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Inspiring Business Women: Jennifer Christian

We interview Jennifer Christian about her personal career journey and also her thoughts on risk taking.

Dr. Jennifer Christian is Vice President of Clinical Evidence within the Center for Advanced Evidence Generation at IQVIA, where she provides scientific oversight to the design and conduct of innovative, real world studies.

Her research has focused on strengthening clinical effectiveness and safety evaluations of newly approved treatments and advancing the use of real-world evidence for regulatory decision-making. Dr. Christian has published and edited numerous articles, including editor of AHRQ’s “21st Century Registries” book and co-authored papers through the National Academy of Medicine, such as, “Generating Knowledge from Best Care: Advancing the Continuously Learning Health System”. In addition to working on sponsor-led studies, she is actively engaged in several projects through Friends of Cancer Research, Duke Margolis Health Policy Center, and the National Academy of Medicine.

Prior to joining IQVIA, Dr. Christian worked at GSK within the chief medical office to strengthen RWE for regulators, payers, clinicians and patients across the portfolio of medicines in development. Christian is an adjunct faculty member within the Division of Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluative Sciences Research at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is a Fellow of both the National Academy of Medicine and International Society of Pharmacoepidemiology (ISPE) and a graduate of the UNC- Chapel Hill School of Pharmacy, UNC School of Public Health, and Brown University School of Public Health.

I was delighted to sit down and interview Jennifer about her career journey and to find out the keys to her success. We also spoke about her experiences as a female in the industry and what challenges gender might have presented.

Tell us about your career progression to date and you got to where you are today.

I’m a wife, mother of two, and a clinical pharmacist and epidemiologist by training. While I was in Pharmacy school at UNC Chapel Hill, I was taking care of patients and started asking questions like, “How well is this hospital doing at following the current practice guidelines?”, for example, “Are we using the right antibiotics at the right time for the right patients?” Upon graduation, I transitioned into a post-doctorate program within the school of Public Health to learn how to design and conduct studies that evaluate treatment effects in individuals and populations. After I completed my master’s in Public Health, my husband and I moved to Rhode Island for his residency and fellowship and I continued my training at Brown University working towards my PhD in epidemiology. I worked at a number of places during my doctoral studies, but I really wanted to be able to see the impact of the analyses I was doing more directly and I was specifically interested in supporting the development of new medicines. After interviewing with several companies, I found a great epidemiology position back in North Carolina with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), so after completing our training, we were delighted to move back home again near our family. I worked at GSK for about seven years, supporting the development of cardiovascular and metabolic medicines, and later helping to construct a new department that focused on advancing the clinical effectiveness and safety evaluations of medicines as they are used in routine care. In 2015, I decided to take a position where I am today with the Real World Solutions team. It was a great time to join IQVIA, before the partnership and later merger of Quintiles and IMS Health to form IQVIA. I became heavily involved in creating new solutions that combined the strengths of these two businesses. Today, I work closely with IQVIA’s Chief Scientific Officer in the Center for Advanced Evidence Generation, surrounded by creative, smart people who are motivated to design and conduct studies that generate evidence to inform regulators, clinicians, payers, and patients on the benefits and safety of newly approved treatments and devices.

What are your thoughts on risk taking and do you think it's harder for women to take risks in business?

Risk taking is all dependent on where you are at that point in time and what’s at stake. I don’t see the difference in risk taking between men and women as biological or genetic but more related to our social constructs. For my own kids, one boy, one girl, both believe that they’ve been raised in the same way with chores and expectations – and I was happy to learn this because I want to break down some of the traditional gender roles and expectations. In my own career, the risks that I have taken have been related to my own curiosity, wanting to explore a new area, or because I have spoken up where I have seen problems. Ultimately, I have been rewarded for identifying issues and working towards a solution. That said, I’ve never risked a total switch of careers, like going from statistician to scuba diver, but then again, my professional mission has been focused on improving the quality of health care and helping patients feel better through advancing a learning health system, where clinical medicine and clinical research are much more intertwined to help drive better clinical decisions for patients.

