Pharmacy

Q&A with Dr. Nicole Lovullo, Community Pharmacist and Medical Writer

Dr. Nicole Lovullo’s career has traveled a path that is both conventional and unexpected for a pharmacist. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and her Doctor of Pharmacy from the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University.

Upon graduating, she began dual career paths. Like the majority of pharmacy graduates, she began working part-time as a pharmacist in a community setting (every other weekend). In her full-time role, she pursued medical writing as an associate editor for a medical communications company, where she was involved in writing and editing various publications and project management for several therapeutic areas. She became an editor and then senior editor for Scientific Therapeutics Information, while maintaining an active part-time practice as a community pharmacist in several different locations.

She then transitioned to full-time community pharmacy, which included six years as pharmacy manager for Walgreens. During that time, she continued her communications career as a freelance medical writer. Eventually she transitioned back to writing full time, as senior medical writer for Maxcess Managed Markets, a division of Publicis Health.

In her current role, she serves as a writer for Payer Sciences (Publicis Health), where she creates various tools such as brochures, flash cards, and value propositions for a variety of audiences. She serves as an APPE preceptor for Rutgers PharmD students, and helped implement a partnership for APPE students at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She is a licensed pharmacist in New Jersey and a certified immunizer. Dr. Lovullo has almost twenty five years of experience in the profession of pharmacy, as a technician, pharmacist, and a medical writer.

What led you to the field of pharmacy?

I started working as a pharmacy technician for a regional retail chain the summer before senior year of high school. I immediately engulfed myself in learning the brand and generic names and what each drug was used for. Rutgers University was one of the colleges to which I was applying and I selected their pharmacy school as one of my options and I was accepted! Though I initially planned to major in English, I decided to attend the College of Pharmacy (now Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy) to pursue my career in this field.

What has your educational and career journey been like?

Interesting, to say the least. We all know what pharmacy school was like. I attended pharmacy school during the big transition into more clinical roles. Though we had the opportunity for nontraditional rotations, there weren’t as many options as students have today. I think the biggest learnings on my journey, however, have been through my employment experiences.

Tell us about your role with Publicis Health.

Currently, I am a medical writer at a managed markets/payer marketing agency. I work with colleagues in a number of different disciplines (account management, strategy, project management, and art) to develop deliverables to aid in conversations with customers. I research and write promotional and disease state awareness tools (slide decks, brochures, etc.) so that field teams from the pharma companies can use them in their discussions with payer customers.

What does a typical work day look life for you?

A lot of researching for appropriate content, sources, and references. Trying to translate what I’m reading into meaningful messages that are relevant to the target audience. I work at a desk in a typical office setting, Monday through Friday, with occasional visits to our clients.

Talk to us about medical writing. What do you like best about it and what makes it a challenge?

I love writing, so it was the best of both worlds to combine writing/communication with my pharmacy background and knowledge. It is challenging to identify the appropriate content within the confines of regulatory guidance, etc., and also to create promotional/marketing messages from clinical information, and especially to ensure they resonate with the end reader/user.

You began working in both community pharmacy and medical writing after pharmacy school. Since that time you’ve transitioned back and forth between the two paths. Can you tell us a little about those transitions?

In my core, I’m a pharmacist. I remind myself all the time, although I work with a lot of “business” people, I am not. I’m not trained that way, and my mind doesn’t work that way. First and foremost, I’m a health care professional. Until my current role, I always still kept my hand in retail pharmacy except for 2 years a long while back. I also had to be mindful of keeping my hand in writing during the times I worked retail (by freelancing, etc.) because when people look at your resume, they’re wanting to see that you’ve done communications work recently. It’s definitely been a balancing act.

How has your time in community pharmacy enhanced your skills as a medical writer? 

Specifically in the payer marketing realm, it has really given me an inherent real-life perspective. I’ve seen the inner workings of PAs and access hurdles patients encounter. I’ve seen patients unable to pay expensive co-pays. I’ve called to have meds switched to something cheaper. I’ve helped search for co-pay cards. I have actual insights that others hear about in slide presentations and on conference calls.

You completed a clerkship in medical communications during pharmacy school. How did that experience contribute to your career in medical writing, and how has it influenced you as a preceptor?

I really sought out a medical communications rotation since I wanted to know more about that career path. They weren’t that common years ago and I’m happy to see there are more nontraditional opportunities for students today. I was able to see what the day-to-day agency life was like. It has helped me as a preceptor to be more involved and interact with my students, to bring them into calls and meetings, and expose them to lots of different experiences going on every day in the agency. I remember just sitting there, working on research and slides, but not really interacting with anyone or seeing the collaboration that goes into projects.

Do you have any advice for students or pharmacists looking to make a career in medical writing? Are there additional trainings or certifications that are helpful?

