Everywhere you turn, you spot someone you know. It’s like homecoming or even a class reunion—you see people you know. The only issue is, after not seeing them for at least a year, how much older everybody looks now. I do admit that oncology pharmacy has come a long way since the early days, and that for as many people as I knew at the meeting, there were many, many more younger folks that I didn’t know. With HOPA membership now over 1500 and HOPA meeting attendance in the high hundreds, not knowing a majority of the attendees is understandable. However, with more than 35 years in the business, and having trained over a hundred plus oncology pharmacists over the years, I usually run into one of my old students, residents, fellows, graduate students, etc, and have to check up on them to see how they are doing. I have always told the people we trained in Texas that once you come out of Texas, you are always part of the family. We won’t forget you and will track your progress throughout your career.
The first question I generally ask when catching up with an old acquaintance at these types of meetings is always, Are you still at X (ie, name of practice or institution)? One asks this question knowing that most people do not leave oncology, they just move around a bit. Oncology pharmacists have a tendency not to move around any more than necessary. Family forces roots, and tearing out roots is hard to do, especially with kids in school (they seldom want to leave their friends, and moving them becomes the biggest obstacle). The most common event is a change in job, not location. I often hear friends say, I wouldn’t mind taking a job with X; however, I don’t want to have to move to take it. However, depending on the job, not moving may not be an option.
The question a lot of times is, where would you be willing to move? From my perspective, the list is extremely limited. I’m not sure I could ever go to the Northeast. I mean, have you ever driven in New Jersey or flown into Newark (on time)? For many of us, there is a quality of life that is hard to envision on the East Coast (ie, housing costs, other costs of living, state taxes, etc). I guess the same could be said about California (not that I don’t like to visit, especially the wine country!). Texas to me is the perfect state—no state taxes, relatively inexpensive housing, low cost of living, and most important, guns are OK, in fact, they are encouraged. As leaving Texas would be difficult for me, I can easily see why people don’t want to move unless it’s absolutely necessary (unless you are in the military, because they have to move every bunch of years, generally).
At least from an academic standpoint, I can assure you that it is hard to get established faculty to move! We have had several faculty positions open now for some time, and it is difficult for the reasons I mentioned above to get pharmacy people to leave their homes and move somewhere new, even if it is to a good job. The second question always ask is, How is the family? This is generally met with the requisite showing of new pictures of the kids (always nice to see). This usually leads to a short discussion concerning how the kids are doing in school and then veers to sports (all kids are generally involved with something to do with sports, and that includes cheerleading with me—my daughter was a high school cheerleader at one time, so it counts as a sport). For those fortunate enough to have a child in college, the discussion moves to what college, what degree, and then some general discourse concerning the cost we parents encounter.
All this is actually good stuff. It brings us up to speed on what is happening with friends and colleagues you see infrequently. This to me is always the hidden agenda of attending a national meeting like HOPA—catching up with friends and colleagues. It’s not only pharmacist or physician friends and colleagues that it’s nice to catch up with at major meetings, but also our friends in the pharmaceutical industry. The oncology pharmaceutical industry world is actually also relatively small. Those in the oncology pharmaceutical industry also seem to stay in oncology. However, they seem to move from company to company more frequently than oncology pharmacists move between jobs. So when I see someone from the oncology pharmaceutical industry at a major meeting who I haven’t seen in a while, I also ask if they are still with X (or I quickly glance at their name badge to see who they are with now). More often than not, they have changed jobs and in many cases are now with a different company.
This is because of the large number of corporate mergers or buyouts that have occurred with many of the smaller biotech or oncology companies. With many of the mergers we have seen in the past decade, consolidations occurred, causing layoffs of a variety of oncology folks. However, specialty-trained oncology representatives, marketers, and others have specific skill sets that are needed by companies looking to get into the oncology business or companies looking to expand, so many of those who had been laid off generally pop up at one of these new endeavors. Also, as a new company is formed or a new product is approved, sales forces and other specialists are needed, again causing shifting of these individuals.
The other thing I have noticed is that, if you have been in academics as long as I have, many of my peers have left academia for the pharmaceutical industry (actually, many if not most of those I have known over the years have made some form of move to industry). In our business, the pharmaceutical industry has been called “the dark side.” I guess because their job is to sell a specific product (which is FDA approved by the way), and this is somehow sinister, and what we do is somehow more “pure,” they are the dark side. I never actually bought into all that. The industry has a job to do just as we do, simple as that. Most of the people I have met in the pharmaceutical industry are very nice, and many of them have become friends over the years. So, the oncology world is actually a small world, and if you are in the business long enough, there probably will not be an oncology meeting you attend where you will not know someone.