Career Development in Medical Communications
Sharhonda Buie and Nancy Wazenegger are managers of operations within medical communications at PPD, based in our offices in Morrisville, North Carolina. Find out more about their background, what brought them to PPD and how they have developed their careers within our organization.
Interviewer: Can you provide a brief overview of the medical communications department at PPD, as well as your role?
Buie: We provide medical information to health care providers, consumers and pharmacists, via phone, fax, mail or email. Medical communications is an inbound/outbound professional call center. We work very hard to ensure we meet the goals of the clients we serve while providing a high level of customer service. PPD strives to make sure our quality is excellent, which is what sets us apart from other organizations providing the same service.
My current role is operations manager. As an operations manager, I manage employees and assist with career development. I work alongside others on the management team to monitor key performance indicators, and offer suggestions that contribute to our clients’ goals. We are also responsible for providing updates to our peers and executive staff at our monthly executive review meetings. I thoroughly enjoy these meetings because they keep the management team abreast of what is going on with each project.
Wazenegger: Any time callers have questions about our clients’ products, we answer those questions with the medical information provided by the client. We capture information pertaining to adverse events and product complaints associated with our clients’ products. The role of an operations manager can be quite dynamic. We manage the day-to-day “workings” of the team that is comprised of nurses, pharmacists and medical communication specialists. We are in close contact with clients and assist them in any way we can with questions, training and other needs. One of our biggest jobs is quality monitoring, which is listening to calls, and coaching consultants. We are always looking for ways to improve and to highlight the wonderful work our consultants do!
Interviewer: Describe your background prior to joining PPD?
Buie: I graduated in May 2010 from North Carolina Central University. I began working at Duke University Medical Center as a clinical nurse on Unit 8300, which is a medical-surgical unit. Although I loved my job, I knew I had to find something that would allow more work-life balance. I began asking around and heard many great things about PPD. I was aware of PPD’s clinical services but had never heard of medical communications. After talking with a nurse that was employed by PPD, I went online, reviewed the job details and applied.
Wazenegger: I am proud to be an East Carolina University alum. (Go Pirates!) Prior to beginning at PPD in 2010, I was a nurse in the clinical setting for 10 years. I worked as a psychiatric nurse and shift supervisor for most of those 10 years in a local psychiatric inpatient setting with primarily dual diagnosis patients. This means the patients carry a mental health diagnosis, as well as struggle with a substance abuse or dependence issue. I loved that type of setting and it was invaluable in teaching me to interact with all types of people. I also worked in a procedural lab in the hospital.
Interviewer: What does a typical day look like for a consultant nurse?
Buie: A typical day for a consultant nurse consists of testing the phone lines to ensure they are working properly so that calls can be received and routed accordingly. We act as a liaison between the clients and PPD and provide information to the callers from client-approved documents. As a consultant nurse, I would ensure policies and procedures were up to date, and offer suggestions to management if there was a way to be more efficient in regards to processing or handling calls. We had the duty to report adverse events and product complaints on behalf of our clients. Capturing such events is extremely important due to PPD compliance and regulations, as well as for other entities.
Wazenegger: Primarily, much of the day is spent providing excellent customer service to consumers and health care providers by answering their questions. After a phone call, consultant nurses complete their documentation and then become available to answer another call. This may not sound as exciting as the fast-paced routine of the hospital but for me, this was an opportunity to be the comforting voice on the other end of the phone when a patient could not reach anyone else. As a manager, we are always striving to engage our employees. When a consultant nurse becomes comfortable on the phone, it is common for them to take on other roles and learn new activities.
Interviewer: How has your career developed since joining PPD?
Buie: My career progression at PPD has been a mind-blowing experience. I joined as a consultant nurse and worked in that role for a little over a year. I began reaching out to members on the management team to ask what other things I could to help with my career development. After learning what is done behind the scenes, I began to assist with reports, taking the lead during meetings with our clients, training and acting as a resource for other members on my team. PPD offers many resources around career development and you have everything you need. From online courses, I’ve learned how to communicate, prioritize and manage my time better. Once I understood there was so much more to medical communications than just assisting consumers on the phone, I began to look closely at what the operations managers do on a daily basis. I was promoted to senior consultant nurse and the sky has been the limit. After a year, I applied for an operations manager position. I was not successful the first time, but I reached out to human resources for feedback on my interview. When there was another opportunity, I went for it! I’m now two years in as an operations manager.
Wazenegger: I have been very pleased to have the opportunity to grow at PPD from a consultant nurse to a senior consultant nurse to an operations manager. From the very start of my employment at PPD, I was encouraged to drive my success and was given many opportunities to learn new responsibilities that would assist my manager and the team. Though some of the responsibilities were administrative, it gave me a glimpse of a manager’s role at PPD and also gave me practical experience with programs like Microsoft Excel, which I had not used much prior to PPD.
Interviewer:What do you enjoy the most about working for PPD?
Buie: I enjoy all of the resources PPD offers to help with career development. The online courses have been great and have really helped me in adjusting to my new role as a manager. Also, the oneness! Whenever there is a situation, everyone will jump in without hesitation to make sure the job gets done. There is no hesitation…we are all here for the same purpose. That is true teamwork and everyone is so helpful. I enjoy how PPD is sure to incorporate events where the staff and managers can get together. For example, having things like a chili cook-off, Halloween contests and customer service weeks are awesome and help keep a positive morale.
Wazenegger: I enjoy the fact that there is such an emphasis on engaging employees and encouraging employees to grow within PPD. Management within medical communications — including the vice president — is always encouraging and supporting people who want to grow within the company. I enjoy the fact that I have been given the opportunity to travel in my current role. I have traveled to the company headquarters in Wilmington, North Carolina, to work with new members of our team. I also traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to assist with training. These opportunities have taught me so much about my assets as well as educating myself on a different culture, which I ultimately shared to help provide better customer service since many of our callers are from different countries.
Interviewer: Finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to develop a career within medical communications?
Buie: What we offer within medical communications is great service. When people hear I provide medical information and it’s “easy” because it’s phone work, I tell them we are more than that. With a career in medical communications and working with large multinational pharmaceutical companies, I have the opportunity to know about the latest research, upcoming clinical trials and treatment options. We are not providing hands-on care but we play a key part in educating the patients and health care professionals on products they are using. With medical communications, there is a lot of training on policies, procedures, quality and documentation. In my opinion, this helps me to develop in many areas.
Wazenegger: Be positive and flexible – we work in a rapidly evolving industry. There are many changes that could occur but look at every change as a new learning opportunity and something that will help you to become better.
Be a team player – find ways to assist others when able and celebrate other team members’ strengths and be willing to learn from everyone on the team.
Drive your career here – be proactive by asking for opportunities to learn new things. Learn everything you can, even if it does not sound really exciting. You will be surprised how it helps you in the future. Let your manager know where you would like to develop your talents.
To explore career opportunities in medical communications, please visit www.ppdi.com/careers.