13 th Jul Educating Healthcare Regulatory Professionals
People are continually sharing new ideas to advance education and training for regulatory healthcare specialists. It was something discussed at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Lifelong Learning Conference last year and we even see ‘education’ as a category within the TOPRA Awards. Getting it right is high on the agenda for pharma.
But, as an employer of regulatory healthcare specialists, I have first-hand experience understanding the challenges faced by employers recruiting professionals for their regulatory teams. As employers we face an increased global demand on a relatively limited pool of experienced regulatory professionals. We also see increased global regulations that continue to demand more from organisations with products in development as well as maintaining compliance throughout the product lifecycle. Being based as we are in Cornwall, geographical location can also present challenges to employers in limiting their access to a talented workforce.
Not surprisingly there are also challenges for the candidates. The first challenge facing candidates is even being aware of regulatory science as a career choice. In my case I had completed my first degree and was at the end of second year PhD study when I began to think that whilst I really enjoyed the science, I was not convinced that a career at the bench was my best option. So I started to consider what options were available and was fortunate that the University arranged an event which was aimed at graduates and PhD’s who, like me, wanted to know what options we had away from the bench. Many of the professionals invited to speak were from professions unrelated to science, however, one talk during the event was by a professional from a pharmaceutical company who spoke about regulatory affairs. From that point I knew that this career would allow me to remain within science and also perform a key role within healthcare organisations.
Now for that age old conundrum. How can candidates can get experience for a position, when employers are only seeking to employ those that already have experience? For this reason, probably the biggest challenge for candidates is landing their first role with an organisation in regulatory affairs as predominantly companies are looking to fill roles with experienced professionals rather than fresh graduates. In my case, following my PhD I took a temporary job in a pharmaceutical company working in the lab researching protein biochemistry. Approximately 12 months in and numerous applications later, I successfully landed my entry role in regulatory affairs. I still count myself fortunate as I am aware of many people who after two years were still trying to secure their first position.
In many ways you can appreciate why employers need experience. Setting up and managing training and development within your organisation is not straightforward to put in place. The pressures of meeting ever increasing regulations means that stretched regulatory teams are not prepared to stretch themselves further with the task of developing knowledge in candidates without previous experience.
However, there are options available and this is where regulatory and pharmaceutical companies need to think outside of the box and consider the options that are open to them. One such option is to work with the support of a professional organisation such as TOPRA and review the resources they have to support development of your in house team. In partnership with your professional organisation, employees can also seek out new approaches to attracting and developing talent. There can be better promotion to undergraduates of the opportunities available, as well as recruitment and investment in the development of graduates.
Employers themselves can also look to recruit from other disciplines and develop and implement a structured development programme. In the case of my company, The Regulatory Affairs Consultancy (TRAC), we have spent over ten years recruiting fresh graduates and developing them within the team to become regulatory professionals in their own right. Notably, our geographical location means that recruitment of skilled professionals is a challenge for us and so we decided in the early years of the business to recruit inexperienced candidates and train them ourselves. To date we have trained and developed over twenty exceptionally talented graduates, many of whom are remain within the team.
Once on board we have developed a number of strategies that ensure the candidate is fully supported throughout their training and development from a bespoke company induction to a buddy (mentor) programme. I am a firm believer that appropriately supported, on the job training is the best way to learn and have candidates feeling they are making a positive contribution to the company from day one.
For us it’s paramount to select the right candidate. We have used our understanding of what attributes make a great regulatory professional, such as attention to detail, fantastic communication skills and good scientific understanding to name a few, to ensure that our recruitment process is robust and ensures we select the type of candidate who will succeed in our profession and go on to deliver an exceptional, quality service to our loyal customers.