Career focus: Pharma careers for Medics – Dr Ursula Quinn gives us the low-down on her career change


Can you briefly tell us a bit about your medical background and career route into the Pharmaceutical Industry (incl current role)

After completing my junior medical training, I was lucky to gain a position as a clinical research fellow with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Medical School. This resulted in a several year journey that would allow me to experience the world of medical research and academia combined with a traditional clinical role, culminating in a Clinical Lectureship at the University of Cambridge. After a further period in full-time clinical NHS practice, I then entered Industry in a full-time capacity as a clinical development physician within drug development.

What kind of roles are there for doctors in Pharma?

The opportunities are endless. I would definitely say that the more commonly advertised entry-level roles are for clinical research physicians working for a Clinical Research Organisation (CRO), medical affairs physicians or medical science liaisons. There are also roles available in clinical drug development, pharmacovigilance or drug safety, and regulatory for example.

There are a number of agencies with significant experience in placing physicians in Industry. I would recommend attending open days or simply contacting the agencies to establish communication as they will be able to tell you where the openings are, and advise you on how best to approach applying for them. Investigate the area before you make a decision.

Also, remember that your medical degree is hugely flexible, and degree you have will help you find a job that you enjoy even if this means being entirely non-clinical.

Describe a typical day.

The great thing about this job is the variety of work involved. A typical day would involve reviewing data arriving from sites all over the world, and dealing with site queries – ranging from questions regarding eligibility of patients to take part in a clinical study, to issues with the automated drug kit allocation system. I also get to discuss difficult or interesting cases with individual Investigators – the physicians who are in charge of a study at a particular site. Then, depending on various timelines with the study, I may be drafting presentations or documents for use in safety meetings or other protocol-related discussions and meetings for example. There is also the opportunity for international travel.

Tell us about career progression, working hours and salary brackets?

There is plenty of scope for career progression in my experience of Industry thus far. It’s about establishing connections. There is also the International aspect to this job – you may take on a new role, in another country, if you choose to do so.

Work hours are around 40 hours per week, but if there is a deadline expect to work longer. My own experience is that physicians appear to be fairly remunerated in Industry, with previous experience taken into account when calculating salary.

What led you to decide on a career in Pharma?

My early research career really inspired me – I loved being encouraged to think and share ideas. I also wanted to feel like a valued member of a team. I bring something to the table in terms of my clinical experience, and am learning something new every day.

What do you think led to your success in the field?

In terms of being selected for my current role, I think it was important to show an enthusiasm for learning and the ability to work as part of a bigger team. Interview preparation was also important, as it is a different “competence-based” interview to what we are all used to for specialty training. 

What transferable skills and experience did you bring from your medical training ?

  • Communication skills and teamwork
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Problem-solving and thinking “on-the-spot”

 Top 3 tips for others wanting to get into the field?

  1. Don’t be put off if you have no research experience! The key is to identify what your transferable skills are, and be able to discuss these in your application and interview.
  2. Talk to people and network to find opportunities in Industry.
  3. If you want to experience Industry having worked clinically in the NHS for years, sometimes a good place to start is as a clinical research physician. This job will still require your clinical skills, but will give you a good grounding in terms of the procedures, language and culture that is associated with Industry-led clinical trials.

Pros/cons of career in Pharma (compared to medicine)?

Pros: The focus really is science and the patient: it is so stimulating and rewarding to be a part of it; potential for travel; potential for CCT in Pharmaceutical Medicine and entry onto the GMC Specialist Register

Cons: The public perception of Industry can be a challenge, but in time you will be able to explain what it is really like to others; working globally can be difficult in terms of managing timezones


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