As a physician in the pharmaceutical industry?

Managing clinical trials instead of treating patients? Yes, say two employees of Roche Pharma AG in Grenzach.

Since 1896, Roche has been researching and developing new pharmaceuticals and diagnostic procedures. Internationally, over 90,000 employees from the different Group divisions are involved. Dr. Claudia Jenneck and Dr. Severin Pinilla are a part of it. Rather than the clinical routine, they chose the path into industry and got to know the medical sciences departments of the pharmaceutical concern. arzt&karriere met the physicians at the pharmaceutical site in Grenzach and spoke about their initial period and areas of responsibility in one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Dr. Pinilla, Dr. Jenneck, what brought both of you to Roche?

Claudia Jenneck: I started as a trainee in the Start-Up Medical Functions Program at Roche in 2007. The company is offering the program since 2006. So, I was one of the first trainees.

Severin Pinilla: I’m new at Roche and I am currently participating in the tenth month of the same program. In total, it takes two years. In that time, one goes through various departments of the company. Every two to four months, the field of activity changes. There the trainees gain knowledge of the structure and operations. In the last six months, there is an intensification phase in the field that interests the trainee the most.

In order to be admitted to the program, one needs at least a Master’s degree. Did you apply directly after your studies?

Severin Pinilla: No, during my residency, I spent one and a half years in an intensive care unit specializing in neurology in Munich. I then came to Roche because of a career fair. The presented program convinced me on the spot.

Claudia Jenneck: I studied medicine in Bonn, Zürich and Valencia and then I worked as an assistant doctor for one and a half years. I subsequently came to Grenzach and Roche because of a small CRO. Explanation: Contract Research Organizations take over tasks in clinical trials from large companies like Roche.

What made you decide to go into industry? You could also have aspired to a career in a hospital setting...

Severin Pinilla: During my studies, I chose to do an experimental doctorate and took two additional research semesters in the laboratory. Later, as an assistant doctor, I wanted to know how the medications, one deals with every day, are developed and reach the patients. It’s fascinating to contribute to new medicines and therapeutic methods – especially in areas where there is no treatment yet. Here is an example that is particularly interesting for me with my neurological background: Worldwide, 2.3 million people are affected by multiple sclerosis. There are certain subtypes of the disease for which there is no approved treatment. For the first time, Roche has successfully developed a drug for it.

Claudia Jenneck: I didn’t do a residency, because I already knew during my studies that I didn’t want to be a pure clinician. I decided I wanted to work for the pharmaceutical industry, since it offers a broad spectrum of career and development opportunities especially for physicians. The design leeway here is simply bigger. The chance to be active in an international environment was also decisive for me. In addition, I found that the work culture in a number of hospitals was quite hierarchical. That is different at Roche.

Severin Pinilla: Yes, I know quite a few people who are deterred by the draining clinical routine. Inflexible structures, subordination or the absence of an error and feedback culture sometimes also contribute to the willingness to change jobs.

Dr. Pinilla, you are in the tenth month of the program. What are you doing at the moment?

Severin Pinilla: Currently, I am in the Clinical Operations department, the area that supports all of the clinical trials in Germany – from submission to the authorities to their conclusion.

Which other departments did you get to know in the course of the program?

Severin Pinilla: First, I was in Medical Information. It is the interface between Roche and all the people who have contact with our products. There, we work as a medical science information service. After that I worked in the Regulatory Affairs department, which deals with all of the official requirements and standards. There, it is ensured that the medications may be sold on the German market, based on the national and EU legislation. In addition to other departments, I will have a chance to become familiar with the Finance area, which is uncharted territory for most physicians. There, one is confronted with, for example, controlling tasks and budget responsibility.

Claudia Jenneck: Since I started nine years ago, a number of departments have been added. Additionally, the areas are, in the meantime, very well-prepared for the trainees. Sometimes, the departments reserve exciting projects for the trainees in advance. At the same time, good integration into day-to-day business also takes place. Trainees are seen here as full-fledged employees. In my opinion, the program is a great opportunity to gain insights into the industry. Only then does one understand: What does ‘Medical Manager’ even mean? When such positions are advertised in the newspaper, as a physician, one doesn’t really know the meaning behind it.

Dr. Jenneck, in which area do you work now?

Claudia Jenneck: I’ve been working as a Medical Information Specialist in the Medical Science Information Service for more than four years. It is our job to provide physicians, pharmacists, but also patients the information they need to use our drugs properly and safely. We support the entire Roche product range, meaning more than 40 products in different therapeutic areas. That makes the work very diverse – and there’s always something new to learn. When responding to requests and questions, we use every communication channel, but primarily the telephone.

