Alternative Career Paths: Clinical Care Through Clinical Research

For women, the decision to opt for an unconventional career path can be inspired by conflicting responsibilities and balancing life with work. But, as Sana Syed, MD, MPH, explains, following your passion is still an achievable dream despite these challenges.

There are many reasons to opt for an unconventional career path and many times, for women, that decision is inspired by conflicting responsibilities and balancing life with work. Although, following your inspiration is also critical and the balance in life and convenience can still be achieved.

My personal journey was similarly marked by dilemmas: exhaustion and a need for direction. I had trained extensively to the point where most of my advisors and mentors thought I was just confused. With a neurology residency, 2 fellowships and a master’s degree in public health, the question I got asked mostly was: How do these disparate credentials mesh and translate into a career?

I would say that I learnt more than clinical skills from my training years, and it is the silent learnings that are instrumental in defining your vision. I learnt that clinical trial research was intriguing, that limited treatment options for certain patients was a problem I wanted to solve, and that the clinical trial opportunities in multiple sclerosis excited me to the point that I wanted to be part of that change. I then connected these intellectual curiosities with my personal characteristics of being a problem solver, having a need for novelty and enjoying learning by discussions with diverse professionals. With these insights, I gravitated towards pharmaceutical careers, where clinical trials are created in a cross-functional environment with the purpose of solving the problem of insufficient treatment options. After gaining the clarity of my own direction, I then had to convince others of my suitability for certain positions and to also find a job that would afford me time and space to hone my skills in alignment with my passion.

I am lucky to live in Boston, Massachusetts, where not only do highly skilled professionals compete for jobs, but major employers are also pitted against each other for these same professionals. Therefore, there is an increasing awareness on part of employers for the need to reach out to talent early on by creating unique opportunities—especially for those who are in the early stages of their career. Towards the end of my fellowship, I used my typical approach of broad networking to reach out to multiple academic and nonacademic institutions in search of a position that spoke to me. It was because of this broad outreach that I came across an opportunity that integrated industry experience in an academic setting, at which point I started doing a clinical translational research fellowship at Pfizer with a faculty appointment at Tufts Medical Center. This initial foray into industry essentially opened multiple doors for me, and now I am a global clinical lead at Sanofi, leading multiple trials and doing what truly inspires me. I also adapted to the pandemic and occasionally see patients via telemedicine.

My current career affords me the versatility and flexibility that I crave, and I continue to practice clinical care by transforming the treatment landscape for patients across the globe.

This piece was put together in partnership with the Women Neurologists Group. For more information about WNG, check out their Twitter account, @WNGtweets.