Industry instead of Pharmacy
Pharmaceutics Internship at the Roche Pharma AG
Whoever studies Pharmacy, winds up behind the sales counter of a pharmacy? Not necessarily – since graduates can also apply their knowledge in the industry. You can find out whether this work appeals to you in the pharmaceutics internship. Tobias Steffan and Birgit Ohlinger from Roche Pharma AG present tasks and perspectives.
Dr. Tobias Steffan(39) studied Pharmacy at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and subsequently received his doctorate at the LMU Munich in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry faculty. After six years at Roche Diagnostics GmbH in Penzberg, he has now been heading Quality Control of Roche Pharma AG in Grenzach for two years.
Birgit Ohlinger(29) first trained as a Pharmaceutical Technical Assistant (PTA) and subsequently likewise studied Pharmacy in Freiburg. In her practical year, she completed a six-month internship at Roche Pharma AG in Grenzach. Since April 2016, she has been working there as a Quality Assurance Manager in the Quality Assurance area.
Which departments can Pharmacists in practical training work in at Roche?
Steffan: The interns can be deployed in our PTQP Release area in four departments – Quality Control, Quality Assurance and in the two so called QP or Release departments, which are responsible for supplying the market and the clinical studies.
Ohlinger: I completed the second half of my practical year in the department "Pharma Quality Marketed Products". The department is mainly responsible for the release of medications approved for the European market.
What did you do there?
Ohlinger: I primarily supported the Qualified Persons (QPs) in the department by contributing to the creation of response letters for market complaints and preparing assessments of temperature deviations during the transport of goods. Those are queries from pharmacies who want to know whether they can continue to sell a medication despite temperature deviations, for example, during transport.
In addition, I participated in a large global project. It concerned the optimization of a repackaging and release process in Greece. I was responsible for organizing the meetings and telephone conferences with our Greek colleagues, creating presentations and adapting the work instructions.
I really enjoyed this project, because I was entrusted with a lot of responsibility and, through the organization and participation, I received profound
insights into the world of project management. Such experience can, of course, not be had in a public pharmacy.
What is the difference between a public pharmacy and work in the industry?
Ohlinger: The tasks in the pharmacy were just as gratifying, but cover only a part of the potential working fields of a pharmacist. I wanted to become familiar with all of the corresponding challenges. At Roche, of course, there are also routine activities, but there are new and interesting projects again and again – also at the global level and in collaboration with many other departments worldwide. Therefore, it is impossible to say what exciting tasks and impressions the current day will bring.
Dr. Steffan, which tasks do the Pharmacy Interns have in your department?
Steffan: In Quality Control, the Pharmacy Interns take on many traditional laboratory activities. These are very diverse and extend far beyond the experience of the course of studies. The Interns learn how to handle highly potent small molecules through to the so called biologics such as therapeutic antibodies and enzymes – for example against cancer.
In addition, the Interns experience all of the processes and activities, which are required to develop, maintain and, if necessary, defend a GMP-compliant working environment vis-à-vis the authorities. Our last Intern, for example, selected, ordered and qualified a laboratory instrument as GMP-compliant.
Laboratory work is, of course, an essential component of the Pharmacy course, so the Interns surely already have a lot of know-how. But what about the administrative tasks, Ms. Ohlinger? How could you apply the knowledge from your studies?
Ohlinger: The pharmaceutical background was a great advantage here as well, since you learn during the studies how a medication is developed, manufactured and tested. Besides, we did indeed learn something about GMP at university, so I was familiar with the terminology.
And I find that through the strictly scheduled studies between lectures, practical courses and studying, one develops good time management – which one definitively needs here.
What is the support like during the internship?
Ohlinger: In my department, I always had a Qualified Person as a mentor, who trained me and showed me where I could find everything in the systems. In the office, I sat with her and another QP at a desk island so that I could always ask directly when anything arose. Additionally, we had a fixed appointment every week, during which we discussed my questions and suggestions and I also received feedback.
