June 4, 2021
In this alum spotlight, we chat with Sarah Cobb, BSPharm (Class of ’84), Director of Safety Project Leadership and Strategic Solutions at IQVIA. In this role, Cobb oversees global pharmacovigilance projects to ensure the safety of medications for patients.
Q: Please describe your novel practice setting. What makes your career path unique?
A: I am with IQVIA – we call ourselves a human data sciences company. We focus on data analytics and technology that drives healthcare forward.
Q: What led you to this career path? What steps did you take?
A: This morphed over time. I was really active in pharmacy school and the student body and loved everything pharmacy. I reluctantly went to a career day because I knew there were pharmacy jobs everywhere and I was just enjoying my senior year and doing clinical rotations.
But at the career fair, I talked to two recruiters who were from People’s Drug, a community pharmacy in Virginia, where I was from, and I was planning to go back. So I decided to intern with them for a summer. That summer internship was a key piece of networking. They readily hired me after my internship, and I loved it. I was working four days a week for 12-hour days, then I was going skiing on my three days off. But then I worked my first Thanksgiving. I didn’t realize going into community pharmacy meant I had to work holidays. So eventually, I left and I wanted to come back to Carolina, I loved UNC Chapel Hill. So I moved to Raleigh and got a job at WakeMed Hospital, and I married a retail pharmacist. And life continued to change, we then moved to the Sandhills area and I went into independent pharmacy because I love people and wanted to help people. One day, a sales rep came into the pharmacy and started talking about getting into sales. I thought, ‘that’d be a fun job!’ I went to work for a pharma company as a professional sales representative for two-and-a-half years. And when my husband and I had our first baby, I resigned from that position and went back into hospital pharmacy, and then to GlaxoSmithKline. I went to Glaxo in the safety part of the organization and had several positions within the company, including establishing a safety call center. After 12 years there, I was sitting in my office and I thought, ‘I’ve been out of health care for over 20 years now, I want to get back into health care and directly help patients.’ So I went and worked at Duke as their clinical inpatient lead during the implementation of electronic health records. From there, I wanted my next challenge, and I thought about pharmacovigilance (drug safety) and my passion for data and analytics. I always loved math and I just felt I could see the big picture of talking data analytics with safety and merging it with treating patients. That’s how I ended up doing what I do. I get the best of both worlds.
Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?
A: I work from home and I have worked from home since before the pandemic. Working for a global company, it’s a lot different. When you’re in pharmacovigilance, that clock never stops. We are always trying to protect the patients taking medications. So I start my day at about 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m., and I’m on calls that can go until after midnight. That’s rare, but it does happen. Typically, I try to cut off work by 6 p.m. Sometimes I’ll come back in my office before I go to bed and check emails because the other side of the world is starting to sign on.
Q: Describe the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your (novel) practice role?
A: The people. It’s so neat to talk to people all over the world in one phone call. The majority of my day is spent talking to people in the Asia-Pacific and European areas. That is rewarding to me. I have learned so much about different cultures, traditions and different holidays. Professionally, I still learn so many things every day.
Q: Describe the most challenging aspect of your role?
A: The most challenging part is the different time zones and being associated with that 24-7 clock and the global regulatory authorities that come with pharmacovigilance.
Q: How can someone learn more about this unique practice setting and the career opportunities it presents for pharmacists?
One thing I always tell students is to utilize your network and your pharmacy school network. Talk to leaders within the school. A good way to get your foot in the door is by doing a summer internship or by volunteering. Several pharmacy students from UNC have come to IQVIA for that reason.
Q: What advice would you give to a current student pharmacist who is interested in pursuing a similar type of practice role in the future?
A: I would highly encourage students to go be a traditional pharmacist first. If they know they want to be a research scientist, then go do that, but if you don’t know what you want to do, go get in a pharmacy and treat patients. In the back of my mind, I’ll always remember the patients I’ve helped. You’ll become familiar with the medications, the drug interactions, the patients, the IV medications, the cardiovascular medications, the hospitals, etc. You can’t always teach that. I retained all that I learned in retail and community pharmacy.
Q: What general advice would you give to a high school or college student who is interested in pursuing a pharmacy career?
A: My husband and I used to team up and go to high schools and set up for career days. I would suggest they talk to their guidance counselors and suggest they explore different roles. There’s so much information on the Internet today to figure out which way you want to go. And volunteer! When I was floundering, I went and took a career test and pharmacy kept popping up. I started talking about how I love people and how I love math and science. So it made sense. Talk to pharmacists in various roles. Volunteer. Build your network. Take your time to explore what’s out there.
Q: Can you share a brief story about a time you had a positive impact on a patient, population, or community in your role as a pharmacist?
A: There have been so many. During my community and hospital pharmacy venture, I worked for a startup home health care company. During that opportunity, we had to be on call on the weekends and we had to carry a beeper. One weekend, I got beeped. We had a cancer patient who was out of his saline solution. I knew I needed to get it to him. It was dusk and winter. He lived somewhere between the Sandhills and Raleigh, and I knew I was going to find it. When we got there, it was like something you’d see in a movie. It was such a poor little house. I went up to the door and they were so appreciative of their syringes. He was laying there in his hospital bed by the front door. When we left, I stood on the front porch and tears were rolling down my face. I’ll never forget that gentleman’s name and his family.