There has always been a steady flow of nurses who have been tempted away from the NHS to become medical representatives. In the last 5-10years, however, the number of nurses joining our industry has dramatically increased due to the rise of the role of Nurse Adviser. Last month’s article attempted to shed some light on these roles. This month we take the nurse’s view to try and understand their motivations for joining the industry and to get an insight into how they cope with the transition into a commercial environment.
Why leave the NHS?
If you took a straw poll of nurses in the NHS you would not be surprised to uncover a list of frustrations that included lack of resources, not least staff, lack of training and inadequate pay. With these factors in mind you might anticipate that there would be no shortage of nurses wanting to leave the NHS and join the commercial world. However, despite the well-publicised shortcomings of the NHS, for many nurses this is all that they know. The NHS provides them with a safe haven; a job for life, an NHS pension and a chance to fulfil their ambitions of improving the quality of life for other people.
For some, they would never entertain working within the pharmaceutical industry. Not only would this entail leaving the safety and comfort of a national institution but for many such a move would be considered ‘selling your soul’ and ‘deserting’ the NHS. Indeed this is the sort of comment that some Nurse Advisers have received from colleagues who remain within the NHS. However, of those who take the leap, very few look back. Reputable employers of Nurse Advisers recognise that to attract and retain good nurses takes more than a good salary and benefits package, although it is a starting point. Ventiv Health, recognise the importance of Training and Development and support their nurses in the maintenance of their professional status and ethical practice. Thus nurses joining the industry realise that, with the exception of a job for life, they can retain the rewarding elements of their nursing careers to date and build on these with new experiences and development that was not previously open to them.
How easy is it to adapt?
Our industry is now populated with hundreds of nurses who have taken advantage of these great opportunities. On the whole, job satisfaction within this group is high and their concerns over leaving the NHS dispelled. But their adaptation to the commercial environment does not happen overnight. ‘There are new ways of working to get use to’ highlights Gail Wallace, an Asthma Nurse Manager, who has employed a number of Asthma Nurses in their first role outside the NHS. ‘Many new nurse advisers are struck by the high levels of autonomy within these roles and the fast pace of change, as well as the focus on results. This requires a great deal of self-motivation, initiative and organisation in a way that they may never have experienced before. Then there is the new terminology, and sometimes technology, to get to grips with as well as ensuring that their clinical knowledge and practice in the specified area is impeccable’.
Despite some of the trepidation that the nurses may feel on taking up an adviser’s role, there are in fact many transferable skills that nurses bring with them. These include communication, interpersonal, presentation, teaching, organisation and team skills. Additionally, their first hand knowledge of the medical environment gives them a head start in their new roles by comparison to your average new representative. Having experienced the pressures of working within the NHS they have natural empathy with the medical professionals that they work with in this new role. In addition, as Pam Smith, Nurse Manager for a sexual health team, points out ‘, many join with years of experience in their particular clinical area bringing vast amounts of invaluable knowledge to a specialist team’. So although the environment in which they work may have changed, a lot of the day to day skills that they were using in the NHS will be their essential tools as a Nurse Adviser.
Inevitably though new nurse advisers will experience a culture shock. Key to minimising this is good recruitment and training. Some of the key criteria for selection are that candidates are flexible, adaptable, able to work autonomously and able to cope with change. Initial and ongoing training courses are then developed to ensure that the nurses are supported through the transition. As a Nurse Manager, Pam Smith sees this as a priority ‘a supportive network built on regular communication is essential for the nurses who are often not used to working in isolation’. Ventiv Health have supportive communication and mentoring structures in place to manage both the transition and development of their nurses as individuals, team members and medical professionals. Paramount within this process, is ensuring that the nurses are able to fulfil their commercial objectives without any compromise to their professional ethics i.e. working in the best interest of the patient.
So although there is a lot of change to cope with, nurse advisers describe the development and experience that is gained during this transition as ‘empowering’. Steve Burgess a sexual health Nurse Adviser found that he ‘derived a great sense of achievement and the confidence to take on new challenges that he may once have felt way beyond his capability’.
For those who have successfully made the transition from Nurse to Nurse Adviser they soon realise that this is just the beginning of the opportunities. Ventiv Health is driving forward the nurse agenda in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry and professional bodies such as the ABPI and RCN. They have developed career roadmaps specifically for nurse advisers that are supported by comprehensive training and development plans. Individuals have regular appraisals and training discussions with their line managers and often have their own individual training budgets. Nurse advisers find this approach to controlling their own destiny very refreshing. The infrastructure and support are provided to ensure that individual’s ambitions are met. These ambitions can range from becoming a clinical specialist or improving coaching skills through to developing managerial competencies and taking up a much more senior position.
With the rapid increase in the recognition of nurse advisers by the pharmaceutical industry, we are witnessing increasingly more senior roles becoming available for these individuals. The anticipation is that this trend will continue to provide challenging and extremely satisfying roles for nurses who are prepared to move into the commercial sector. As Gail Wallace put it ‘after what was initially an extremely difficult decision to make regarding moving into industry, I have come to the end of my rainbow and found my pot of gold’.
Read the first part of this series by clicking here