In June 2017 Abigail Heffer graduated from the University of Leeds with a 2:1 in BSc Biological Sciences (Ind), she now works at ApotheCom as a Senior Account Executive. Abigail secured a placement year at Roche during her studies- with CV support from the Careers Centre. Follow Abigail’s journey from University of Leeds student to the rewarding, dynamic, fast paced world of Medical Communications.
Applying for a placement year
From relatively early on in my degree, I knew a lab-based career wouldn’t be for me. I wanted the buzz of an office, and to have a role that necessitated communicating with a wide range of different people and personalities. An office-based role in the pharmaceutical industry seemed like it might be a good fit, and so at the beginning of my second year at University I applied for industrial placements with the major players – Pfizer; GSK; AstraZeneca; Johnson & Johnson – but with no success.
Careers Centre support
I hadn’t previously considered visiting the University Careers Centre, but as something in my applications wasn’t hitting the mark, I turned to them for support. The Career Advisers were incredibly helpful, making some key tweaks to my CV and covering letters that would help me stand out from other candidates. Multiple applications and many mock interviews later, I was very happy to find out that I had been offered a placement with Roche in their Clinical Operations department, Welwyn Garden City.
Placement year at Roche
During my year at Roche, I supported clinical trial management and safety reporting in a range of disease areas, including oncology and neurodegenerative disease. I gained invaluable skills from my work in Clinical Operations and was also encouraged to explore careers options in other departments. At a networking event I got talking to a member of the Medical Writing and Publication Planning team, who opened my eyes to the world of Medical Communications, in which I could combine my love of writing with cutting-edge scientific developments. I received upfront advice that it would be challenging to secure a Medical Writer position without a PhD or other post-graduate qualification, but was advised that a good alternative would be to get experience in a Medical Communications agency and work my way up.
Final year- securing a graduate job
Returning to Leeds after my year at Roche, I was inspired to apply for graduate schemes in Medical Communications. Subsequently, I was invited to a 1-day assessment centre at ApotheCom – an agency specialising in chronic disease management, oncology and specialised medicine. The assessment centre followed the usual format, and I left exhausted but hopeful that all my preparation would pay off. A few weeks later, whilst fully submerged in dissertation research, I received a call to let me know that I had been successful and would be accepted into their September 2017 graduate intake. It was a huge relief to secure a graduate job early on in my final year, as it meant that I could now focus all my attention on my academic studies. I graduated from Leeds with a 2:1 in BSc Biological Sciences (Ind) in the summer of 2017 and was thrilled that I could close the chapter on academia and begin my career journey.
Since then, I have “graduated” from the 1-year scheme at ApotheCom, having worked across a range of therapy areas and in a broad variety of different projects, including websites, symposia, standalone meetings, advisory boards and medical education slide decks. I received a promotion in June to Senior Account Executive and will continue to work towards a junior Medical Writer position. I would say that Medical Communications is well-suited to anyone looking for a dynamic and fast-paced role, with the opportunity to work alongside leading disease area experts and travel across the world. At times the workload can be quite intense, but the reward of delivering a successful project with your team far outweighs this.
My advice to anyone looking to get into Medical Communications would be to try and get some work experience in the healthcare industry. An industrial placement is obviously ideal, but even if you can secure something for just a couple of weeks, having an understanding the inner workings of the sector will be invaluable when completing your applications. In terms of desirable skills, I can’t stress how important attention to detail is, and there’s no easier way to demonstrate this than to have flawless grammar and spelling in your CV and covering letters. All companies across all industries will look for this, but it’s particularly crucial in Medical Communications as it’s such a significant part of our role. Overall, try to demonstrate transferable skills in all aspects of your University life – be it teamwork skills from organising society socials, research skills from lab work or organisational skills from submitting all your assignments on time! Good luck!