20 Questions: Oleg Zvenigorodsky, PharmD

Oleg Zvenigorodsky graduated cum laude from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and completed a post-doctoral drug safety fellowship at Johnson & Johnson, after which he was hired by the company to work in their Global Medical Safety department.

Currently, Zvenigorodsky is manager of product safety evaluation for Johnson & Johnson. In that capacity, he performs safety evaluations of pharmaceutical and consumer products; prepares post-marketing safety documents, including ad-hoc safety reports, Health Hazard Evaluations, Label Justification Documents (supporting changes to labeling), Periodic Safety Update Reports, and other documents as requested by health authorities orinternal/external stakeholders; and helps manage an outreach initiative responsible for improving company practices and awareness of pharmacovigilance to numerous departments across Johnson & Johnson.

Zvenigorodsky is also adjunct pharmacotherapeutic lab professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, where he recently developed a rotation program for pharmacy students in the department. Also a part time pharmacist at New Care Pharmacy in Philadelphia, Zvenigorodsky has been published in the American Journal of Pharmacy Education and has lectured on the topic of drug safety in the pharmaceutical industry. He is APhA-certified in Medication Therapy Management.

When did you first decide to become a pharmacist? Why?

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I decided to pursue a pharmacy career in the beginning of my high school senior year. I wanted to be a pharmacist for a number of reasons, but the main reason was the inspiration I obtained from my mother, who is also a pharmacist. Ever since I was a young kid, I recall family members, neighbors and friends always calling my mother for advice on medications and treatments. I learned to appreciate the responsibilities pharmacists have in the community and the broad knowledge they possess. I considered other careers in healthcare, but found pharmacy to be the best fit for me based on years of schooling, degree, reputation, salary, and most importantly, long-term career opportunities.

How/why did you choose the school you went to?

I made the decision to attend pharmacy school close to my home. Luckily, there were a number of such schools in my area. I also wanted to go to a school with an established reputation and one that had a six-year Doctor of Pharmacy program (meaning that I would not need a separate undergraduate degree). I chose Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, part of the University of the Sciences, which is the oldest college of pharmacy in the country and one of the most respected pharmacy institutions.

What surprised you the most about pharmacy school?

What surprised me most was how structured the curriculum was. It was something I didn’t appreciate until after my graduation. We began with basic biology and chemistry-type classes, something most people would not associate with a pharmacy degree. However, those early classes were the building blocks for more advanced classes such as immunology and physiology. These classes were then further building blocks for even more advanced and pharmacy-specific classes such as pharmacotherapeutics. Without having the basic understanding of biology and chemistry, it would have been difficult to learn in depth about the human body and medications. I was also surprised how much clinical knowledge we were taught. Everything from diagnosing common conditions to treatment options for advanced diseases, every medical concept was taught in great detail.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a pharmacist? Why or why not? What would you have done instead?

If I had to do it all over again, I would absolutely become a pharmacist without a doubt in my mind. I am very proud and passionate about my career, and I wouldn’t have such strong feelings if I wasn’t happy with it. Even though I only graduated about four years ago, I already feel like I’ve made a positive impact on patients. I look forward to continuing to work hard and having an even bigger impact on patients in the future. If I had to do anything differently, I would seriously consider pursuing a career as a clinical pharmacist in a hospital. This would give me an opportunity to be an integral part of the medical team (doctors, nurses, residents) and also have more direct interaction with patients. Although I enjoy the role and responsibility of my current career as a pharmacovigilance (i.e. drug safety) pharmacist, I do sometimes miss helping patients directly.

What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?

Finding a job in the pharmaceutical industry was not very easy, but with the right preparation and dedication, most people will be successful. I wanted to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry because I wanted to make an impact on a larger scale and also because I wanted to be in drug safety. Most pharmacy students won’t decide exactly which career path they will choose until the last year of school. During that year, students have the opportunity to go to different pharmacy settings (community, hospital, industry, specialty, etc) for rotations, which are typically four to six months. This gives students an opportunity to learn and observe the many career opportunities pharmacy offers before deciding which one to pursue.

Has being a pharmacist met your expectations? Why?

Yes, my expectations as a pharmacist have been met. But the field of pharmacy is always changing and evolving. The future of pharmacy is likely going to be different, just like many other careers in healthcare. Anyone interested in pursuing a career in pharmacy should be ready to adjust to and accept an evolving profession. It is hard to predict where the future lies, but as pharmacists continue to become more involved in patient-based services, the outlook seems promising.

What do you like most about being a pharmacist?

What I like most about being a pharmacist are the numerous career opportunities available. Although I have a full time job in the pharmaceutical industry, I am still able to work part time in a community pharmacy and do some lectures at my University. There are many job positions that seek candidates with PharmDs, so pharmacists usually have options. Also, those who are interested in further extending their careers can do residencies, fellowships, and/or obtain specialty certifications. Pharmacists also have a very good reputation in the community, and are often perceived as the most accessible and trustworthy healthcare professionals.

