Careers Guide

Careers Guide

Career opportunities in Information Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Up-to-date, strategic information plays a key role in the Pharmaceutical Industry in planning and decision-making.  PIPA (The Pharmaceutical Information & Pharmacovigilance Association) has approximately 800 members, the majority of whom are directly employed within the pharmaceutical industry and whose prime professional role is providing information.

Roles within information management include:

Medical Information

Medical information professionals usually work within the commercial divisions of pharmaceutical companies.  They provide evaluated, balanced information and advice on clinical aspects of medicines to healthcare professionals (e.g., physicians, pharmacists, nurses and NHS managers) and to patients.  Information and advice are based upon published literature, confidential company data and experience.

Medical Information professionals also provide proactive information services to company personnel, typically providing expert support to medical, marketing, sales or NHS liaison staff.  They are often responsible for checking advertising and promotional material against the ABPI Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry.  They may also be involved in monitoring drug safety and reporting suspected adverse reactions to company products to the regulatory authorities.

Medical Information in the Field

This field-based reactive medical information role is service orientated and can embrace several disciplines of delivering information to healthcare professionals, both pre- and post-market authorisation, on subjects on and off-licence. The information is usually delivered on a 1:1 basis.

To comply with the ABPI Code of Practice, the Medical Information Scientist responds reactively to a specific question asked by a specific HCP.  The question sets the agenda and research is conducted, with the relevant papers collated, to address the enquiry in a fair and balanced way. The findings are summarised in a letter and relevant highlights are presented, by appointment, to the healthcare professional face-to-face.

Pharmacovigilance

Pharmacovigilance is the process of (a) monitoring medicines as used in everyday practice to identify previously unrecognised adverse effects or changes in the patterns of adverse effects; (b) assessing the risks and benefits of medicines in order to determine what action, if any, is necessary to improve their safe use; (c) providing information to users to optimise safe and effective use of medicines; (d) monitoring the impact of any action taken. As such this is a highly specialised role and many companies recruit separately for pharmacovigilance professionals whilst others combine the role with Medical Information.

Research Information

Research Information professionals support the work of the research and development functions of companies.  They work closely with scientists and managers, typically pharmacologists, chemists, biochemists, microbiologists, pharmacists, toxicologists, and also with clinical research, regulatory and commercial staff working in the research and development environment.

Proactive information provision is a key aspect of their work, keeping their customers up-to-date with scientific, medical and commercial views that will influence the direction of their work.  Researching information on specific topics for their customers is also an important responsibility. Many research information professionals provide support and training for end-user searching facilities such as intranet databases and companies' in-house databases.

Specialist information orientated activities or roles within the pharmaceutical industry include:

  • Business Information
  • Records Management (of company documentation)
  • Library Services
  • Database Design and Management
  • Chemical Compound Management
  • Literature Indexing and Abstracting
  • Commercial and Marketing Support
  • Copyright Administration
  • Medical Writing.

Skills required by Information Professionals

Getting the right information to the right person at the right time requires a unique combination of both specialist and generalist skills.  Many information professionals in the pharmaceutical industry have a science-based first degree.  Some may have an additional postgraduate qualification such as an MSc or Diploma in an information related subject or a scientific PhD.  The employer mostly provides specialist information management training through internal and external courses.  The PIPA meetings programme, training and development programme and annual conference provide a continuing education programme for all information professionals.

Strongly developed inter-personal, organisational, communication and presentation skills are essential.  Information professionals must be able to identify the information needs of customers and to communicate information to them in an appropriate manner or format.  This may range from a comprehensive detailed report required by a research scientist to an easily understood helpful response to an enquiry from a patient.

A number of organisations offer post graduate qualifications. Further information can be found on the Postgraduate Qualifications page of the PIPA website.

Technical skills are also required since information professionals often find themselves at the forefront of new technological developments.  Computers are routinely used to store, retrieve, manipulate and distribute information.  In-house databases, commercial systems and the internet are searched for company data or published literature.  The information can then be transmitted to the customer electronically, by more traditional paper-based methods or interpersonal contact.

Finding a job

After deciding to start a career in information management, you will then want to investigate job opportunities.  You will probably need to pursue several routes to embark on your new career:

  • Job advertisements
  • Specialist recruitment agencies
  • Speculative approaches to employers.

Job advertisements for information professionals can often be found in the New Scientist (www.newscientistjobs.com).  Medical information jobs may also be advertised in the Pharmaceutical Journal (www.pharmj.com) as a background in pharmacy or pharmacology is useful experience for this role.  PIPA also carries job advertisements in its quarterly journal and regular mailings to its members, and also on its website (http://www.pipaonline.org/Job-advertisements-).

The Internet is an increasingly useful way to find job advertisements.  Two sites that carry advertisements for information positions in the pharmaceutical industry are Inpharm World (www.inpharm.com) and PharmiWeb (www.pharmiweb.com).

There are a variety of agencies that hold information management jobs on their books.  Some of these agencies are listed under Recruitment Links and can be found on the PIPA website.

Another useful means of finding a job is by writing to Human Resources departments or information managers of pharmaceutical companies, enclosing your curriculum vitae.  The ABPI can provide a list of companies in the UK.  In addition, the companies are listed in the back of major pharmaceutical reference books including the BNF (British National Formulary) or MIMS.  These books are often available from public libraries.