Excellence and equity: From pilot to program, a Pfizer experience

Feature ArticlesFeature Articles | 17 November 2022 | Citation  |  PDF Link PDF

In 2021, Pfizer global regulatory affairs colleagues piloted an advanced pharmacy practice experience program as part of a company-wide diversity, inclusion, and equity program in collaboration with Howard University College of Pharmacy (CoP), a US-based historically Black college/university (HBCU).1 Following pilot success, the initiative was elevated to full program status and the prospective student pool was expanded to include all HBCU CoPs in the US, as well as one predominantly Black institution. Selected students were placed under the supervision of volunteer Pfizer colleagues at the director level and above, and across different therapeutic areas and categories. 
*Pfizer   Florida A&M University
Keywords – equity, excellence, global regulatory affairs, historically Black college/university, predominantly Black institution, talent pipeline development, experiential education
Excellence and equity are core values that define Pfizer’s company culture to develop breakthroughs that change patients' lives. Both values underpin the need to achieve transformative patient outcomes in teams in which every member is seen, heard, and cared for. These goals are actioned through the Pfizer enterprise-wide three-pillar diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Pfizer’s DEI strategy – Three strategic pillars

CoP, college of pharmacy; GRA, global regulatory affairs; HBCU, historically Black college/university; HUCOP, Howard University College of Pharmacy; PBI, predominantly Black institution.
Source: Pfizer
In alignment with the overall DEI strategy, particularly pillars 1 and 3, colleagues in Pfizer’s global regulatory affairs division (GRA) identified HBCUs and predominantly Black institution CoPs as potential partners to support the mission of encouraging careers in regulatory affairs among diverse and talented students.

[Related article Carter M, et al. Fostering diversity and talent: A Pfizer case study. Regulatory Focus. Published online September 2021. https://www.raps.org/RAPS/media/news-images/Feature%20PDF%20Files/21-9_Carter-et-al_rev-1.pdf ]

HBCUs are defined under Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965 by the US Congress as schools of higher learning that were accredited and established before 1964 and whose principal mission is the education of African Americans.2 Of the more than 100 HBCUs across the US, those with accredited CoPs educate a significant percentage of pharmacy students identifying as underrepresented people of color (UPOC) nationwide. Although HBCU CoPs represent only 3%-4% of the total number of pharmacy schools in the US, they have consistently enrolled a larger percentage of UPOC students compared with all pharmacy schools nationwide. From 2015-2019, this included enrollment of 22.8% of African American students, 6.6% of American Indian and Alaska Native students, and 2% of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander students.3

Predominantly Black institutions (PBIs) are also classified and defined by the US Congress. Under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the bill that reauthorized the Higher Education Act of 1965, the key goal of PBIs is to expand higher education opportunities for eligible Black American and first-generation college students.2,4 At least 50% of the students who matriculate at these institutions are low-income (i.e., individuals from a family whose taxable income for the preceding year did not exceed 150% of an amount equal to the poverty level determined using the criteria of poverty established by the Bureau of the Census) or first-generation (i.e., individuals whose parents did not complete a baccalaureate degree).5 Of all students enrolled at a PBI, 40% or more are African American.5

