Doctors Take a Shot at Clinical Research
Medical professionals chart new careers with labs, hone business acumen and managerial skills
ANUMEHA CHATURVEDI NEW DELHI Economic Times, Mumbai , 30-11-2012 Pg 8
Going by her designation – associate director, project management – you'd think Rashmi Vyas was an information technology professional. But she is a doctor, gainfully employed in clinical research. Vyas works in the Cardiac Safety Services division of global clinical research firm Quintiles. The unit works with pharmaceutical companies during clinical trials to ensure the drugs they make are safe for the heart.
As a project manager, she has travelled across the world to meet pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners to help them understand the company's ECG business. Today, she supervises a team of up to 10 managers. "My medical background makes it easier to understand the requirements of clients and train internal teams," she says. Vyas says the role also allows her to maintain a better worklife balance: like a typical project manager dealing with overseas clients in an IT firm, she too, gets the flexibility to work from home.
Though clinical trials in India are bogged down by regulatory constraints and slow approvals, doctors like Vyas are leaving their practice in hospitals and clinics in favour of new career opportunities in clinical research. "The clinical trials industry has grown phenomenally in the past decade," says Dr Vinitaa Jha, director, operations, at the office of research at Max Healthcare. Pharmaceutical multinationals have built a strong foothold in India, and CROs, research departments within hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry provide good employment opportunities to medical and allied professionals, also enabling them to use their managerial skills and business acumen, she says.
The office of research department at Max Healthcare, which Jha heads, was started in 2006 to spearhead all research activities, including scientific studies, research and clinical trials. Jha, herself a psychiatrist and an MBA, says the number of doctors looking for roles in the research division at the chain has gone up substantially, and the research division also has plans of putting in place a medical writing division which will enable and assist researchers to write articles for journals.
Fortis Clinical Research, the clinical research division at Fortis Healthcare, also plans to hire more medical professionals for functions like clinical trials, medical writing and pharmacovigilance next year. "Medical professionals are required across all functions in the clinical research industry. With the expected boom in clinical research in India, which is currently limited by regulatory constraints, the roles and opportunities for medical professionals may show exponential growth," says Aditya Vij, CEO at Fortis Healthcare.
Sanjay Gupta, director, operations at clinical research firm Catalyst Clinical Services too believes the number of medical professionals looking at roles in clinical research has gone up drastically. His firm currently employs six doctors in a team of 25, but he is hopeful of employing more doctors next year if projects increase. While the number of medical professionals employed at firms like Catalyst may not be significant, Quintiles Cardiac Safety Services employs 200 doctors in a total workforce of 240 in India. Quintiles is the only clinical research firm in the world to have a separate cardiac unit for clinical trials, and the global headquarters of the unit is in Mumbai.
"India is the headquarters as it has an extremely experienced pool of cardiologists. With increasing scrutiny by US authorities, cardiac safety in clinical trials has emerged as a big field, requiring medical expertise," says Dr Snehal Kothari, senior medical director at the unit. "Unlike labs which also employ technicians for preliminary reading of data, we employ physicians at all levels," says Dr Deepa Desai, executive director.
To attract and retain medical professionals, the company offers roles in project and operations management to doctors who have worked with them for about two years. While a role in project management allows medical professionals to work on specific projects and interact with global medical teams of pharma companies,operations management involves the process of handling ECG reports, upgrading medical software, managing logistics and reporting, receiving and sending ECG reports.
Nearly half the doctors at the cardiac unit are out-of-college medical graduates, a quarter of them are specialised MDs and another quarter, super specialists or experienced cardiologists who work with the company as consultants and put in eight to 10 hours every week. The profiles are divided into levels according to the work, with the super specialists right on top. Dr Dattatreya Rao is a super-specialist who began his part-time Quintiles stint in 2006, and works at the unit for two hours every day. "I was alittle skeptical about joining them initially as it almost sounded like an IT company," he says. "But, they have well defined structures, roles and protocols and the pay scales are commensurate with the working hours put in," he says. Clearly, there is no looking back.