Course chat
Prescription for success
Ambika Sharma

The overhauled course will redefine the role of a pharmacy professional. The curricula match international standards with emphasis on internship, patient & community care

TO bridge the gap between academic learning and practice, the Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) has introduced a new course for pharmacy students from the current session — Pharm.D. Notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, about 22 colleges of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have come forward to introduce it from this year.

The course — designed after comparing several curricula from across the world — has been specially drafted to suit the needs of the Indian society where pharmacists play a key role in the healthcare system and, if well qualified, can contribute to minimising drug-related problems. Pharmacy practice is a highly evolved discipline in the developed world, especially in USA, Europe and Australia while its role in India is still limited. Pharmacists abroad handle major responsibilities like prescribing medicines in hospitals where the doctor provides the key diagnoses.

The new course will redefine the role of a pharmacy professional. He or she is expected to play a key role in healthcare and illness prevention, including carrying out clinical studies for patient counselling, drug information services, report adverse drug reactions and help in their monitoring and prevention. Under the new system, a pharmacist would be responsible for promoting rational drug use and the concept of essential medicines. He is also supposed to provide unbiased drug information to doctors as well as interpret selected laboratory results of specific disease states. The change would further help professionals going abroad as it comes several steps closer to curricula followed abroad.

Areas of activity

THE duration of Pharm.D would be six academic years as against the existing four-year bachelor of pharmacy course. The six years would include five years of study and one year of internship/residency full time with each academic year spread over a period of 200 working days.

The course would encompass two phases: The first would consist of first, second, third, fourth and fifth year while the second would consist of internship/residency training during the fifth year involving posting in specialty units. During this phase of training, a student would be exposed to actual pharmacy practice and clinical pharmacy services and acquire skills under supervision to prepare students for independent functioning.

The three-year post-baccalaureate Pharm.D course would replace the existing M.Pharma. Its curriculum would include Phase I (comprising first and second years) and Phase II (consisting of internship/residency during the third year involving posting in specialty units).

Stringent guidelines have also been laid down for internship, which aims at inculcating specific objectives, including providing patient care in cooperation with patients, doctors and other members of an inter-professional healthcare team. Pharmacists would be trained to manage and use resources of the healthcare system so as to promote health, to provide, assess and coordinate safe and time-sensitive medication distribution and to improve the therapeutic outcome of medication use.

The new course will also help develop leadership qualities that enable a pharmacist to function effectively as a member of a health-team organised to deliver health and family welfare services and inculcate effective communication with patients and the community.

A committee comprising representatives of the college and the district hospital administration shall further regulate the training of an intern. The authorities would be then required to furnish a certificate of satisfactory completion of training and every candidate will be required to undergo compulsory rotational internship after passing the final Pharm.D examination within a period of 12 months so as be eligible for the award to the degree of Pharm.D and its post-baccalaureate.

Mission admission

Admission to Pharma.D Part 1 course would require a 10+2 with physics and chemistry as compulsory subjects or a diploma in pharmacy or any other qualification considered equivalent by the PCI. Similarly, a student who has successfully completed B.Pharmacy from an approved institute would be eligible for the post-baccalaureate course. To ensure quality, PCI has restricted the intake of students to 30 for Pharm.D and 10 for the post-baccalaureate programme. The institutes running B.Pharm programmes would be eligible to run Pharm.D programme and those running Pharma.D would only be eligible for the post-baccalaureate programme.

Employment avenues

SKY is the limit for a pharmacy professional with salaries running into lakhs for those with adequate experience. Apart from joining a hospital, there is immense scope in the pharmaceutical industry. While those armed with a postgraduate degree can get into prestigious research and development wings and rise to top positions. Openings of drug inspector are also available, which can further take you to the ranks of assistant drug controller and drug controller in a state’s health department.

Interestingly, even banks and other financial institutes are now appointing pharmacy professionals to deal with loan cases of pharmaceutical companies. Since assessing a pharmaceutical unit is a technical job, who can fit the bill better than a pharmacy graduate?

There is immense scope abroad as well. Till now, Indian professionals had to clear various examinations to go abroad but this new course is designed to remove this hassle.

Stringent Norms

AIMED at churning out professionals with skills matching international standards, PCI has laid down stringent norms for institutes offering these courses. Only institutes that are approved by the council and have a 300-bed hospital attached would be granted approval for this course.

