RX Plus Vol 2: Change, the Constant

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By Alan Tan Miao Thong

"Be a rubber dummy, not a sandbag. When you get hit, bounce back up." Currently completing his PRP in HSA, Alan is fond of easy write-ups, hot cups of tea and sleep.

Our generation has a problem with choices. From quarrelling over evidence-based choice of antibiotics to debating the venue for dinner, we seem to have a problem choosing the “path to walk down.” Even in the pharmacy world, graduates have to pause to think the path they wish to walk down – to take care of patients in the hospital, or to engage the public in the community; to focus on quality assurance in the industry or to educate the next generation in academia.

Contrary to belief, it is not the thought of any path being better than another that is being considered by us fresh graduates. Instead it is the question whether we still have a choice to turn to another line of pharmacy if it doesn’t work out. Today, we will look at a story of a pharmacist that not only jumped one but two lines in the pharmacy world. Let’s hope into her story.

1. Give us a brief introduction of yourself and your career journey so far

My name is Wai Chee, I’m 29 years old. I completed my Bachelor of Pharmacy in 2015. After graduation, I waited for government hospital placement patiently without applying to any other companies for the PRP position. This is simply because I have immense interest in hospital pharmacy. I strongly believe that government hospital training programme is very comprehensive which will shape me into a competent hospital pharmacist.

Meanwhile, I joined a retail pharmacy as pharmacy assistant. It was a good learning platform for fresh graduate. I picked up a lot on the basic clinical knowledge like medication name, dosage and common side effects. Besides that, I learned how to manage stock and how to deal with customers.

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After 6 months in a retail pharmacy, I knew that I am not settling for retail pharmacy. My interest is always on hospital pharmacy. In order to increase my opportunity for hospital placement, I applied to Sunway Medical Centre (SunMed) as pharmacy technician. At that time, SunMed did not offer PRP training programme. The working experience in SunMed allowed me to further expand my clinical knowledge. I learned to review prescriptions and improve on my counselling skills.

After another 5 months, I joined Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC) as pre-registered pharmacist. I was rotated to various pharmacy services like outpatient, inpatient, cytotoxic drug reconstitution, store, manufacturing and clinical. SJMC is indeed a very good training ground that provides a comprehensive PRP training programme. With my pharmacist license, I was offered a permanent role in the same hospital as inpatient pharmacist.

After 3 and a half year in SJMC, I joined a pharmaceutical company (Abbvie) and currently I’m working as a Medical Scientific Liaison, specialising in oncology and haematology. I started off with community pharmacy, transition to hospital pharmacist and now I’m joining pharmaceutical industry.

2. What was going through your mind when you were considering the switch, and what made you take the leap of faith?

Switching from retail to hospital is primarily due to my interest in hospital pharmacy. I hope to be involved in patient care in the hospital settings, be able to assist other healthcare professionals to detect drug-related problems with the ultimate aim to deliver the best pharmaceutical care to the patients and improve their overall therapeutic outcome.

Being in SJMC which is a centre of excellence in cancer and blood disorder, I developed a great passion in the field of cancer. I realised that there are a lot of unmet needs in the field of cancer.

Cancer is a complex disease. There are more than 200 types of different cancer and every patient has different genetic makeup, requiring different sets of treatment. Despite new cancer treatments being introduced to the market every year, tumour cells keep evolving, escaping the immune response, causing disease progression and treatment failure.

On top of that, the incidence of cancer is very high, not only in Malaysia but globally. Cancer patients are often very frail and immunocompromised. Many experience severe side effects from chemotherapy, and some of them even develop depression. Generally, cancer patients live a very poor quality of life once diagnosed of cancer.

All these factors encourage me to venture into pharmaceutical industry and specialise in cancer, hoping that one day I could make an impact in their disease survival.


3. What challenges have you faced while making this switch?

One main challenge is I have to be agile and adaptive. First, I need to switch from hospital setting, focusing on operation and patient care to corporate setting, focusing on planning and execution. Secondly, I need to be familiarised with different standard operating procedures as both hospital and pharmaceutical industry are governed by different codes of conduct. Last but not least, I need to learn to communicate and collaborate with different stakeholders, both internal and external stakeholders.

4. For those who are planning their next career destination and are looking to venture into something foreign, what advice do you have for them?

In my opinion, the most important thing is to set a clear goal. Think of what do you want to achieve and relate it to your passion and interest. Once you have set a clear objective, you can start to figure out how to achieve the goal, identify the potential barriers, plan your strategies and then take actions. If you fail on your first trial, don’t give up. Be persistent and constantly review and improve yourself for the next opportunity.