Pfizer GRA-HUCOP Pilot Program
The Pfizer GRA-Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) Pilot Program was initiated in 2021 in collaboration with Howard University COP (HUCOP), a top-ranked HBCU. A number of unique elements were built into the pilot design and implementation strategy to enhance the overall value of the experience. Unlike any other program at Pfizer, the pilot was intentionally focused on graduate-level doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) candidates from diverse backgrounds and with a strong interest in clinical research and regulatory science as evidenced by their prior experiences. In addition, the pilot experience was completely remote and delivered in a virtual format to allow for students from across the nation to participate without the financial burden of short-term physical relocation near a Pfizer campus.
Selected fourth-year HUCOP students with previous industry and/or health authority (e.g., US Food and Drug Administration [FDA]) externship experience enrolled in the pilot program and attained academic credit toward completion of the PharmD curriculum. Following graduation, each student gained employment with a Fortune 500 multinational, biopharmaceutical company in regulatory strategy and medical affairs functional roles. One student was hired as a full-time Pfizer colleague and is currently working in the GRA-Internal Medicine group as an above-country, regional regulatory strategist.
Expansion from pilot to program
Following the successful pilot in 2021 with HUCOP, the Pfizer GRA leadership team endorsed expansion to a full program with the opportunity to include students from additional HBCU and PBI CoPs.
To support this effort, Pfizer GRA colleagues worked closely with members of the Pfizer Global Black Community (GBC) Colleague Resource Group (CRG) and reviewed literature to identify all accredited HBCU and predominantly Black university PharmD programs that could incorporate biopharmaceutical experiential student opportunities into their curriculum. A total of seven institutions were identified, including all six HBCU CoPs (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Hampton University, Howard University, Texas Southern University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Xavier University) and one predominantly Black CoP (Chicago State University; Table 1). Each institution provides an educational learning environment that caters to the unique experience of minority students. They serve as premier incubators for the development of African American science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) professionals across the nation.6,7 They rank among the highest producers of Black professionals in medicine and pharmacy.

Pfizer GRA program administrators and members of the Pfizer Talent Acquisition, Recruiting and Onboarding Delivery Team hosted a collaborative, cross-institution, kick-off meeting with CoP experiential program administrators and school deans to gauge their interest in partnering with Pfizer GRA to support student participation in the program. In addition, this discussion led to understanding of the individual institution programming practices/operating procedures to create targeted and valuable industry experiences for the students. The following potential program hurdles were identified:
  • Requirements for the cross-departmental review process and timelines aligned with the finalization of the education affiliation agreement,
  • Preceptor requirements,
  • Use of the core experiential-learning management system software to manage student evaluations, and
  • Varying block schedule start/end dates across each institution.
Solutions agreeable to both Pfizer and each CoP were identified to overcome these concerns.
All seven identified CoPs expressed interest in partnering with Pfizer GRA, and the program’s prospective student pool was expanded to include applicants from each school (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Expansion of Pfizer GRA-HBCU-PBI Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience Pilot Program

GRA, Global Regulatory Affairs; HBCU, historically Black college/university; PBI, predominantly Black institution.
Source: Pfizer
In addition, Pfizer GRA program administrators attended virtual preceptorship fairs to further understand the administrative processes and timelines for individual university experiential-learning opportunities. These fairs also served as platforms for interfacing with potential student applicants and providing details of the overall program objectives, selection criteria, and timelines. During the fairs, students were most interested in gaining further information about regulatory science as a profession, connecting with Pfizer presenters to gain a better understanding of a day in the life of a Pfizer regulatory colleague, and discussing the overall skills and experiences that would be instrumental in supporting their candidacy.
Efforts to recruit additional Pfizer GRA preceptors were also prioritized and deemed as important as collaboration with CoP administrators and interfacing with potential students. A small kick-off meeting was initially held with pilot preceptors to confirm participation for the expanded program. Each pilot program preceptor agreed to participate and was retained. Subsequently, pilot preceptors served as program ambassadors and led recruitment interactions with potential new preceptors (Figure 3). Further awareness about the program was provided via broad advertisement across different internal media platforms (e.g., Yammer, Microsoft Teams, email), commentary provided by senior level leaders during townhalls and podcasts, discussions led by Pfizer CRGs, presentation roadshows hosted within GRA category meetings, and postings included on the GRA volunteer matching portal.

Figure 3. Expansion of Pfizer GRA-HBCU-PBI Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience Preceptorship Program

GRA, Global Regulatory Affairs; HBCU, historically Black college/university; PBI, predominantly Black institution.
Source: Pfizer