Even hospital details have been spelt out – the teaching hospital should be recognised by the Medical Council of India’s university department and house a pharmacy practice department with minimum carpet area of 30 feet per student along with adequate manpower to support the programme. A tertiary care hospital is desirable, medicine (compulsory) and any three specialisations of the following, including surgery, paediatrics, gynaecology and obstetrics , psychiatry, skin and VD and orthopaedics. This norm, introduced for the first time, will make it essential for every pharmacy college to upgrade facilities, providing better healthcare to the people.



Smart Skills
In quest of a cure & big bucks
Usha Albuquerque

As India emerges as an ideal location for clinical research trials for the pharmaceutical industry, a McKinsey report predicts creation of over 50,000 jobs in clinical research over the next couple of years

EVERY time we have a headache we pop a pill and feel better. The same holds for a stomach-upset, viral fever, allergy or a more serious ailment. Hundreds of medicines and drugs are available today to help prevent and cure numerous diseases. Teams of scientists, physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and other health professionals have been involved in research that has made available thousands of medications, healing procedures and processes that have revolutionised healthcare. This explosion of new information has introduced novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to many of the human diseases.

Clinical research has made it possible for information from molecular biology and genetic studies to be clinically evaluated for effectiveness as standard therapies. It is a scientific study of the effects, risks, efficacy and benefits of a medicinal product or pharmacological therapy. The research is carried out prior to the release of the medicine in the market, and trials are undertaken at various stages, including after the launch of a new product, to monitor safety and side effects during large-scale use. Clinical trials are necessary because the outcome of treatments is often variable and dependent on the diverse social and behavioral attributes of patients.

Moreover, as more and more medicinal products and therapies are added onto the health system, research organisations and pharmaceutical companies are continuously involved in expanding clinical research expertise.

Work in clinical research

A CLINICAL research professional is responsible for the development of a clinical research plan and the implementation and collection of research results from the scientific study of the effects, risks and benefits of a medicinal product, including new drug substances and currently marketed drugs. Research organisations or pharmaceutical laboratories carry out most clinical research on behalf of a sponsor or drug company. The clinical researcher studies issues and concerns related to the product or medicinal study being conducted and needs to understand the etiology of disease and the disease process so as to be able to identify and evaluate potential treatments and their outcomes. The clinical research associates — as they are often called — or scientists, are responsible for conducting all the activities required for the research and for monitoring the studies conducted. This may involve keeping records of scientific studies, preparation of patients, presentations, manuscripts of scientific meetings and technical journals.

Clinical research is carried out in four phases. In the first phase a new drug is administered to a small number of informed volunteers. Clinical research associates and investigators are in constant contact with the control group asking questions and studying responses and results to determine whether the patient’s body tolerates the new medicine and behaves in the predicted way. Over the next three phases, the trial group is enlarged and the clinical and statistical results analysed. If the results are favourable, the company will submit them to the Drug Controller General India (DCGI) or FDA to obtain a New Drug Approval (NDA). Once the regulatory authorities grant an NDA, the company can market the drug. If not, the drug goes back to the laboratory for further tests. Additional testing looks at the rare adverse effects.

The job of a CRA can vary tremendously from company to company. In some companies, the candidate would be involved in the whole process — from sitting down with the doctor who has the idea for a trial and actually working out a protocol to writing up reports after the analysis has been done. In other companies it would be the medical advisor who initiated the trial and the CRA could just be involved in collecting data once the trial has been set up. The work is mainly in the field — visiting trial centres, general practitioners (GPs) or hospitals; dealing with doctors and research nurses.

There are a number of jobs within the field of clinical research and vary according to the research being conducted. In some, clinical research associates are involved in the whole process of data management and analysis, in others tasks are more specific.

As a clinical data associate, analyst or investigator you will have an opportunity to watch a new drug move through the research process. Those in data management and data coordination are more involved in data-related activities such as tracking, reviewing, validation, updating and safety coding. You will also review and process clinical trial data to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the clinical databases. Other jobs in this field include those of biostatistician, drug development, business development, project management, and so on.

Getting In

CLINICAL research is a combination of medical practice, pharmacy and research and so requires a strong scientific background. Science graduates from pharmacy, medicine, life science, nursing and biosciences, including botany, zoology, biochemistry, genetics, immunology, pharmacology, physiology or toxicology, are best suited for the industry.

A statistics or database specialist degree, degrees in computer science or other IT degrees are requirements for entry into clinical research data management work. Those already working in the medical or life science fields such as nurses, doctors, laboratory technicians, and pharmacists, as well as IT professionals and statisticians and management graduates can also get into this career.

Having relevant pre-entry experience is desirable and could include statistical work or data management, a medical practice, a nursing background, medical sales, clinical laboratory work, clinical data work or pharmaceutical research.

