A Life-changing Area Partnership
The College’s partnership with Astellas gives students at a huge advantage come time for APPE and as they consider their post-graduation pathways.
The fourth-year is, arguably, the most transformative year of pharmacy school for student pharmacists. After three years of intensive coursework, the fourth-year allows aspiring pharmacists to put their skills to the test during their Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPE). APPE rotations integrate, reinforce, and advance the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that our student pharmacists have cultivated during their pre-APPE curriculum.
Most colleges of pharmacy provide students with rotations at local retail pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics - which are all critical experiences for pharmacists to have under their belt. But what sets the UIC College of Pharmacy apart is its proximity to not only the world-renowned Illinois Medical District but also the plethora of pharmaceutical companies nearby, such as Astellas Pharma. Astellas Pharma US, Inc. is a US affiliate of Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma, Inc. The US headquarters, located in Northbrook, Illinois, currently employs nearly 1,200 people. The company is “dedicated to improving the health of people around the world through the provision of innovative and reliable pharmaceutical products.” The College’s partnership with such a dynamic and reputable pharmaceutical company puts our students at a huge advantage come time for APPE and as they consider their post-graduation pathways.
“Having a partner like Astellas is so important to the future of our College, and especially for our students,” said Dean Glen T. Schumock. “As the profession of pharmacy changes, it is increasingly important to give students practice experience and exposure to the wide spectrum of alternative careers that are available to pharmacists. In particular, there are many rewarding opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry.”
Given our large alumni network, 10,000 , the College has a well-connected network of pharmacy leaders across the country. Many local alumni are in positions to accept students for both IPPE (Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences) as well as their APPE rotations, in a wide variety of career paths, at their organization. Astellas graciously accepts two students per rotation cycle, to work with their Regulatory Affairs team, for this highly sought after elective rotation.
Two recent P4 students on rotation at Astellas, Aleksandrina (Aleks) Ruseva and Danerra Grahn shared how beneficial their elective industry rotation has been. “There are so many opportunities to make connections. Even though my rotation is in regulatory affairs, I had the chance to meet people in medical affairs, clinical, quality assurance -- it’s been great getting exposure to other areas of the business,” said Danerra.
Dr. Donald Raineri (BS ’84, PharmD ’86), Dr. Robert Wittenberg (PharmD ’07), and Dr. Sean Beirne (PharmD ’18) currently manage and precept UIC College of Pharmacy students during their rotation at Astellas. Dr. Raineri, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, enjoys being able to show student pharmacists the various opportunities that are available outside of the traditional pharmacy roles. “I want them to see the variety of opportunities that are available across the industry.”
So what does an industry rotation entail? In the first few days, students learn about the structure of the company and the products that are currently in development. Then, they are assigned small projects, while assisting their preceptors and other Astellas employees with their projects. These projects touch on the broad scope of regulatory affairs, including regulatory intelligence, product development, and marketing.
Students also have the opportunity to attend to weekly “MAP” (Material Approval Process) meetings, where different departments within the company come together to develop promotional and sales training materials. “I think students are surprised how much of a team effort our work is,” said Dr. Raineri.
In addition to these meetings and projects, Aleks and Danerra had the chance to shadow pharmacists at the company. “It was great to attend the morning meetings with pharmacists to see how things are changing and see what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis. It’s awesome that they take the time out of their busy day to let us shadow them and see their process. It’s exposure that you wouldn’t get anywhere else,” said Aleks.
These invaluable experiences give students a chance to see what areas within the industry they would like to pursue further.
Our preceptors spoke a bit about what interested them in regulatory affairs. Drs. Beirne and Wittenberg, like our current students, were able to participate in industry rotations, while at UIC, and ultimately were recruited from their individual post-grad experiences within industry. “I came into UIC College of Pharmacy thinking that I would work retail,” said Dr. Wittenberg, Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs, Advertising and Promotion. “I then got involved in AMCP, and they brought in managed care and industry pharmacists, so I started to find out about these areas of pharmacy early on in my career.” He also discusses the benefits of mentorship. “A key next step is finding a mentor early on to help provide career guidance and also teach you how to advocate for yourself.”
Dr. Raineri had a different path into regulatory affairs, however. “After my fellowship in Neurology and Pharmacokinetics at UIC, my original plans were to become a tenured professor doing research and teaching in the college. The president of a start-up pharmaceutical company that I was doing assay work for approached me and asked if I was interested in a career in industry. So I started out in industry within a clinical capacity, but during that time, I had a lot of exposure to the FDA, how it operated, and how drugs got approved. That experience is what really piqued my interest in regulatory affairs.”
The goal of the elective industry APPE rotation is to not only give students the chance to experience the industry side of pharmacy, but it also is a major opportunity to network with well-connected professionals within their area of interest.
Dr. Beirne, Associate Manager, Regulatory Affairs Oncology at Astellas, had witnessed the benefit of networking during his elective APPE rotation firsthand, as it opened the door to a post-graduate fellowship at Astellas and ultimately a full-time position. “As a newer preceptor, I try to remember what it was like being in [the students’] shoes and provide them with the information that helped me succeed in my rotation here. Leveraging networking opportunities here was huge for me. The pharmacists here are very receptive and love to interact with students - they also keep students informed about potential job opportunities in the future.”
Both Aleks and Danerra recommend that students pursue their interest in industry pharmacy as soon as possible. “Since our rotations are assigned through a lottery system and you don’t know if you’ll get an industry pharmacy rotation, start looking for internships as soon as you’re interested, even P1 and P2 year,” said Danerra. “If you know early on that you want to work in industry, start seeking out those opportunities as soon as possible. If you know earlier on what you want to do, you’ll be at an advantage,” added Aleks.
Dr. Sheila Allen (PharmD ’03), Director of Experiential Education and Clinical Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice, provides more detail about the APPE elective rotation at Astellas. “We are very fortunate to have a great partnership with Astellas. On average, 14 students complete an Advanced Specialty Elective Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience at Astellas per year. We are also fortunate that some of our preceptors at Astellas have participated as preceptors for our Practice Week Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE).” Dr. Allen goes on to describe how our access to these partnerships set student pharmacists up for success. “These experiences are quite formative and, as such, very competitive among our students. Our students are eager to explore career opportunities in industry with many of our students serving as active members of our Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO) student chapter, actively pursuing industry internships during their summer terms, and seeking fellowships post-graduation.”
The College’s location and unique access to area partners such as Astellas, as well as an incredible number of additional practice settings and sites, allows our students to have unique and transformative educational experiences.