Find more alumni stories and tips for your success in Phoenix Focus.
For Brian Pfister a hefty dose of hard work and lifelong learning have produced a successful career with pharmaceutical giant Novartis.
Although Brian Pfister enjoyed his small-town upbringing in close-knit Noblesville, Indiana, once he graduated from high school, he was ready to see what else the world had to offer. Raised by parents who instilled in him a sense of independence and an appreciation of what it’s like to work hard, he went in search of his future.
Pfister found it in a neuropharmacology lab at Indiana University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in psychology. Though he had enough credits to graduate early, he decided to stay at college an extra semester to conduct some independent research with a faculty member.
“If I look at what I do now, that was the big breakthrough,” says Pfister, who today works as regional scientific association director at pharmaceutical giant Novartis. “It’s what tipped the scales one way or the other.”
Discovering which career path he wanted to pursue was only part of the battle. Now he had to go out and find a job. His first gig, however, fell short of his lofty hopes. “I worked for the equivalent of a [shipping and mailing] store,” he explains, of the position that earned him $7 an hour. “It was definitely a sobering job to have out of college. But sometimes [less desirable] jobs are good at helping us find our paths.”
He prepared his resume and began faxing it out in response to help-wanted ads in the paper. One position in particular caught his eye. “I had noticed one for a contractor [job] at Eli Lilly, and I responded on a whim,” he says. His optimism paid off and he got the job. Eleven months later, he was hired as a regular employee.
“It was a great opportunity within the industry,” he says of the job that eventually took him from the Indianapolis area to Portland, Oregon. There he was a clinical research associate, working with doctors and other health care providers to monitor research within various therapeutic areas and adjudicate the side effects of drugs. This work included looking at diagnoses, matching up drugs with patients’ conditions, verifying that patients actually exist and entering the data into the system for further analysis back at Eli Lilly’s headquarters.
In order to perform effectively, Pfister had to do what came naturally to him: learn. For example, “If you’re doing a cancer study, you have to educate yourself about the disease,” he says. “If it’s not your area of expertise, then you get the information and education you need to become proficient in that area.”
At the same time, Pfister also continued his formal studies. While at Eli Lily, he took advantage of the company’s tuition assistance program and enrolled at University of Phoenix to earn his MBA with a Concentration in Electronic Business, rounding out his science expertise with business skills.
“As much as my job is scientific in nature, it’s business regulated,” he acknowledges. “The more you know about it and the more you understand, the easier it is to navigate some of those hurdles and challenges.”
A desire to return to Indiana led Pfister to Novartis in 2003 where today he works as regional scientific associate director. “It’s kind of a peer educator position,” he explains. “I have discussions with physicians and together we come up with new ideas and ways of moving medications forward.”
It’s Pfister’s job to make sure physicians and other providers understand exactly how a drug works, any potential side effects of a medication and how it can be used to treat patients safely and effectively.
Pfister, who earned his PhD from Capella University last year, is well-suited to a field that is defined by constant change and innovation. He thrives when learning new things, and is right at home in an environment that fosters diversity of thought. “That point in time when you feel uncomfortable, I think that’s good,” he says. “That’s what development feels like.”
Over time, he’s had the opportunity to explore a wide range of specialties, from oncology to respiratory medicine. “I’ve worked in all areas, but my first passion is probably neuroscience,” he admits. One day, perhaps he’ll pass this passion along to others as his undergrad professors did while he was working in the Indiana University lab all those years ago. “If I have an encore career,” Pfister says, “I’ll probably go into teaching.”