On Saturday, November 8,2014 the Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club (WUHC) hosted its first-ever conference at the International House on Chestnut Street. The club’s stated goal is to improve healthcare and cultivate leadership, and the conference was intended to explore the future of the healthcare industry. The organizers of this event asked if I would be willing to moderate a panel on “The Changing Role of Pharmaceuticals” – one of four panels happening in the afternoon portion of the conference. As a first-year Master of Public Health student, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Wharton community’s perspective on health, as well as gain experience as a panel moderator. Thus, I accepted their offer.
The panel consisted of four current and former members of the pharmaceutical industry: Debbie Cooper, Ph.D., a former pharmacologist for Merck, Wyeth, and GlaxoSmithKline; Baali Musisi Muganga, US Development Director for Aesica Pharmaceuticals; Andrew Reaume, MBA, President and CEO for Melior Discovery; and Richard Hoddeson, MBA, former VP of Finance for Pfizer. The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr. Roy Vagelos, former CEO and president of Merck Pharmaceuticals as well as the former chairman of the board for the University of Pennsylvania. As someone at the conference put it, there were certainly several “heavy-hitters” in attendance. No big deal, right?
In a previous life (a.k.a. the last five years), I taught high-school level Biology. Believe it or not, moderating this panel was remarkably similar. First, I had to do my share of class prep before showing up. As a rule, I like to be over prepared, rather than run out of material halfway through a discussion. Therefore, I spent the weeks leading up the conference drumming up possible questions from various sources. Second, once I’d settled on several “juicy ones”, I practiced rephrasing them multiple different ways, in case anyone asked for clarification. I asked my friends and colleagues for advice, and for possible responses, so that I could better direct conversation on the day of the panel. Lastly, I wanted my lesson to be engaging for those involved, so I poured over the résumés of the panelists, and tried to imagine which questions would fit them best.
After discussing the role of the moderator with my research mentor, and then attending the CPHI’s Peter Singer talk, I realized that the panelists were only part of the equation: the panel discussion would be followed by a “brief” Q&A from the audience. This turned out to be the most difficult component, particularly when one of the audience members interrupted the discussion to make a rather well rehearsed question (cough, statement), which I unfortunately had to cut off. During the post-discussion, official Q&A, I again had to facilitate some question clarification. Should I ever moderate another panel, it might be a good idea to collect questions ahead of time and screen/translate them.
Moderating this panel and attending the conference were excellent experiences, and I am thankful for the WUHC for making it all possible. Obviously, I learned a lot about pharmaceuticals and healthcare in the 21st century. Perhaps more importantly, I got to see the personal side to two industries that are often perceived as profit-driven. As a future public health worker, I have a better understanding of the necessary collaboration between the public and private sectors, and can better appreciate the process that drives innovation in healthcare. For those interested, more information can be found at www.uhcpenn.org. If anyone wants to hear more about the panel discussion, please contact me at email@example.com.
Written by: Matthew Kearney, MPH Candidate 2016