Expanded program execution
Many of the learnings from the pilot contributed positively to the design of the expanded program. One example of this included maintaining the remote/virtual format to support student access. In addition, the Pfizer-CoP education affiliation agreements/contracts finalization process, which was identified as the key challenge and a rate-limiting activity for pilot program initiation, was optimized. This included extending the overall duration of the contracts/agreements and discussing intricacies and efficiencies early on during the kick-off meeting with the CoPs and Pfizer Human Resources Talent Acquisition. As a result, the agreement duration was extended from 1 to 5 years. Given this, the process will no longer be an immediate barrier unless there are significant program modifications.
A new element of the program design was incorporation of an option for students to participate throughout their institution’s academic year rather than the May-to-June timeframe for the pilot. This was a welcomed efficiency from the perspective of CoP administrators, potential students, and Pfizer GRA student preceptors. It allowed for students across universities to participate, despite differing rotation block schedules.
The key challenge associated with the expanded program was internal Pfizer resources. Although the pilot was expanded to a full program with an increased number of CoPs, students, and preceptors, the size of the Pfizer GRA administration team was not increased. As a result, it was challenging to manage activities and track key strategic imperatives with a small team of volunteers with bandwidth constraints (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Development and activities timeline of Pfizer GRA-HBCU-PBI CoP Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience Preceptorship Program

GRA, global regulatory affairs; HUCOP, Howard University College of Pharmacy; CoP, college of pharmacy; HBCU, historically Black college/university; LT, leadership team; PBI, predominantly Black institution; IM, internal medicine
Source: Pfizer
 Student applicants were selected based on the following criteria:
  • Good academic standing;
  • Demonstrated interest in the biopharmaceutical industry, particularly regulatory science;
  • Leadership skills and experiences (e.g., FDA/industry, but not required);
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills; and
  • Successful interview with Pfizer GRA program administrators.
For students who were not selected, constructive feedback was provided to the experiential-education program administrators about the students’ submission materials and/or interview.
Extensive drug development and regulatory science training
Selected students were mentored by Pfizer colleagues at the director level and above, across four therapeutic areas (immunology and inflammation, internal medicine, oncology, and rare diseases) as well as global regulatory policy and intelligence and the Pfizer Quality and Compliance Center of Excellence. Like the pilot, the program was offered remotely/virtually and consisted of the following:
  • Curated drug development training provided through the Pfizer training portal (e.g., FDA Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) related to protection of human subjects (21 CFR 50); institutional review boards (21 CFR 56), investigational new drugs (21 CFR 312); requirements for adequate and well-controlled clinical studies (21 CFR 314.126); regulations for biological products (21 CFR 600).
  • Regulatory Affairs 101 Training Academy materials to give students an understanding of “a day in the life of a regulatory professional,” with vertical and horizontal matrix working models including other line functional colleagues. This content is delivered live, in a didactic format (recordings made available on-demand), by Pfizer cross-functional colleagues representing regulatory strategy; regulatory advertising and promotion; regulatory operations and labeling; regulatory chemistry, manufacturing, and controls; clinical development; safety; toxicology; commercial; marketing; medical affairs; and health evidence and outcomes research.
  • Pfizer GRA Learning Academy materials, delivered through a digital training portal and including modules on core elements of regulatory affairs, an understanding of the importance of health authorities globally, insight into regulatory law, guidelines, and positions from an international and national perspective, key considerations for development of different types of products (e.g., small molecules, biosimilars/genetics), and corresponding clinical trial applications (e.g., new drug application, abbreviated new drug application).
  • Hands-on experience in regulatory strategy, regulatory policy and intelligence, and regulatory quality and compliance through an assigned project with clear program deliverables (Table 2), which included:
  • Integration into Pfizer line-function‒specific and broader global cross-functional asset teamss,
  • GRA category or therapeutic area team meetings, and
  • Project presentation to broad GRA community at the annual GRA Student Research Day.
  • Structured networking and professional development opportunities with fellow undergraduate and graduate students, cross-functional colleagues, and Pfizer CRGs (e.g., Global Black Community, Latino Colleague Research Group, Global Asian Alliance).

Pfizer colleague feedback
Qualitative Pfizer GRA colleague feedback outlined in Table 3 suggests that student mentorship provided individual contributors the opportunity to showcase leadership capabilities, the space to contribute to transforming society through DEI partnerships, and the chance to make significant impact toward building an inclusive and diverse talent pipeline.

