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Routes beyond the NHS: do you know your options?

Routes beyond the NHS: do you know your options?


Routes beyond the NHS: do you know your options?
Last Updated: 26-Nov-2013

For NHS staff the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry can have a real appeal when it comes to a career move. Not only is there the chance to really make an impact within future healthcare developments, but this route also allows the opportunity to see projects through to completion – a satisfying aspect that isn’t always available within the public sector.

However, with such a variety of options within pharma it can be a struggle to identify just which role is the best route for you. With skills requirements varying from the highly process orientated pharmacovigilance role to the well-developed  people skills required of medical affairs staff, it’s vital to know which route is best for you. So what do businesses look for when filling these very different positions?

Medical Affairs: The people person

The role of medical affairs is to provide a constant interface between a  company and all the potential stakeholders in the development of new therapies, from academia to government departments to clinicians.

As such, they need to be able to demonstrate the following attributes:

  • A strong medical foundation gained in either the NHS or life science industry, and  preferably, but not essentially, backed by a formal qualification.
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills.
  • The ability to build lasting relationships based on trust and credibility
  • Collaborative leadership and team work abilities, both as a day-to-day decision maker and a group contributor

Interestingly, to succeed in this role an individual doesn’t necessarily need the therapeutic experience required by many other, more research focused roles. Instead, the key to succeeding in this position is the ability to learn, adapt, adjust and engage. As a role with the potential to develop new skills, this can be a fantastic stepping stone for those looking to move beyond the NHS.

Pharmacovigilance: The process approach

In comparison the skills needed for the pharmacovigilance role are at the opposite end of the spectrum to the medical affairs position. This area requires a much more process orientated approach and is ideal for the more ‘back-room’ individual keen on data analysis and detail.

In essence the role involves the collection and analysis of medical data in order to detect any errors or issues with research, drug trials and therapy roll-out. Pharmacovigilance professionals can work for a  wide variety of employers – manufacturers, contract research organisations (CROs) or regulatory bodies.  Recruiters will likely be looking for three key elements in potential employees:

  • In depth medical knowledge and experience backed up by a formal qualification.
  • Absolute attention to detail – the ability to detect the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’. The chances are they will be dealing with multiple data sources and several cases, so remaining observant is vital.
  • Self-sufficiency. Specialists in this area tend to work in relative isolation with much less interaction with other department than their counterparts in medical affairs. However there are still elements of leadership and communication skills required. At an initial level, individuals will focus on single case assessment, reporting in to a more senior specialist, but as the role progresses, staff will be required to handle multiple cases and teams.

Making the move

So what must NHS professionals do to move into these roles? There may be a few of the above attributes that don’t necessarily fit into the skills brackets developed within the public sector, but both roles are highly rewarding positions that are open to experienced or qualified individuals. The important advice for anyone looking to make such a career move, though, is to be realistic. Yes, highly experienced professionals have the extensive technical skills for this arena, but it has to be recognised that roles in the pharmaceutical sector require a whole new skills set as well.

Switching from the NHS to pharma opens up a new world for talented individuals, but will require a level of development as well. Consider where your strengths lie and assess which end of the pharma spectrum would suit you. And remember, not all roles are the same, so really get to know what’s required in the route you’re keen on before you make an decision. Good luck!