schools also share an important characteristic with public health schools and medical schools: most tenure-track positions carry an expectation of raising extramural support for your research from sources such as the National Institutes of Health, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, private foundations, and the like. The fraction of your salary you will be expected to raise varies across schools, and is typically offset by a reduced teaching load.
The interdisciplinary environment of a pharmacy school may shape how your research portfolio will be evaluated in your tenure review. At a pharmacy school, you may be able to find relevant mentors and co-authors to target health policy journals, medical journals, economics journals, or pharmacoeconomics journals, as appropriate for any given research project. There are journals at the top of each field and, in many cases, all of these fields are valued by the school when evaluating your tenure case. Your CV will likely also be evaluated based on factors such as your track record of extramural research funding, the number of citations for your publications, and the number of publications in which you are first or senior author. A trusted mentor can provide more guidance on how to build your research agenda.
In summary, pharmacy schools can provide a unique and valuable work environment for health economists. If you are looking for a research environment that has a critical mass of health economists but also values interdisciplinary, applied work, a pharmacy school may be an ideal placement for you!
Rebecca Myerson is an Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical and Health Economics at the University of Southern California. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and an M.P.H. from the University of Washington.