Experience is key. As a student, get involved in the newsletter for your pharmacy school. Join your state pharmacy association and get involved. I’ve been a peer reviewer and have also written for my state’s pharmacy journal. Those are ways to help break into medical writing and to expand your portfolio. Save the presentations and papers you write on rotation. Also, AMWA (American Medical Writers Association) is a great resource.

What are your recommendations to build leadership skills in pharmacy?

Listen to your staff and team members. Trust them to get the job done and don’t micromanage. Be clear in your asks, but also be available and approachable for questions. People will respect you if you treat them with respect. Their role or title doesn’t matter; respect everyone in your workplace. I have always had techs who would bend over backward to help us out if someone called out sick or we needed coverage, because I always tried to be fair to my staff and give them the flexibility they needed whenever I could. Your team, your staff, will always give more if they are motivated, if they want to make you proud and they feel part of a team. Also, learn how to accept feedback and constructive criticism. Some of the feedback I’ve received over the years I still consciously try to incorporate into my daily work. And solicit 360 feedback as well, not just from higher ups/managers.

How important is networking in pharmacy?

Networking is so important. As we all know, pharmacy is a small world and it’s also very dynamic. People change jobs and shift positions, but we’re all still in the same universe, so to speak. I always tell my students to keep track of the people they meet on rotation—names, titles, companies, because you never know who you might want to reach out to or collaborate with.

Is finding a mentor critical to success in pharmacy? How would you recommend students or new practitioners go about finding a mentor?

I think it’s important and can be very helpful. I don’t know that it’s paramount. I didn’t have one so maybe that’s why I say this. I imagine if you did have someone to guide you along a particular path, it could make it much easier. I would recommend students or new practitioners identify a preceptor or a supervisor with whom they’ve had a good relationship and not be afraid to ask—“how can you help me achieve this goal, go down this path, etc.?” For those of us in those mentoring roles, we can pave the way, make it a bit smoother, and connect them with colleagues and resources. I think people don’t ask for help because many of us, especially practitioners, are so overwhelmingly busy in the day-to-day.

How do you recommend a pharmacy student or pharmacist learn more about the leadership and administrative aspects of pharmacy?

I would suggest joining some of the professional pharmacy associations as well as get involved in the leadership structure at your school or company.

What else has aided in your success?

I’m extremely resourceful. I keep digging and researching until I find the answer. I’m also extremely detail-oriented and organized. You have to be to stay consistent with data and messaging across many different pieces and also to create annotations for the medical/legal/regulatory reviews that our pieces have to go through on the pharma side.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in pharmacy currently?

It makes me so sad to see the downfall of our profession in recent years. It’s the lack of respect across the board for pharmacists as healthcare providers. How is this designation and recognition still something we are fighting for? We are often rated as the most trusted profession and as the most accessible provider, but yet we aren’t recognized for it. I am so upset by the way our colleagues, especially those working retail, are treated. The biggest problem is that we have lost the ability to advocate for ourselves. Pharmacists working in a number of settings fear retribution if they speak up or try to improve working conditions. And the vast majority of us are doing more with less and ultimately trying to do the best to help our patients.

What advice do you have for balancing work and personal life?

Be efficient. Get as much done as you can during “working” hours, which especially in agency life is difficult, because a lot of hours are expected but also necessary to get the work done and to meet client deadlines. If you have an opportunity to work from home or have a flexible schedule, I think it makes life a bit easier. You are able to give more to your job when you have the flexibility you need for appointments, family life, etc. 99 out of 100 people will put in the time to make up for it on their own. And we’re all measured by whether or not we met the deadline or got the work done, so when and how we do that shouldn’t matter so much.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I always loved how pharmacists got to be the bridge between prescribing and actually taking medication. So many of the things we do and what we communicate contribute to whether a patient actually takes home what was prescribed, and whether they take it, or even take it appropriately. And now more than ever, with MTM (medication therapy management), is it doing what it’s supposed to do? Who else is monitoring that?

What is your vision for the profession of pharmacy?

I hope I get to see more mutual respect among healthcare providers. We’re all on the same team. I hope that retail pharmacy unravels itself and we stop having to do the impossible with less and less help. I hope to see more collaborative practices and pharmacists as members of the healthcare team.

What advice would you give students who are wanting to pursue a career in pharmacy?

Stick with it. It’s a rough time for our profession right now. But be part of the solution. And find your niche. There is so much to do out there vs the retail and health system jobs – medical communications, drug information, informatics, etc.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or about pharmacy?

I’m so proud to be a pharmacist. I’m proud of the interns who worked at my store and the students I’ve had on rotation—to see where they wound up and what types of things they’re getting involved in with our profession. If you have interns or students, or family/friends pursuing a pharmacy career, guide them and lead them because we all are going to determine what happens to the future of this profession, and it’s up to us to make sure it changes for the better.

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Sarah Lawrence, PharmD, is an independent pharmacy educational consultant and freelance writer. She serves as a health outcomes pharmacist for a large...