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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Internships: Growing the pool of recruitable talent, or cheap labour?

How 'try before you buy' can be an enormous help in medical communications

Medical communications pharma internships

We started an internship programme at Porterhouse Medical six years ago. Our thinking at the time was that it would be a ‘try before you buy’ arrangement, helping us develop closer relationships with universities and reducing our recruitment risk.

While it fulfilled all these criteria, it didn’t really lead to permanent placements, as most interns are looking for experience while doing their degree or taking a gap year. So, why did we keep doing it?

Long-termism is difficult in the agency world, as you can’t predict with any certainty (beyond a year at most) what resources you require and what revenues you will generate. However, you have to plan for growth, because if you don’t you’ll never expand. The internship programme is a long-term gain for a number of reasons.

First, it increases awareness of the potential career options within medical communications and of the industry itself; many applicants for editorial and accounts roles had never heard of medical communications before looking for an internship. Plus, universities are viral environments - an impressed intern is likely to quickly share their positive experience with other educated individuals, who may be looking for an internship or more permanent role, thus increasing the pool of potential employees.

The additional manpower that an intern brings helps increase productivity in existing employees, especially as interns are often highly motivated. In addition, the fresh perspective and ideas that a new, enthusiastic individual brings to a company can drive future, long-term change.

The opportunity to ‘test drive’ talent is excellent, but we ensure that our interns gain a lot from their time at Porterhouse. We have evolved our internship programme to introduce interns to all the different functions within our multidisciplinary agency. This experience often means that the intern uncovers unexpected interests and strengths, so a would-be account manager, for example, may find that they have excellent editorial skills (or vice versa).

Working with universities and providing valuable hands-on experience provides support for students and graduates, and invests in the future of the medical communications industry. A good internship programme allows candidates to assess and develop skills, make connections, and get the experience that better prepares them to gain their first jobs and strengthen their CVs in an environment where most employers are looking for experience.

Having worked recently with the Manchester Metropolitan University to help develop a medical communications degree, it’s encouraging to see many good agencies taking this long-term view, which will surely be beneficial for our clients and our industry.

To illustrate these points, our current intern - Elliott - has written a few words about the value he’s gained from his experience as an intern in medical communications with us at Porterhouse.

“As an intern, I work across both the accounts and the editorial teams, which is great because it gives me experience of both project management and medical writing. At Porterhouse, they believe the best way to learn is to throw you straight into the deep end, and from day one I was involved in developing slide decks for our clients. Although things seemed a little daunting at first, the support network here is amazing and helps to ensure that no-one feels like they’re ‘drowning’!

“Five months down the line, I have organised a conference in Rome, written news articles for websites and calculated budgets for several new projects with our clients, just to name a few jobs! I have been involved in projects from start to finish, and have already gained a great understanding of how an award-winning medical communications agency operates.”

So, back to the question: are internships about growing the pool of recruitable talent or acquiring cheap labour? We would definitely suggest it’s the former - they can help our industry enormously and if, as an agency, you have the time and capacity to start an internship programme, we would highly recommend it.

Article by
Jon Hallows

Joint managing director and founder, Porterhouse Medical

3rd July 2017

From: Marketing



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