September 25, 2014
Alumna Joan K. Bradley, PharmD'90, is president and CEO of her own thriving scientific communications agency, located in Ann Arbor.

By Lori J. Bainbridge

Every pharmacy school graduate with freshly minted diploma in hand faces a decision: Do I follow the traditional career path expected of my degree, or do I take what I’ve learned and perchance look to blaze a new trail?

When Joan K. Bradley, PharmD'90, graduated from the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, she never dreamed that she would one day be president and CEO of her own thriving scientific communications agency. Dr. Bradley sits at the helm of The JB Ashtin Group, Inc. (JB Ashtin) located just outside Ann Arbor in Plymouth, Michigan. Her company is staffed by a team of 25 pharmacists, scientists, and client service professionals who work together to support pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry clients by helping them disseminate their clinical trial data.

“As a P1, I was a newlywed and 6 month’s pregnant with my first child—I can still remember hiking the dreaded hill on Catherine Street to get to Dr. Lucchesi’s pharmacology class. At graduation, I was considering retail pharmacy, but I was looking to work weekdays during normal business hours so I could be home with my then 3-year-old daughter during the evenings and weekends,” recalls Dr. Bradley.

Dr. Bradley began exploring other opportunities where she could pair her passion for science with a desire to deliver medical information that healthcare professionals need to make the best decisions for their patients.

“Although I had a degree in pharmacy, I also had a desire to be a part of the business world,” Dr. Bradley explains. “I briefly contemplated becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative, but soon realized that career was not a match for my quiet personality. When I discovered the possibility of medical writing as presented through a workshop at the Midyear Clinical Meeting of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, I couldn’t have been more excited. It seemed like a perfect combination of business and drug information.”

Dr. Bradley’s first job in medical communications was as an associate editor with Scientific Therapeutics Information, and she soon realized that she was hooked. “Not only was the medical communications field a way to stay engaged with science, but it afforded me a chance to work with thought leaders in all specialties and to travel the world supporting educational initiatives on behalf of global clients.”

She credits the knowledge she gained as a pharmacist with supporting her in guiding clients facing commercial and clinical challenges with their products or devices.

After working for 2 major agencies over a 10-year span, Dr. Bradley decided to set out on her own. 

“When I started my company, my office was in my basement and family members cheerfully offered administrative support,” she recalls. “I am in awe of the great staff I currently have and I marvel at how much JB Ashtin has grown since that time.” In addition to its Plymouth headquarters, the company now has employees in Philadelphia, Tampa, Chicago, and Indianapolis. JB Ashtin is a women-owned and operated business certified by the Women's Business Enterprise Council-Great Lakes, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

In September, JB Ashtin marked its 15th anniversary. The company has an impressive and diverse client roster that includes major pharmaceutical and biotech companies as well as a number of Michigan-based start-ups. “I think it is important to engage with local businesses and look for ways to keep local talent right here in our own community,” notes Dr. Bradley.  

Dr. Bradley encourages other graduates to pursue innovative ways to apply their education and to channel their love of science. She and her team actively support the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy’s Experiential Education program by accepting fourth-year pharmacy students at JB Ashtin for a nontraditional drug information rotation.

Lori J. Bainbridge is currently the Vice President of Strategy & Innovation at The JB Ashtin Group, Inc.