How important is it for you to have a good mentor, and do men and women approach mentoring differently.

I think this is one of the most important things for a successful career. With any position I have taken, I can point you to the mentor that influenced me. There was the pharmacy professor who introduced me to cardiovascular medicine, and the public health professor who taught me cardiovascular epidemiology. This is where I first realized that epidemiology would be central to my career. Later in my doctoral program, there was the pharmacoepidemiology professor whose passion inspired me and advised me to always know where you want to head in five years. My boss, a clinical scholar and mentor at GSK, taught me to think differently and pushed the industry to generate clinical evidence that was meaningful for patients and clinicians. And now, here at IQVIA, my mentor and team leader has a great skill set combining science with business – I have learned so much from her! I would encourage anyone going into any career to surround yourself with the people that inspire you, male or female. I’ve never targeted just female mentors, though I’ve learned some vital lessons from women about balancing families and careers.

How do you find being a female leader in a mostly male dominated industry?

When I consider my field, especially in epidemiology, there are lots of female scientists. But when you start to look at the leadership positions, it tends to be more male dominated, especially at the board levels of larger companies. Women are less likely to be in scientific and corporate leadership roles at that level. However, I do believe this is changing, it just takes time. It’s going to take some support from upcoming female leaders to shift the numbers. I have a female boss and we have several other women in executive roles within our company and it’s great to see that, but we can always do better. Diversity at every level of the company is important. At IQVIA, we also have women’s networks and mentoring programs around the world to help inspire women (and men) to succeed and grow in their careers.

Do you believe there is a glass ceiling for women in the workplace and how have you seen this change, if at all?

When I was starting off in my career working for a pharmaceutical company, the term ‘glass ceiling’ was more common to talk about and I believed or was at least concerned that a ceiling might be there. But I think the types of positions that are available in my field have become more flexible to allow for a greater work and life balance, which removes some of these invisible barriers for women. It still requires a supportive family and partner, but flexibility in how we work has really helped remove potential barriers for success. There’s great research that shows that diversity amongst leaders, and not just gender diversity, drives greater success in a business, and we need more of that research to help move things forward more.

How do you feel Pharma compares to other industries in terms of diversity and women in the workplace?

It’s hard for me to comment on other industries and fields, but having worked as a pharmacist and epidemiologist within academia, clinical settings, and industry, I can say that the ratios of men to women in most job levels has been balanced – but I have noticed that there are predominantly male leaders within the higher positions such as the department head, or administrator of a hospital, or sitting on the executive leadership board.

Looking back on your carer, what are some of the key moments that got you to where you are?

Curiosity (and acting upon it) has been the greatest tool for guiding me on my career journey. I remember as an undergrad wondering about how treatments worked in our bodies (e.g., how do antibiotics really work?), to which someone suggested I go to Pharmacy school and find out. So, I did! The same thing happened when I worked in the hospitals, where I posed a question and the response that I received was to collect some data and try and find an answer. Later, when I was getting frustrated about seeking funding for research and then not being able to implement some research I’d spent two years doing, I decided to move away from academia and into a world where insights from data analysis directly drive decisions for medicine development. One of my bigger career moments was moving off a traditional path within epidemiology (where I was happy, but I had a desire to influence more of the evidence that was being generated) to creating a new group within an organization. Some things have come fortuitously, of course, but voicing questions and having those answers impact my career has been a key driver for my success.

What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone looking to advance their career?

Be curious. Speak up. Be motivated and passionate and follow your heart. You must be prepared to speak up for what you want and to ask for it. In my experience, many times there’s not a job posted. If you can identify what you can do well and what you want to do, you can open up doors that were never there. I’ve heard young people say that just speaking up feels like a risk, but I want them to speak up when something could be improved or when they have a different idea because that’s exactly how we grow and change and innovate.

I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to share her insights and experiences!

Do you know an inspiring business woman, and/or a leader in Life Sciences who is challenging the status quo? I want to meet them! Shoot me an email at oliverpeters@hydrogengroup.com.

Posted 12 months ago
About the author:
Oliver Peters

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