Isn’t it exhausting advising customers all day on the phone?

Claudia Jenneck: Well, I really like talking on the phone. No, seriously: the telephone contact with the customers, meaning physicians, pharmacists and patients, is clearly part of our daily work, but it is only one part of our range of tasks. In order to answer the questions, frequently the information must first be researched, analyzed and brought together, or a written response must be drafted. Then, my entire medical expertise is required. I am very happy that I also have contact to the patients in this activity. It makes me realize again and again for whom we are ultimately doing this work. At Roche, we have the vision: “Doing now what patients need next.” That means what we are working now and today will be of great benefit to the patients of tomorrow. And I always have this motto in sight when I talk to patients on the phone.

Which questions do customers have when they contact you?

Severin Pinilla: For example, pharmacists and physicians ask me about clinical data and overviews for specific patient groups. We then provide this information via the Roche databases. In day-to-day life, the pharmacists and physicians have little time to conduct complete literature research.

Claudia Jenneck: Besides theoretical scientific questions, the range of questions comprises first and foremost the types of things that can occur in the medical or pharmaceutical routine when using our products. But, as I mentioned, we also have contact with patients. They often have questions about side effects or the correct use of our preparations. We can usually help them on the basis of the package insert. However, we often refer them back to their attending physician, since the scope for communication with patients is considerably restricted due to the legal regulations. Nevertheless, it is important that the patients can also get in touch with competent contact partners in the companies.

Dr. Pinilla, you are not yet committed to a business area. What do you particularly like about the trainee program so far?

Severin Pinilla: In addition to the department-specific work, in every program, there is a cross-site project, in which all of the trainees from the same year are involved. Based on a very well-received pilot project on the topic of reverse mentoring, our group decided to develop a comprehensive site concept for this form of mentoring. We recently presented it at the highest corporate level, so directly to the executive board. It was approved two weeks ago. The project will be launched in the middle of this year – with a corresponding budget for 1,300 employees. In reverse mentoring, the traditional roles are reversed. The junior employee is the mentor for the senior employee in the company. The mentors and mentees will be brought together via a matching system, which is currently in the programming phase. As a result the senior leadership employees will have the opportunity to reflect on their own leadership styles. It is a program to promote the feedback and speak-up culture and also for a better understanding of generation Y. I find it very exciting.

At the beginning, did you underestimate the wide range of opportunities in industry?

Severin Pinilla: Yes, definitely. The area of the pharmaceutical industry or researching drug manufacturers is fundamentally interesting for medical professionals. During my studies, it was hardly ever discussed. This career option was simply not there – less for reasons of prejudice than because it is also never reported in the media. Plus, one doesn’t learn entrepreneurial thinking and behavior in medical school. I was positively surprised how many options I have as a physician at Roche both nationally and internationally. Today, I can imagine working in pharmaceuticals for a long time. As a physician, one also has the enviable position of being able to switch between the hospital and industry. There are definitely physicians, who take both paths.

Claudia Jenneck: I was surprised at the beginning how the individual departments interconnect and how each department is organized. Furthermore, I was really happy how much importance is attached to the so called soft skills like communication skills, empathy and loyalty. In the day-to-day work, one can really sense the openness and honesty, with which the colleagues approach one another.

Do some people criticize your job? You work in a sector that gets a lot of bad publicity.

Severin Pinilla: Yes, absolutely and I sometimes find it very generalized to criticize the pharmaceutical industry across the board and to say: ‘They’re all just profiteers.’ Entrepreneurial thinking and behavior must go hand-in-hand with social responsibility. That is particularly true for our industry and what I have experienced so far at Roche corresponds to it. Despite all the criticism, one must always keep in mind: Roche alone has developed 28 medications that are now on the WHO list of essential medicines. That is all too often forgotten in the debate!

Dr. Jenneck, you grew up in Bonn and lived in Cologne for a longer period. Was it difficult for you to relocate to the small town of Grenzach? It isn’t exactly a metropolis...

Claudia Jenneck: True, compared to Cologne there is certainly a difference. But, there are also clear advantages: We are located in the border triangle of Germany, France and Switzerland and the Alsace is right around the corner. What I particularly appreciate as an avid skier is the proximity to the mountains. However, I could also imagine moving to headquarters in Basel in the future and working internationally in the Medical Affairs area. With the trainee program ‘Medical Functions’, which Dr. Pinilla and I are completing, respectively have completed, one is fully equipped for many functions in the pharmaceutical industry.

© This article appeared in the 1/2016 issue of the arzt & karriere magazine. arzt & karriere is published by Evoluzione Media AG.

Tags: Career Blog, Germany