There are postgraduate degrees and diplomas in clinical research being conducted by several institutes. For those interested in serious research work, a PhD is ideal. Studying further will also help better your current job profile. Those with work experience in the healthcare sector have better career prospects.

Career prospects

CAREER prospects include a professional career in the clinical research industry either as a clinical investigator, or research associate at a hospital conducting clinical investigations or a clinical research organisation. Jobs are also available in the pharmaceutical industry, drug development, medical writing, biostatistics or as a manager of a clinical project, clinical research business development, clinical operations, data management, regulatory affairs and auditing of clinical trials.

With hundreds of medical formulations coming out into the public domain, the clinical research industry the world over is growing at an unparalleled rate. As only one in five drugs tested ever becomes available to the public, it’s important to conduct and support many different trials at the same time. For this specialised manpower is in constant demand.

India is increasingly being recognised as a quality player for global clinical trials. We have a large population with a substantial workforce of trained science graduates which influences multinationals to set up research facilities here. Besides, due to the large and diverse pool of patients and the prevalence of a large variety of diseases, including widespread cases of cancer and diabetes, India is viewed as an ideal location for clinical research trials for the pharmaceutical industry.

According to a McKinsey report, with the global clinical trials being increasingly outsourced to India, there will be a requirement for over 50,000 jobs in clinical research in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and contract research organisations over the next couple of years. India has numerous clinical research players who are ready with a global standard infrastructure and the manpower to support drug development initiatives of several pharmaceutical companies and entrepreneurs. As the number of studies carried out by these major players is on the rise, the career prospects for clinical research professionals looks positive.

There are hundreds of top indian pharmaceutical companies such as Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy’s Labs, Biocon, Dabur, Wockhard, Merck, Astra Zeneca, including many such as GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Novartis, Pfizer that have dedicated clinical research department. Trained clinical research professionals are also in demand abroad with more than 200,000 positions vacant worldwide.

Along with the high demand, clinical research specialists can also hope to earn well. Starting salaries in this field for trained professionals can range from Rs 2–3 lakh a year. Those who have a master’s degree backing your qualifications can expect to earn almost double. Clinical research is an industry where experience counts. Thus, the longer you are in this field, the higher the salary you can expect.

However, it is a medical field and is, therefore, best suited to those with a scientific bent of mind, sensitivity to others and a humane attitude. You will also need to have good communication skills so as to interact with and gain the confidence of patients and subjects undertaking the trials. Give the challenges of the job and the projected growth opportunities clinical research promises to be an interesting career option of the future.

Institute watch

SOME well-known institutes offering courses in clinical research include

n Institute of Clinical Research, Delhi
It offers a two-year, full time M.Sc in clinical research and a one-year postgraduate diploma in clinical research in collaboration with Cranfield University, UK. Students can choose to complete their course at Cranfield.

n Academy for Clinical Excellence, Mumbai
It is a clinical research training institute set up by pharma giant Pfizer in partnership with Suven Life Sciences and Bombay College of Pharmacy for training professionals in the field of clinical research.

n St Xavier’s College, Mumbai
It offers a postgraduate diploma in clinical research

n Bilcare Research Academy, Pune & Bangalore
Accredited by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), it offers training in clinical research.

n Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Cochin
It offers a diploma in clinical research

Many of the courses include hands-on training where students are placed in pharma companies and clinical research organisations, and are required to submit a project report before the final exam.

(The writer is a career counsellor)



It’s all about the strategy
Tips from those who have been there, done that
Manish Jha

THE Common Admission Test taken by more than 200,000 people across India every year for admission to some of the most prestigious B-schools is one of the most challenging in the country. Its three diverse sections – verbal ability, quantitative aptitude and logical reasoning and data interpretation – and about 2.5 hours for completing 75-150 (sometimes more or less) challenging multiple choice questions is what sets it apart.

CAT’05: 99.81
CAT’06: 99.91
CAT’07: 99.88

If we analyse the skill set required for cracking such an exam, the first thing that comes to mind is analytical abilities. However, the most important aspect of a person’s personality tested by such a paper is his/her ability to judge his/her own capabilities. This ability helps the person decide which question to select and which one to leave in this difficult maze of questions.

Know your strengths, weaknesses

MY strengths were in data interpretation related questions in DI/LR, number system in QA and RC in VA. I tried my best to devote larger parts of my effort on these questions. Once you have identified your strengths and weaknesses, the first thing you should do is work on your weakness. Most people think one can only achieve this through practice, practice and more practice. I too come from the same school of thought.

