Why Novartis' Shah-Mehta chose a career in pharma sales

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Shilpa Shah-Mehta is executive director of oncology marketing and will be honored next week at the 2017 MM&M Hall of Femme. While deciding whether to pursue postgraduate studies after receiving a biochemistry degree, she applied to be a pharmaceutical sales representative. Since then, she has worked in sales and marketing roles at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Sanofi, and Novartis, focusing largely on oncology marketing.

What's your morning ritual?

After waking up at around 5 a.m., I stretch my body, I pray, my husband hands me my coffee, and I get in the car to head to work. I have about a 90-minute commute to Novartis' headquarters in East Hanover, New Jersey. On my way to work, I listen to news channels such as the “Today” show.  

How did you get into the industry?

I have always been fascinated by the resilience of the human body. After graduating from Rutgers University with a biochemistry degree, I started working in a lab on a project to create artificial blood. While deciding if I should pursue a master's degree or PhD, someone mentioned that I should consider pharmaceutical sales. I spent close to ten years working in the field and then landed a job working in-house in the marketing department of a large pharma company.

What is the best part of your job?

I love knowing that the work we do directly impacts patients and caregivers. Recently, we provided recipes to cancer patients with dietary limitations. The number of patients who came to thank us was touching.

Also, I believe it is important to give people opportunities for further development. It is rewarding to see them succeed to bigger and better opportunities, and be recognized by the broader organization.

What is your greatest professional challenge?

I sometimes struggle with managing my work-life balance. I am really tough on myself and want to excel at everything I do, both personally and professionally.

What is the best career advice you've received?

My mantra, that I received from my father, is to be content with who you are, but always aspire to be better. Never stop learning, never stop sharing.

What do you when you feel uninspired?

Whenever I feel uninspired, I like to go on a walk outside to take a break for a few minutes. After, I find myself re-energized to complete the task at hand.  

What is the last thing that inspired you?

My mother is my inspiration. She was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. Her ability to persevere and live life to the fullest is truly inspiring.

What industry event are you most looking forward to?

I'm looking forward to going to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting this weekend. It is a great opportunity to see how cancer care is continuing to transform patients' lives.

What are some health gadgets or apps you're currently using?

I use the Health app on my iPhone to monitor steps.

What are you watching?

I'm catching up on all of the Oscar-nominated movies from 2017.

What is one major change you would like to see in terms of breaking the glass ceiling for women in healthcare marketing?

I would like to see more executive/senior-level female leaders in healthcare marketing. I believe it can be achieved by organizations being more open to diverse ways of thinking and working. I'd like to see more women leaders at the top and being examples for the rest of us.


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