Steffan: The support must be provided by a qualified pharmacist, which is defined in the regulations on medical registration. In Quality Control, we have arranged that I act as a mentor. As a rule, the specialist supervision is provided by a colleague pharmacist in the function of a Quality Control Manager – this person conveys the specialist and GMP subject matter under close supervision.
It is important to me to pass on a little of what I experienced during my own practical year. I also spent part of my practical year in the industry and found important impulses for my later career choice. I grew up in a public pharmacy and knew this traditional environment very well. Through my internship, I discovered what kind of new and exciting analytics there are, how an internationally networked company works and how important personnel management is. It was subsequently clear to me that I could imagine that for my future. My motivation is to pass on this experience to the next generation of pharmacists.
Glossary for non-pharmacists
Pharmaceutical Internship: In accordance with the regulations on medical registration for pharmacists, pharmacists must complete a practical year between the second and third state examinations. Half of the practical year must be spent in a public pharmacy, the other half can, for example, be served in the pharmaceutical industry, in a hospital dispensary or in a university institute.
QP: Short for "Qualified Person". These employees are responsible for compliance with the regulations governing the manufacture, testing and release of medications. A QP must not only have a degree in Pharmacy or a related field, but also two years of relevant professional experience.
GMP: Short for "Good Manufacturing Practice". This included guidelines for quality assurance of the production processes and environment.
What are the prerequisites for a Pharmacy Internship at Roche?
Steffan: From a purely formal point of view, you must have completed the second state examination. We attach particular importance to an above-average performance, which means that future colleagues should, on the one hand, be very hard-working and, on the other hand, have a pronounced sense of quality – also and above all when it comes to their own work. Furthermore, a natural interest in analytics, team spirit and, of course, the most important point: boundless curiosity.
What does the application procedure involve?
Ohlinger: After I applied for the position, I was invited to an interview relatively quickly. This was performed by the head of the department and a colleague from the Human Resources department. I found the discussion very pleasant and informative. Subsequently, I had another talk with two Qualified Persons from the department, who introduced me to my potential tasks and asked about my previous knowledge. And the best thing: Already the next morning, I received word that I had been successful.
What perspectives do the interns have at Roche Pharma?
Steffan: If they are bright, opportunities are open to them for a later job – such as it was, for example, for Birgit. She took advantage of the opportunity to make a very positive impression, and is now, after a corresponding application, an employee in the neighboring department. The Management Start-Up QP Program is also a follow-up option for the pharmacy interns. Even if the selection process is independent, through their time in the company, they simply know which positions they can apply for and which requirements they must fulfill – which is, of course, an advantage. Moreover, internal Roche references have more significance than those from other companies.
What do you like about Roche as an employer?
Steffan: The Roche Pharma AG is, based on my personal experience, a very good and responsible employer. The working environment is very open and friendly so that one can reconcile private and professional lives very well. That can be seen, among other things, in the atmosphere and commitment of the young and dynamic teams. During the day everybody works hard – therefore, a get-together after work from time to time cannot be lacking. In addition, the hard facts are also right, that is the payment and benefits. When I talk to fellow students from my university days, who work for other large companies, I am again and again reminded that Roche is an extraordinary employer in this respect. And last, but not least: The development opportunities are extremely good. Whoever spends a few years working here in Grenzach has, of course, good chances at the other sites as well.
Ohlinger: I was very comfortable at the Roche Pharma AG during the period of my internship – so much that I wanted to come back. Moreover, Roche tries to improve continuously concerning the design of the workplaces and the offers above and beyond – whether through the sports programs or the daycare center. Highlights are special events, for example, the "Children's Walk" charity event this week or "Corporate Day" in Europapark at the beginning of the year. It is also clear that the mission statement "Doing now what patients need next" is not just given lip service, but rather it is really lived every day.
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