No substitute for practice

I STARTED with practicing Career Launcher mocks and moved on to IMS and TIME mocks to improve my VA score, as it was my weakest section. In addition to writing mocks, it is also important to analyse the solutions at the end of the mock to gain maximum value from the paper.

Once you have realised your strengths and weaknesses, you need to prepare your own strategy to tackle the actual papers. A strategy consists of many aspects — such as which questions to attempt, which order to attempt questions, which sections to be attempted, how much time to be devoted to each section and which alternative strategy to follow-in case this strategy is not working.

Have a backup plan

IT is quiet surprising that many people do have numerous back-up plans but are not able to choose amongst the many plans. The only solution to this problem is again through lesson number 2, practice.

I always attempted DI/LR first (as it was my strongest section), followed by VA (my weakest section) and then QA (medium section). I devoted an equal time to all sections. However, if level of difficulty in a section was high, I aimed at just clearing the cut-off by solving the easier questions and using the spare time to score in other sections.

Once you have formulated a strategy and you have started taking tests on a regular basis, its time to review your strategy and experiment. One easy way of doing this is by taking a test you took two-three months ago and checking your performance using a different strategy (making more guesstimates, changing the time allocation per section or changing the order of sectional attempts).

Experiment, then finalise startegy

FINALLY, your performance in CAT is also directly proportional to your level of confidence. So just before D-day, start taking some easy tests and use a very attacking strategy to score high. It is always better to attempt a difficult paper with high confidence rather than low confidence.

To be continued

(The writer is a student at IIM-Lucknow, batch 2008-10)



Career Hotline
Biophysics is Buzzing
Pervin Malhotra

Q. I have completed B.Sc (physics) and now wish to do M.Sc in Biophysics. Please give me information on the universities that offer this specialisation and the course content.

— Jivan Bakshi

A. Biophysics applies the principles of mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics to the study of living cells and organisms, including structures and fine structures, bioelectric phenomena, radiation effects, molecular behaviour, photosynthesis, membranes and modelling. With the breakthroughs in unravelling the DNA, it is now possible to study the inner workings of biological systems with unprecedented precision to investigate how the brain processes and stores information, the heart pumps blood, muscles contract etc. Biophysicists work in universities, industry, medical centres, research institutes and government.

MSc Biophysics is also offered at Panjab University, Chandigarh, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, University of Mumbai, University of Madras, and a couple of other places.

The Department of Biophysics at AIIMS is a centre of drug discovery and clinical proteomics. It combines the fields of structural biology, bioinformatics and proteomics seamlessly. The goal of modern research in drug discovery is to develop drugs that are demonstrably better than the existing therapies that will act in a specific way with minimal side effects. Conventional approaches of drug discovery can end up being a long and an expensive process.

Hundreds of thousands of samples need to be screened before reaching some potential compounds with desired properties. Not just that, it could end up taking dozens of years and millions of dollars.

However, with the advances in protein structure determination, structure-based drug design has emerged as a powerful and swifter tool for developing new drugs with specific properties and minimal side effects.

In structure based drug design, the three-dimensional structure of a drug target interacting with small molecules is used for drug discovery. This method allows you to see exactly how the Ligand molecule interacts with its target protein. Moreover, the designed compounds that have affinities in the acceptable pharmacological range can be further processed for other biological assays and clinical trials.

Eligibility: BSc (H) with at least 60 per cent aggregate.

Selection criterion: Entrance exam (90 minutes with 90 objective-type questions).

No dearth of financial aid

Q. Is there any financial aid offered by B-schools? What does it cost to do an MBA from an IIM and are any scholarships available for needy students?

— Girish Yadav

A. Few B-schools offer financial aid. IIMs are the only ones that have a policy of not denying any deserving candidate admission due to lack of funds. Although the annual fee at IIMA has gone up to Rs 5.5 lakh a year, IIMs try to ensure that no student is denied opportunity to pursue the postgraduate programme in management for want of adequate financial resources. So, don’t worry.

Every year almost half the students admitted to the IIMs apply for loans. Banks like State Bank of India, Allahabad Bank and Punjab National Bank come to campus for offering loans. Some banks may require you to have (or make) an LIC policy of the amount applied for and a couple of other things. Overall, the banks are quite helpful with the loan sanctioning procedure. The loans cover your fees and mess bills, and an optional computer. Moreover, you can easily get an unsecured loan of up to Rs 4 lakh from any nationalised bank in India. Collateral is only required for higher denomination loans of Rs 7 lakh and above.

