by Matthew Michael, Pre-registration Student
For a Pharmacy student, the prospect of entering the pharmaceutical industry is viewed as difficult. Personally, I believe that MPharm graduates are well placed to pursue a career in industry, the skills an MPharm graduate has provides them with an edge over other life-science applicants in career paths beyond the traditional vocational routes in our profession.
Reflecting back to when I was a final year student trying to learn more about what ‘a role in industry’ entails, I realised I never received the direct answer I desired. Why? Industry is a very diverse sector which means, there is no simple answer to a seemingly simple question.
Why did you decide on a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
Roles in the pharmaceutical industry are so diverse, it is a never-ending realm of opportunity and learning. From my significant experience in community, I knew that a career in community would not stimulate me for the next 50 years, but I am confident that a career in industry will. That is not to say that you should not have a career in community, everybody will have their own preferences.
I had industry set in my sights before going to university, however, once I started my degree, I had quickly come to the belief that it was going to be very unlikely that I would be able to pursue a career in industry. My faith in the idea had diminished over time and I had begun to question what barriers I would have to cross in order to pursue a career in industry, for example, would I need a PhD? and can I manage the delay this would cause in my income increasing? I had accepted that it probably would not work out for me and had begun focusing my energy elsewhere.
At the end of third year, after completing my dissertation, I began to appreciate the skills that I had utilised in producing that piece of work. Whilst my dissertation was lab based, it was the problem solving and critical analysis of my own work that had provided me with a sense of personal achievement.
I secured a pre-registration placement with my community employer at the time, whilst being transparent with them on my approach towards seeking a position in industry. I had contacted previous industry pre-reg employers and applied for all of the positions I could apply for. I had received an interview for two different companies. For the first interview, I had prepared poorly and I failed to impress. In the second, I had prepared much more carefully, however, this industry employer was also the superintendent pharmacist offering the community placement. My experience in community had come to benefit me and I managed to secure a place. At this stage, I still didn’t fully understand what my role would entail, owing to the lack of information provided throughout my degree on specific roles in industry.
Can you explain your typical working day?
My primary responsibility is within the pharmacovigilance department. Typically, I’m delegated ad hoc activities by the head of the department to conduct, so I will always have a non-routine activity waiting to be completed by me, this might be a mundane and tedious task, or it may be a task where I have to apply my skill set to solve a problem that I have never encountered before. Working for a relatively small organisation provides exposure to experiences which I would not typically be exposed to, for me, this is a great benefit.
Every company will have its own SOPs on the frequency of this activity being conducted and the way it is conducted, however, all marketing authorisation holders (MAHs) must ensure that they are following the pharmacovigilance guidelines for the regions for which their medicine has a marketing authorisation.
Once the review has been conducted, I may identify that there is a need for a new side effect to be listed in the patient information (PILs) and summary of product characteristics (SmPCs). Again, each organisation will have its own method for managing the approval process for agreeing that these changes need to be made. Once a change has been agreed by the relevant parties, a process will be carried out in order to initiate that change. For many organisations, any change being made which is part of the controlled ‘quality management system’ in the company will need to be managed and approved via the ‘change control’ process, this process is usually owned by the Quality Assurance department and it is a standard GMP expectation for organisations within the pharmaceutical industry to have a change control process in place. It may be the case that an alternative process is followed for a routine activity such as a change in product information, specific processes will be defined by each organisations SOPs.
I think one of the most important pieces of knowledge that I learnt early on and I feel that anybody who wants to enter into similar roles in pharmaceutical industry should understand is the concepts behind Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and other good practices (GxP). GMP and GxP hold so much weight behind them and are consistently applied in work being done across many departments, they are fundamental to the working practice. Simple things such as good documentation practices, version control, following SOPs are fundamentals which are neglected. As an example, poor version control can lead to the incorrect packaging leaflet being submitted to and potentially even approved by the regulatory authorities, leading to the ‘incorrect’ packaging leaflet being packed during production of a batch of medicine, which is ultimately distributed to patients.
Beyond the split of community and industry, I was also fortunate enough to have a week long placement in a local hospital. A week long placement is limited, however, I did learn a lot from my peers and the education team in the Pharmacy department. My takeaway from my time in hospital was that the myth that it is difficult to transfer from community to hospital after your pre-reg, is just a myth. All skill sets are transferable within our profession, and I quickly saw that my community experience could fill gaps of knowledge that my peers in hospital had from lack of exposure to community. Likewise, there are plenty of skills and knowledge which I do not have, but my peers do have. I think with some training during transition and some time, the transition between primary and secondary care is possible and would not be too turbulent of a change.
What are your 5 top tips for pre-registration pharmacists?
- Look for the learning opportunity in everything you do.
- Do not underestimate the value of the work you are doing and its impact on your development.
- Do not be afraid to be wrong. You will make mistakes, you just need to make sure you learn from them.
- Ensure that you develop an understanding of how your skills can be transferred into a different sector or setting, ideally through cross-sector experience. If you are not being offered cross-sector experience, then work towards finding it yourself and convincing your tutor of the value.
- Actively work on constructive solutions when you see an inefficiency or problem, this will help you to feel valued within an organisation and will help you to develop skills that set you apart from your competition.
What possibilities are there for your career in the future?
The opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry are endless. I plan to continue working for my current employer and to work towards achieving specific professional goals that I have set for myself. Once I feel I am ready to go further, I intend on looking into roles which require specific registration in the pharmaceutical industry, such as a Qualified Person (QP), a Qualified Person for Pharmacovigilance (QPPV) or a final medical signatory (only open to registered pharmacists and physicians). Looking into these roles specifically is likely to shape my career journey through the pharmaceutical industry. For now, I am keeping my mind open and working towards my current goals.