There are plenty of options for pharmaceutical researchers thinking about moving into the healthcare sector, says Caroline Tolond

There are plenty of options for pharmaceutical researchers thinking about moving into the healthcare sector, says Caroline Tolond


Caroline Tolond is the RSC’s careers adviser

Q I’ve worked in the pharmaceutical sector for a while and am now considering a major career change. I would like to explore options within the healthcare sector, possibly something that uses the skills I have but in an environment where I can interact with patients. Can you suggest any options?

A It’s interesting that you ask this question as over the past couple of years I’ve worked with a number of RSC members looking to make the transition from pharmaceutical research or manufacturing into a broad range of healthcare careers. 

From your question it sounds like something, either at work or at home, has made you stop and take stock of your career. Making the kind of career change you talk about is a big step and the healthcare sector is not the easiest to break into, so whatever you decide to do, try not to rush to a decision. 

First, reflect on what skills you already have, consider the experience you want to draw on in your new occupation, and research your options. By research I mean read as much information as you can on possible options and speak to people working in those occupations. 

Knowing how other chemical scientists have managed a similar transition is helpful. At one end of the spectrum, options have included re-training as a nurse, occupational therapist, podiatrist or counsellor through to those with a more obvious link to chemistry, such as radiation protection, radiography and pharmacy. Others have drawn on their softer skills and applied for the NHS leadership programme. 

Some healthcare careers will need a further degree, either at undergraduate or postgraduate level; others, such as the NHS leadership programme, won’t. So do take your finances into consideration if re-training is required - it can be expensive. If you are studying in the UK, and you already hold a first degree, then the tuition fees for a second undergraduate course will be significantly higher. For a small number of health sector careers there are grants and bursaries available, but these are often limited to those roles in a shortage area or where the skills are essential to the NHS - for example medical training and midwifery. Where there is a high level of interest, grants tend to be less forthcoming and the cost of a degree can be a barrier to the profession. Pharmacy is one such career and entry 
to this profession requires a four-year MPharm degree. 

If you don’t know exactly what you want to do at this stage then start by reading up on different careers in the sector. Try the industry insights section of the Prospects website and the NHS careers website. These should help you consider the wide range of careers available within the sector and may help you think differently about your own skill set. 

So yes, there are lots of options, but once you’re aware of what you could do it is important to re-focus on what you want to do, not what you could do. Think about what you enjoy doing in and out of work. What are your strengths? What do you get a buzz from? Some people light up when talking about particular activities or careers - if you have something that does that for you, use it to focus your thoughts. Why does it make you sparkle? It should help to define your career motivators, such as work-life balance, recognition, being a specialist or even something more general like helping people. 

In summary; reflect, research and plan. Be realistic about your options and seek alternatives if you hit barriers that you don’t think you can overcome. Remember that this can always be part of a longer-term plan if it is not viable at this stage. Good luck with it.