By Julie Young
Diane Coniglio, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’87/P), and Tony Coniglio, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’86/P), met as undergraduate pharmacy students at the University of Rhode Island. They married in 1983 and moved to Richmond, Virginia, where VCU School of Pharmacy’s graduate program focused their careers, provide a lifelong network of colleagues and friends and cement their union as a married couple and business partners.
Tony entered the Pharm.D. program in 1984 and Diane in 1985. Through what Tony calls “quirky good fortune,” their years in Richmond were idyllic.
While pursuing their degrees, the couple rented a tiny mother-in-law cottage behind a Riverside Drive home. For $50 a month, they had a home within steps of the James River near the Huguenot Bridge.
“It allowed us to go to school together” rather than taking turns, Tony says, “because we didn’t need to take out loans and could afford to live working weekends in the hospital pharmacy.”
Tony accepted a fellowship for a year while waiting for Diane to graduate. In spring 1987, they moved to New Jersey, where they chose to practice in a nontraditional sense. Tony debated between academia and the pharmaceutical industry, eventually choosing business. Diane became a medical writer and editor at a small medical communications firm.
VCU exposed Diane to career options she had never considered. “Before coming to VCU, I had no idea that drug information existed as a potential career,” she says. “I came upon it when I did my general hospital residency. It was a rotation. I only got to spend a month there, but I just loved it. When time came to graduate from the Pharm.D. program, it was the only type of job I was looking for — a hospital, large drug information center or small medical communications firm, which is where I ended up and loved what I did there. I guess for me, the bottom line is VCU opened my eyes to a new career path, and it’s what I’ve been doing since I left Virginia.”
Tony says he was fortunate to work in numerous pharma jobs, from roles in medical affairs, product development, strategic commercial, business development and licensing. He credits VCU with giving him the academic foundation and strong relationships needed to be successful. “We had only eight students per class, tremendous mentors and role models,” he says.
After three years of working from home while rearing a daughter, Diane opened a business, Opus Medical Communications to provide medical writing and editing services for patient education materials and drug sales training literature. “I decided with my husband’s support to go off on my own,” she says. “I got my first freelance writing assignment from another VCU Pharm.D. graduate.”
In 2008, Tony joined Diane’s business. Their complementary skill sets — his strategic commercial experience and her writing and editing — made the venture successful.
“Fortunately, we’ve been healthy busy for the last 10 years,” Tony says. “It’s all been word of mouth. We’ve been very lucky.”
In his spare time, Tony honed his skills as a portrait and landscape photographer and opened a professional studio in his home. He shoots mostly for friends and colleagues, charging no fee but requesting a charitable donation.
Tony has maintained strong bonds with VCU. At a post-baccalaureate Pharm.D. reunion in Richmond, he and his colleague Gene Cefali, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D./Ph.D.’87/P), rallied fellow alumni to host a dinner for pharmacy professor William Garnett, Pharm.D. (B.S.’69/P), the students’ mentor and close friend. From these events came the idea of a scholarship to honor Garnett’s 36-year legacy at the school. Coniglio, Cefali and William Fitzsimmons, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’85/P), challenged alumni to contribute; within days, enough money had been pledged to establish the William Garnett Scholarship Fund.
Tony also just completed a seven-year stint as a member of the School of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Advisory Board. He has mentored students and given talks on alternative career paths in the pharmaceutical industry.
“I tried to really emphasize to students that there are a lot of very interesting challenges and potentially very fulfilling roles in the pharma industry,” he says. “You can name almost any job — scientific, clinical, regulatory, and commercial — that Pharm.D.s and Ph.D.s are successfully performing within the pharma industry. Retail and hospital pharmacy will always be a very strong consideration for any student and these venues offer excellent careers. The pharma industry represents another pathway, and is a tremendous opportunity for people who want to do something different. And VCU has always and continues to have a very strong program that positions students well for any career path.”