Ok, so now we step away from you, and look to the job opportunities in pharma.
I’d argue that this can be the most difficult stage. For now – you don’t know the things you don’t know. But don’t let that put you off, it’s worth giving this your best effort. And again, we’re here to guide you…
To do this, we’re going to think of industry opportunities in a funnel – we’re going to put all jobs in the top, and then narrow it down in a series of steps.
So let’s start broad and see if we can narrow down the specific industry at all. You’ve got “pharma” in mind, but there are still a range of similar options open to you:
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing – this is the traditional making of medicines that involves combining chemicals to make small, active molecules from scratch and packaging them in a way the body can use (like in a tablet).
- Biopharmaceutical manufacturing – this is a much newer industry that takes things found naturally in biology (like proteins and cells) and packages them into a usable treatment. While many of the same steps apply (and the regulations certainly do), some of the jobs can be a little different due to the different processes involved.
- Medical Device manufacturing – this is a diverse term that covers the manufacture of any product that diagnoses, prevents, or treats a health condition without any chemical change in the body. Think of things like heart monitors, contact lenses, or artificial joints. This is a very different industry – often following the procedures for discrete manufacturing – and therefore offers a very different range of jobs. Salaries can be lower than in pharma, but it can be easier to get an entry level position.
- Combination Product manufacturing – this industry manufactures products that combine a medical device with a pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical product. Think of things like insulin injector pens, drug eluting stents, and metered dose inhalers.
This article has more information about the steps involved.
Depending on the type of job you’re interested in, you might not narrow down your search too much here.
Now you understand what’s being made, it’s important to understand the different departments involved.
As a quick overview, departments include:
Research – during this stage, experiments are done to find new products or improve existing ones. This looks very different in the different industries. In pharma/biopharma, there’s a strong focus on lab-based science roles (filled by candidates with specific experience and advanced degrees). And in medical devices, engineering (including design engineering) is dominant.
Clinical Trials – all products undergo strict testing procedures to prove they perform as expected. In pharma, this involves teams of nurses, pharmacists, coordinators, and administrators.
Development – at this point testing and planning is carried out to establish how products can be made reliably at scale. There are many opportunities for engineers and some scientists at this stage.
Production / Manufacturing – this is the part of the process where the products that eventually end up with patients are made. In a typical manufacturing plant, this department makes up about 50% of staff. There is a wide range of positions available to suit many skill sets – from entry-level operator roles, through to specialist engineers and management. There is significant scope for progression within this department but it can also serve as a starting point to gain “on the floor” experience, before moving into more advanced roles in more specialist departments.
Validation – this is a specialist department that assesses and documents all parts of the manufacturing process to ensure that products are made consistently and reliably. Work in this department typically requires staff to have a detailed understanding of the manufacturing process as well as the requirements of validation (you can read more about that here). Depending on the size of the company, and the scale of the validation project, validation professionals might be employed directly by a company, or hired in as a contractor through an engineering consultancy.
Quality – this is another specialist department that sits alongside production, with a couple of notable sub-specialities.
- Quality Assurance professionals take a largely preventative role. They create, revise, and implement documentation that ensure that the manufacturing process is operating as it should. Doing so requires detailed knowledge of the manufacturing process and regulatory requirements.
- Quality Control professionals sample and test the manufacturing output at several stages, including the finished result. In pharma, Quality Control testing is typically carried out by scientists in a lab setting.
Regulatory Affairs – another highly specialised department, this time dealing with the documentation that is required by regulators. Entry-level roles are not common, and professionals typically end up here after significant experience in other departments.
Operations – this department ensures the functioning of the manufacturing plant and its equipment. There are a range of roles available here from entry-level technical roles, through to specialist engineering opportunities and management.
Sales & Marketing – often based within company head offices and sometimes as a customer-facing sales team, this department advertises and promotes the products in line with all applicable rules and regulations.
Check out this article for some additional information and example job titles for each department.
With your new-found understanding of the industries and departments, it’s now time to think about your preferred areas of interest / specialisation for your career.
- Do you want to be researching new products?
- Do you want to follow specific protocols and manufacture products?
- Do you want to be involved in checking product quality?
Generally, the more specialised the department, the higher the salary BUT the more time, effort, and education needed to get there.
You might also spend some time researching if there are any specific skills shortages in your country (or geographic area). National level skills reports can be good for a big-picture understanding, but monitoring local jobs boards and talking to local recruitment consultants can be useful to understand the on-the-ground situation.