Beyond dispensing: pharmacy industry symposium dives into local, regional career development

Rachel Soon
Medical Writer
14 Sep 2021
Group photo of a Zoom conference with members of the MPS-YPC displayed. (Photo credit: MPS-YPC)
The PIPI 2021 organizing committee. (Photo credit: MPS-YPC)

This year’s Pharmaceutical Industry Pharmacists Insights (PIPI 2021) symposium saw industry professionals from local and international settings provide career development insights for young pharmacists.

Themed ‘See Further, Aim Higher,’ PIPI 2021 drew 182 participants on a weekend morning for a series of plenary talks and panel discussions on various aspects of career development, focusing on the challenges and opportunities in transitioning from local to regional, and global industrial roles.

PIPI 2021 is the fifth annual PIPI symposium organized by the Malaysian Pharmacists Society-Young Pharmacists Chapter (MPS-YPC) in partnership with the International Pharmaceutical Federation Young Pharmacists Group (FIP YPG), MIMS Pte Ltd, and Keystone Career.

First started in 2016, the PIPI initiative aims to help the young pharmacist community explore the diverse roles available to them beyond hospital and community settings. It was originally conceived in response to changes in government recruitment policies for Provisionally Registered Pharmacists (PRPs), according to MPS-YPC president Cedric Chua.

“With many more young pharmacists now considering careers in the pharmaceutical industry, we anticipated a gap between what this group knows about the industry, and what [it] actually offers,” said Chua. “This initiative was created to pave the way for them to better understand and progress in this increasingly popular field.”

Open fields to success

In a pair of plenary talks, Dr Saneta Chen, associate director of U.S. commercial regulatory affairs, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), and Dr Renly Lim, FIP YPG president, discussed the general scope of career opportunities available to those with academic backgrounds in pharmacy.

Chen encouraged participants to consider career development as a series of dynamic, non-linear, open-ended opportunities for growth (‘adventures’) rather than of progressively higher positions (‘ladders’).

“There are opportunities for pharmacists to explore in education, finance, technology; be bold and take opportunities outside of your comfort zone,” said Chen. “There’s no such thing as a wrong career move … every situation can be a growth opportunity.”

Chen shared her own experiences which took her through retail pharmacy, advertising, externships in hospital and industrial settings, aid work, and medical writing, before arriving at her current position in regulatory affairs. She also highlighted the importance of building meaningful relationship networks, as well as allowing one’s definitions of career success to evolve.

In a follow-up talk, Lim presented the FIP YPG Career Development Toolkit For Early Career Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists, an online manuscript with detailed overviews of general and specialist fields relevant to pharmacy, frameworks for professional development, as well as structured guidance on transferable skills and expertise.

According to Lim, the FIP developed the toolkit in response to a 2019 survey which found a strong demand among FIP members for career development resources. The toolkit aims to guide early career pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists in professional development, and promote their expertise in various areas of practice.

The full document can be downloaded from the FIP website at:  

Teamwork stock image

Bridging industry and practice

In another plenary, Dr Ryan Forrey, associate director of hazardous drug safety global marketing, Becton Dickinson and Company (BD) USA, focused on the role pharmacists could play in managing relationships between key opinion leaders (KOLs) in healthcare and industry affiliates.

A former hospital director of pharmacy, Forrey noted that his transition from KOL to industry affiliate gave him the added benefit of a view of both sides’ expectations from such relationships.

“The key to successful stakeholder management is identifying the correct stakeholders for any process or area of healthcare—which should be done in a group of people from different backgrounds, not in isolation—followed by managing communications according to each stakeholder’s degree of influence and interest in the area,” said Forrey.

Forrey also advised those starting out on careers to try taking up opportunities in less appealing areas of work, noting that “it takes exceptional skill and perseverance to succeed in something that you don’t like, but is important to accomplish … if you can drive forward with those things, it can highlight your skills above other candidates.”

Local and regional, apples and oranges

In the afternoon, a panel discussion between industry representatives reviewed the different expectations and prospects encountered in local and regional industry positions, based on the panelists’ personal experiences.

The panelists engaged were Michael Low, regional brand manager, Alliance Pharmaceuticals; Vyvyen Chia, senior regional pharmacovigilance officer, Bayer (Southeast Asia) Pte Ltd; and Kok Wai Kit, oncology medical lead and medical governance and operations manager, Bayer (Southeast Asia) Pte Ltd.

Kok highlighted that when considering local and regional roles, the latter should not be viewed as a more significant version of the former (“apples of different sizes”), but rather both should be considered different types (“apples and oranges”). Local roles are focused on execution and localization, while regional roles are focused on strategy.

According to Low, local roles are often subject to a greater sense of pressure and expectations of immediate response by clients. On the other hand, regional roles often face the challenge of being unable to directly assess a ground-level situation, relying mainly on the reports of local leads.

Chia added that local roles often provide deeper insights into a country’s business, policy and regulatory requirements than a regional position, and that experience with local activities can greatly assist one’s ability to assess similar activities in other countries.

The panelists also agreed that regional candidates should be prepared for the challenges of language barriers, odd working hours across time zones, and variations in local working culture and regulations.

Panelists Low, Chia, and Kok with moderator Tee Ai Ven, Novartis field medical lead, during the discussion on local versus regional roles for pharmacists. (Photo credit: MPS-YPC)

Panelists Low, Chia, and Kok with moderator Tee Ai Ven, Novartis field medical lead, during the discussion on local versus regional roles for pharmacists. (Photo credit: MPS-YPC)

Going global

In a live interview, Daniel Lee, deputy director and global medical strategy implementation lead at Bayer, shared his experiences in attaining a global role in the pharmaceutical industry.

Lee acknowledged that depending on company culture, professionals with pharmacy qualifications could often find themselves sidelined by competitors with medical degrees when it came to filling medical directorial positions.

However, one avenue of opportunity available is to become an expert in a therapeutic area (TA), and pursuing an increasing degree of specialization in it, said Lee. As an example, he described how he began his career with a focus on cardiovascular TAs, then progressed into more specific TAs such as thrombosis, heart failure and CKD, eventually attaining a global TA director position.

Other avenues for pharmacists to progress to a global role is to join other industry teams such as medical governance, medical or clinical operations, or pharmacovigilance.

“We shouldn’t feel limited/discounted because of our background; rather we can use it as advantage,” said Lee. “We are the people who know the science, the patients, and the therapies available; so, we do have the abilities to progress in [a global] career too.”

Polishing skillsets

Following the interview, Elijah Bepono, specialist recruiter in healthcare and life sciences, shared advice on practical considerations for seeking employment, including resume creation, interview techniques, and common hiring criteria in the industry.

He noted that according to recent polling of hiring managers in the healthcare industry, a candidate’s skillsets and experience remain the biggest considerations for hiring, more than soft skills, headcount budget, and cultural fit.

A subsequent talk by Dr Jose Miguel Curameng, director of regional medical and society engagement, MIMS, highlighted the importance of continuous professional development as a foundational component of career progression, and provided general tips on maintaining a lifelong learning mentality.

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