What do you like least about being a pharmacist?

Since there are so many different fields of pharmacy, each one has specific pros and cons. The things I like least about my area of practice are entirely different from pharmacists who work in hospitals and pharmacies. Overall, however, I think pharmacists should have a bigger role with patient care and have more responsibility in the health outcomes of patients. This would mean having pharmacists be reimbursed for patient-based services and have bigger roles in hospitals.

Describe a typical day at work.

My typical day involves reviewing adverse events that have been reported with the products my company makes and working with a number of other colleagues to determine if any new safety information needs to be communicated to patients and healthcare professionals that use our products. Obviously, my typical day is very different from a pharmacist who, for example, works in a pharmacy and is responsible for properly dispensing medications, counseling patients, resolving insurance issues, and interacting with physicians about treatments for patients.

How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?

The average pharmacist will work approximately 40 hours a week. Some pharmacists in community pharmacies and hospitals might work night shifts or have other varying schedules, which might include working some weekends. In my field, pharmacists work typical “9 to 5” hours, but this is not very common for other pharmacists. Vacation time and average nightly sleep varies for each pharmacist, but overall is not different from other healthcare professions.

Are you satisfied with your income?

In my personal opinion, pharmacists are well compensated. Although I strongly believe that the salary should not be a deciding factor in pursuing a career in pharmacy, for those who are interested, there is some data available online which is fairly accurate.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?

To a certain degree, my school loans have been and will continue to be a strain. However, I feel the compensation and the earned degree (Doctor of Pharmacy) drastically outweighs any financial burdens of these loans in the long term.

In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?

Once I would have made the decision to attend pharmacy school, I would tell myself: “Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you. Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. Your pharmacy career starts the day you begin college, not the day you graduate. And by the way, have some fun!”

What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were pre-pharmacy school?

When I was in school, I was what one could consider an “over-achiever.” I spent a lot of time studying and focused too much on getting good grades. I wish someone told me that I should start working on other skills sets, such as verbal communication, volunteering, sports, etc; as this would provide me with a more well-rounded experience in my early college days.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?

In my personal opinion, the issue of reimbursement is one of the biggest issues facing healthcare, and specifically pharmacy, today. The other problem I see is the influence of technology and social media on healthcare, where patients turn to internet sources for information rather than seeking advice from healthcare professionals with years of experience.

Where do you see pharmacy in 10 years?

I see pharmacy continuing to evolve in the next 10 years to where pharmacists play a much bigger role in patient’s healthcare. I hope to see pharmacists who work in community pharmacies get reimbursed for more than just dispensing medications and immunizing patients. I also hope to see pharmacists take on even more non-traditional roles, such as in the pharmaceutical industry, managed care, government, and business. I also hope to see the field of pharmacy continue to be one of the most respected and sought-after professions.

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?

I try to interact and mentor pharmacy students as they approach graduation. I believe that it’s important to have someone with experience provide personal insight to students, which is what I try to do. I also like to teach, so I participate in a number of lectures, classes and associations at the University. Many of my colleagues are also actively involved in various hobbies and activities outside work.

How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?

In my free time I enjoy playing basketball, spending time at the gym, reading books and watching movies. Unfortunately, I don’t have any specific hobbies, but I hope to soon.

Do you have any family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life?

I do have enough time to spend with my wife, family and friends. I believe I have a very reasonable work-life balance, but I am also grateful to have very understanding people in my life who recognize the importance of my career and my passion for pharmacy.

Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing pharmacy as a career?

I strongly encourage each student to discuss, evaluate and write down the reasons he/she is pursuing a career in pharmacy. The list should be extensive. However, if salary/compensation is at the top of that list, I strongly question the rationale of pursuing a career simply because of money. There will be days in school and on the job where money will not be enough of a reason to keep you going. For those who are interested in pursuing pharmacy because of the opportunities, responsibilities, and rewards that pharmacists share; it will truly fulfill your expectations. But only if you are willing to work hard. There are many avenues that new graduates can take. I chose the pharmaceutical industry for certain personal reasons, while others choose to be clinical pharmacists or retail pharmacists. All of these are very rewarding career paths in their own ways.

2 thoughts on “20 Questions: Oleg Zvenigorodsky, PharmD”

  1. Dr. Zvenigorodsky is spot on. The profession will continue to thrive and with the primary care shortage you are going to have more Doctors of Pharmacy medically managing patients. Hospitals will open more residencies and doctors of pharmacy will play a more significant role in patient care.
    Cheers to a great read!

  2. Keep dreaming about pharmacists in primary care. The NPs are filling that role fast with online DNP programs, unions, and lenient state laws for them. Inpatient pharmacists are fighting just to keep their FTE’s as it is.

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