The licentiate degree in industrial pharmacy may be familiar to many, but these days graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in pharmacy advance their skills through a new kind of specialisation programme where the needs of employers and students meet.
The programme was reformed in 2016 but corresponds comprehensively with the previous licentiate degree, which makes it possible to state that the programme is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The first specialist pharmacists graduated from the redesigned programme in 2019.
The pharmaceutical industry needs specialists in pharmaceutical technology
Aila Välilä, QA director and Qualified Person at the Espoo factory of the pharmaceutical company Orion, has long been aware of the specialisation studies in industrial pharmacy, and her team members have already been completing studies in accordance with the new programme. Orion’s quality assurance operations employ a number of specialist pharmacists, most of whom serve in the role of Qualified Person.
“Specialisation has improved their technical skills, while the opportunity to obtain the QP qualification has been a particular motivation for further studies,” Aila notes.
The content of the programme has been modified on the basis of discussions between Orion’s representatives and the University of Helsinki.
“The pharmaceutical industry is in constant need of people specialised in industrial pharmacy with solid knowledge and skills pertaining to different drug forms, manufacturing processes and the features of relevant materials,” Aila lists.
In fact, Aila recommends the specialisation programme to anyone interested in advancing their expertise in these key fields of pharmaceutical technology.
A young expert enjoys the additional security
In addition to Finnish professionals, specialisation studies in industrial pharmacy are targeted at international experts. The programme is arranged in English, which has enabled the participation of Annika Põder from Estonia as well.
Annika graduated with a master’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Tartu in 2015 and is working for the Estonian Health Insurance Fund (EHIF). Her work entails the pharmacoeconomic analysis of new drugs and medicinal aids, price negotiations with industry businesses, and collaboration with the healthcare sector. During her first months in the new position, Annika started feeling that she did not know enough about the pharmaceutical industry. Prone to perfectionism, Annika was lucky to have an old course mate notice the specialisation programme in industrial pharmacy and propose that they complete it together.
“I wanted to gain new knowledge and confidence for my daily work. I was particularly looking for more information about the processes in between drug development, the reimbursement of medicines and clinical trials, as well as about drug marketing authorisation and pricing. Of course, I also wanted to study abroad and meet new people who could teach me new things,” Annika says.
Blended education succeeds alongside work
Parts of her studies Annika completed remotely, which was easy thanks to courses available for streaming online. Part-time studies stretched over four years can be easily fit into the schedule of even busy professionals.
“There are plenty of alternatives for completing the studies: in person, remotely or by viewing recordings. Book examinations are another method of completion. Not to mention, Professor Anne Juppo has really found the best lecturers in the field for the courses,” Annika enthuses.
The programme content has been interesting, and Annika is particularly pleased with the scope of the optional studies. With a solid basic understanding of drug development, her aim has been to supplement her expertise, which is why she chose to focus on courses whose content would most benefit her in terms of her current position.
“I gained knowledge valuable in my work especially from the courses Marketing Authorisation for Medicinal Products and Pharmacovigilance, Clinical Trial Research and Clinical Drug Supply Chain, and Pharmaceutical Business and Marketing,” Annika says.
The latter has been Annika’s favourite so far, since the lecturers share knowledge from the business perspective.
“Usually, such information is hard to come by to officials in public administration. The course has broadened my mindset in general, and I now understand that I can ask for feedback and opinions also in the private sector,” says Annika.
The specialisation programme has also helped Annika understand the significance of quality management and strategic thinking.
“I now understand better how my role can promote the strategic goals of EHIF. Quality management is the foundation of successful business, something that everyone should be familiar with,” Annika points out.
Solid expertise and new career opportunities
A project assignment included in the programme is only in its early stages for Annika, but she has already noticed that it may be the most demanding part of the studies.
“The assignment requires self-direction, but it is also very rewarding.”
To future students, Annika gives this tip: start working on the project assignment right from the get-go! This way, you will have enough time for mulling things over and dividing the workload more evenly across your studies.
After completing the programme, Annika aims to utilise her new knowledge and skills in her current post, but she also notes that the education may engender new career opportunities. She recommends the programme to anyone working in the pharmaceutical industry and organisations active in the sector. Having a few years of work experience before studies does no harm, but even those with a longer career in the field will certainly find suitable content in the programme by mixing selected optional courses.
“In addition to providing me with a great deal of valuable information, my studies have inspired me to do my daily work to my best ability,” Annika says.