Need-based scholarship schemes covering up to 100 per cent of expenses are available (see the write-up on each IIM included in the CAT bulletin as well as their respective websites for details). Similarly, a few other B-schools like XLRI, XIM etc also offer substantial need-based scholarships. The fees at some of the management departments of universities like Delhi University, Panjab University and Lucknow University are comparatively very modest.

The All India Management Association (AIMA) also offers scholarships to economically disadvantaged students. So, if you manage to get admission to a good B-school but are plagued by thoughts of coughing up lakhs of rupees in fees, you could ask your institute for financial assistance, industry-sponsored aid or in-house scholarships.

Moreover, all nationalised banks provide educational loans to aspiring MBAs – provided they have secured admission to an AICTE-recognised B-school. And you have to repay these only after you start working. Considering that you will be going to a top B-school, finding a high paying job should not be difficult at all. For details, contact their respective branch offices.

Not only that, if you submit a copy of your SC/ST/OBC certificate to any branch office of the designated bank, you can obtain the CAT bulletin at half the price. Please note that you need to buy only one CAT Bulletin irrespective of how many IIMs you are applying to.

Let the creative juices flow

Q. I am interested in freelance writing. Can I make a career out of it?

— Garima Kant

A. Writing is the art of converting thoughts into words, which in turn tell stories and offer information. To be a successful writer entails years of struggle, oodles of talent, and a consuming passion for the written word.

Several young enthusiasts are now choosing to become freelance writers, while simultaneously having a ‘normal’ career on the side, because freelancing is a relatively safer way to attempt to get published and yet rake in the profits.

If you love writing and want to make your voice heard, freelance writing might well be your cup of tea. Do remember though that freelance writing can be demanding, especially if you want to make a career out of it. You need to combine aspects of creative writing with essential journalistic traits, such as timeliness of a story, authentic sources and news value.

Skills that need to be honed include a feeling for language and form, the ability to be self-critical, and an understanding of what good writing actually involves. This does not merely entail a spontaneous overflow of feelings, but the ability to discipline the work and give it structure.

Since a freelance writer is not bound by organisational rules and regulations it sometimes becomes difficult to establish a routine. So you have to maintain self-discipline and meet all deadlines and editorial requirements. You don’t not really need formal qualifications to become a writer, but it sure helps to read widely and be clear about what you want to write and for whom you wish to write. Your success as a writer will ultimately boil down to your talent at communication.

A course in journalism does lend credibility, as journalism courses have modules on creative writing that teach development of characters, setting, plot and dialogue etc. Alternatively, there are a number of creative writing courses that enable writers to hone their skills and polish their language.

Besides offering you a great deal of flexibility, freelancing can be very satisfying and profitable if you work at it systematically and with some degree of discipline.

This column appears weekly. Please send in your queries, preferably on a postcard, along with your full name, complete address and academic qualifications to: Editor, Jobs and Careers, The Tribune, Sector 29, Chandigarh-160030, or at careers



Bits & bytes
Designs on animation

FRAMEBOXX Animation and Visual Effects and Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, Toronto, have announced an agreement to jointly offer postgraduate certificate programmes in animation, visual effects and gaming.

The first batch of these programmes is scheduled to start in January 2009 with maximum of 25 students in the postgraduate certificate programme of two semesters. The first semester will be completed in India and will cover a wide range of courses ranging from pre-production essentials, including life drawing and storyboarding to animation principles and workflows. The second semester will be studied in Canada after qualifying the first semester and will cover advanced topics such as project development, character rigging and animation among other things.

“We’ve always aimed at delivering world class animation and visual effects training. Our association with Seneca is one more giant step in that direction and we believe that it will be a unique opportunity for students who wish to carve a niche in this industry,” says Frameboxx managing director Rajesh Turakhia.

Like institute, like professor

BHARAT Bhasker, senior professor of information technology and systems at IIM-Lucknow, has been conferred the Best Professor of Information Technology award at the AsianBrand Summit and Dewang Mehta Business School Awards.

Bhasker has been responsible for setting up the Internet Commerce Research Center at the institute, which conducts research and development in the focus area of Internet commerce with the objective of its growth in the country.

Bhasker is responsible for all the consulting, executive/ management development programmes, library, computer centre, planning, budget and new developmental activities of the institute, including the setting up of a new campus of the institute at Noida. He has worked across the globe in various capacities, including a seven-year stint at NASA. He also has rich and diverse experience in academia and has been a visiting professor at ESSEC Business School, Paris, and University of Texas, Dallas. — TNS