CoP administration feedback
Qualitative CoP administrator feedback outlined in Table 4 suggests the Pfizer GRA collaboration was positive and provided a unique opportunity for talented students.

Student feedback
Student feedback was captured through a voluntary, anonymous, digital Microsoft Forms Survey upon completion of the program. The survey was composed of single-answer, multiple-choice questions (i.e., respondents have to select one answer from a predetermined list of options) and an open-ended question to gain individualized feedback.
Overall, students rated the program and the level of support provided by their Pfizer preceptors as “excellent,” when given the following options: Excellent, Very good, Good, Fair, Poor. They noted that the program experience helped them improve their understanding of/experience in regulatory affairs and professional development. All students reported that they are “extremely interested” in pursuing full time-employment at Pfizer within GRA when given the following: Extremely interested, Somewhat interested, Neutral, Not very interested, Not interested at all. Table 5 provides some of the open-ended feedback from students.

Pfizer GRA has established meaningful metrics that support the overall goal of growing and maintaining a diverse regulatory science talent pipeline, including:
  • Expansion of the Pfizer GRA program to include students from all HBCU and PBI CoPs across the US,
  • Global expansion of the program to include recent PharmD graduates based in countries other than the US (i.e., Kenya, Nigeria, Hong Kong), and
  • Hiring a Pfizer GRA- HUCOP pilot program student after graduation as a full-time employee within Pfizer GRA as a regional regulatory strategist.
Converting the Pfizer GRA preceptorship pilot experience into an established program has provided the opportunity for a considerable number of exceptionally talented, yet underrepresented, HBCU and PBI future pharmacists to gain invaluable experience toward pursuing careers in pharmaceutical regulatory science.
Acronyms and abbreviations
APPE, advanced pharmacy practice experience; CoP, college of pharmacy; CRG, colleague resource group; DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion; EMA, European Medicines Agency; EU, European Union; FDA, [US] Food and Drug Administration; GBC, global Black community; GRA, global regulatory affairs; HBCU, historically Black college/university; HUCOP, Howard University College of Pharmacy; PBI, predominantly Black institution; PharmD, doctor of pharmacy; PRO, patient-reported outcome; RWD, real-world data, RWE, real-world evidence; UPOC, underrepresented people of color.
About the authors
Monique Carter, MS, RAC, FRAPS, is a senior director, global regulatory strategy lead in the Pfizer GRA IM group, leader of the Pfizer Global Regulatory Equity in Action Team Collaboration Pillar, and Pfizer-Collegeville GBC CRG site lead. She is the founder of the Pfizer GRA-HBCU-PBI Preceptorship Program and the Pfizer-GRA Regulatory 101 Training Academy. She leads innovative and adaptive drug development regulatory strategies, ranging from the early investigational space through postmarket approval, to support the continued access to safe and effective medicines for patients in need. Carter has authored many RAPS book chapters and peer-reviewed regulatory affairs manuscripts. She is a RAPS Fellow (FRAPS), holds the Regulatory Affairs Certification, and is a Pfizer Enterprise RAPS member. She can be contacted at Monique.Carter@Pfizer.com
Lesa Jenkins is an executive administrator in the Pfizer GRA-IM group, with 25 years of industry experience. She is a member of the GREAt Collaboration Pillar and Pfizer-Collegeville GBC CRG and is the founder of the Pfizer GRA-HBCU-PBI Preceptorship Program. Jenkins was instrumental in building relationships with HBCUs to initiate the Pfizer GRA-APPE preceptorship pilot and to expand the program nationwide. She can be contacted at Lesa.Jenkins@Pfizer.com
Masooma Razvi, PharmD, RAC, is a director and US regulatory strategy lead in Pfizer GRA-IM group and colead for the GREAt Collaboration Pillar. She is passionate about advancing diversity and inclusion and has participated in other training programs for pharmacists and pharmacy students. Razvi has more than 12 years of research, clinical pharmacy, and regulatory experience and is a US RAC holder and Pfizer Enterprise RAPS member. She can be contacted at Masooma.Razvi@Pfizer.com
