Sarah Lamon is a fourth-year pharmacy student at Purdue University and a second-year summer intern at MMIT. She provides in-depth clinical and policy research for MMIT clients, helping them understand payers’ coverage policies and restrictions. In addition to her internship, she also works in the retail pharmacy setting at Walgreens.
Q: What’s your day to day like?
A: Typically, I spend my time on workbooks, which are documents that our team puts together. It’s a write-up for clients that are interested in purchasing our data showing what the market for certain indications currently looks like.
Within that workbook, we outline the drugs that are currently being used to treat whatever disease state the client is interested in, so we collect all of the drugs being used, we explain what they are, their manufacturer, how long they’ve been on the market, etc., and then we start to collect a few policies and show them what the insurance companies are requiring for diagnosis and coverage. From there, that goes to the sales team and they decide if they want us to conduct further research.
I also do a lot of disease state research. If there’s a rare disease or a new mutation in certain cancers, I’ll brief our teams so they’re able to talk to clients about what’s going on. I also do a lot of research in determining coverage, so I spend a lot of time on payer websites, trying to see where they have coverage for the drugs that we’re looking for, if it’s going to be covered by the medical benefit or the pharmacy benefit, etc., and I do a lot of that with oncology, vaccines and rare diseases, because those are typically areas where coverage is scarce or unclear.
Q: What are some of the challenges of your research, and of market access in general?
A: The research can be really difficult, because you’ll do one thing one month, and then the guidelines change, and you essentially have to redo all of that research. I think a lot of pharmaceutical companies don’t realize the amount of fine print on formularies and guidelines that you’ll see with payers.
I don’t think a lot of pharmacists and patients alike realize the complexity of coverage. I think a lot of people think their insurance company just doesn’t want to cover their medication, when really, they’re just trying to follow guidelines and trying to find the cheapest drug that follows the clinical regulations. That’s why it’s hard to find coverage in rare diseases, because those areas lack guidelines.
Q: Are there any buzzworthy indications the industry should be watching out for?
A: A lot of the disease states I get to research here aren’t even things that I’ve talked about in school. Oncology is definitely the most crucial area from my point of view, because that’s where the research is going. There are always new oncology drugs in the pipeline, and a lot of the drugs that are being used are pushing for new indications. We don’t see a lot of coverage in rare diseases, but as a student those areas are really interesting to learn about.
Q: How has MMIT helped you build your career so far? What skills are you learning?
A: Our programs at school are heavily based on clinical knowledge, and most people go into hospital or retail pharmacies after graduating. Working at MMIT has really gotten me interested in the industry route, whether it’s through research like I do here, or working at an insurance or pharmaceutical company. MMIT has really shown me that there’s so much more for a pharmacist to do other than the hospital or retail setting.
Even if I decide not to do market access research as my long-term career, this is not anything that we talk about in school, but it’s so important for pharmacists to understand it. Even if you’re working in a retail setting, you must deal with insurance every single day. Learning why drugs are covered the way they are is an important area of pharmacy that’s kind of hidden.
Q: How do you see the internship program growing?
A: It’s definitely a small niche for pharmacy schools right now, but we actually have pharmacy rotation students that come into the office. I think the more MMIT can get the word out that they offer internships, the more the program will grow. Students should learn about this career path, because I think MMIT is a great place for students to be. I try to advocate for MMIT when I’m at school. This is a very, very layered company, and I don’t think people realize there are so many things that you can do with market access, even if you don’t have clinical knowledge.
Q: Do you think the closer integration of pharmacy benefits into primary and specialty care will make market access a more important area for pharmacists to understand, as they step into more of a provider role?
A: I personally think pharmacists should be considered providers, given the knowledge that they have and their accessibility to patients. I think that pharmacists becoming more involved in market access will create a more unified care system for patients. I work at Walgreens now, and every day I have patients asking, ‘Why isn’t my medication covered?’ MMIT does have an app [Coverage Search] that I hope eventually more providers and pharmacists will start to use to help with that. I think that would help them reach their patients and make things clearer to them.
Q: What’s your favorite part of your job?
A: I love that every single day is different. I get to learn about different disease states that I won’t ever talk about in pharmacy school. So, before I do my research, I have to look up the disease because there are less than 100,000 cases in the world, so it’s definitely very interesting.
Q: What do you like to do outside of work?
A: In the summer — laying by the pool! I like to spend time with my friends and family. I like to travel, I just went to Philadelphia and went to the Magic Gardens and the Chinese Lantern Festival, so I like to find fun local things like that to do. I’m typically always in school mode, so whenever I get the chance to relax, that’s what I do.