Sheneisha White, PharmD, RPh, MBA, is a pharmacist with 12 years of pharmacy experience. White obtained a doctor of pharmacy degree from Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and an master’s of business administration from Florida State University. She is currently a retail pharmacy account specialist in the Pfizer Vaccines Business Unit. White joined Pfizer in 2018 as a territory manager in South Georgia. Her background working in pharmacy settings has also allowed her to cultivate and use her subject matter expertise as a conversational lead during national sales meetings to advise leadership and sales teams on growing their regions. When not in the office or out in the field, she is a host on a podcast that amplifies the voices of marginalized people at work, where she connects with various industry leaders and expand her thought leadership. She can be contacted at Sheneisha.White@pfizer.com
Jennifer Duru, PharmD, is a Pfizer GRA-IM Above Country Regional Regulatory Strategist, with 2 years of research experience. She was an inaugural Pfizer GRA-HUCOP Pilot Program student who accepted a full-time role within Pfizer GRA after graduation. She previously completed student experiences in different functional capacities with Merck, in health economics and outcomes research, and with the FDA as a pharmacy officer in the Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program for the US Public Health Service with the Center of Tobacco Products. She can be contacted at Jennifer.Duru@pfizer.com
Chung-Hyun Lee-Sogaard, PhD, is a global regulatory portfolio lead in Pfizer GRA-IM and a member of the GREAt Collaboration Pillar. She received a doctorate degree from the University of California, San Francisco, and has more than 20 years’ experience as a research scientist, medical writer, and regulatory strategist in cardiometabolic, immunology and inflammation, and rare diseases. She can be contacted at Chung-Hyun.Lee-Sogaard@pfizer.com
Christina Espiritu, MS, is the People Experience Lead for Global Regulatory Affairs at Pfizer. She is a strategic partner with the GRA leadership team and ensures sustained focus on growth, talent retention, and talent development. She received a master’s degree in human resources management from New York University and a bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University. She can be contacted at Christina.Espiritu@pfizer.com
Saima Khan, PhD, is vice president, GRA category head for IM, Pfizer Innovative Medicines Business. She has more than 25 years of pharmaceutical industry experience and has held regulatory positions at global, regional, and national levels. Her experience spans early- to late-stage development globally in the areas of drug, biologics, devices, and combination products across various therapy areas. Khan received a doctorate degree in neuroscience from the Royal London & St. Bartholomew’s School of Medicine. She is the GRA LT sponsor of GREAt and executive sponsor of the Pfizer-Collegeville Global Asian Alliance & Disability Colleague Resource Groups. She is a Pfizer Enterprise RAPS member. Khan can be contacted at Saima.Khan@Pfizer.com
Mildred Brickler, DPT, is the director of Experiential Programs in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health at Florida A&M University. She joined the college in 2000, where she has served in the experiential-education track for 18 years. Brickler received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Virginia Commonwealth University, a master of science degree from Duke University, and a doctor of physical therapy from Northeastern University. She is a member of the Alpha Xi Chapter of Kappa Epsilon Fraternity and has served as the adviser for the Beta Sigma Chapter of Phi Lambda Sigma Pharmacy Leadership Society for 12 years. She can be contacted at mildred.brickler@famu.edu
Charles E. Weaver II, ThD, is coordinator, student affairs, pharmacy practice in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health at Florida A&M University. He joined the college in 1987, where he has served in the experiential education track for 19 years. Weaver received a bachelor’s degree in education from Florida A&M University, and a master of theology degree and doctor of theology from North Carolina College of Theology. He is an ordained elder/superintendent in the Church of God in Christ and has served as the adviser for fourth-professional-year pharmacy student learners for 13 years. He can be contacted at charles.weaver@famu.edu
Citation Carter M, et al. Excellence and equity: From pilot to program, a Pfizer experience. Regulatory Focus. Published online 31 October 2022. https://www.raps.org/news-and-articles/news-articles/2022/10/excellence-and-equity-from-pilot-to-program-a-pfiz
All references accessed and/or verified 26 October 2022.
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Additional reading and resources
Pfizer website. Workplace diversity & inclusion. https://www.pfizer.com/people/workplace-diversity


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