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An IMU Pharmaceutical Chemistry Student’s Experience: An Internship with a Difference

28 Jun 2021

1 Dec 2020 – 31 Mar 2021 – As per the curriculum of the IMU Pharmaceutical Chemistry programme, I was given the opportunity to intern at Blackmores where I was attached in the Education & Training department for the first two months and followed by Regulatory Affairs for the last two months. Blackmores is a multinational company which originated from Australia and is known for its range of products from vitamins to minerals to nutritional supplements. Thinking that with this opportunity, I would be waking up early to go to the office, but here’s the catch: I was to be working remotely from home for my entire internship. During the first two months of Education and Training, my soft skills were the main driving force. The modules in the programme had adequately trained me in my soft skills through group projects which involved presentations to lecturers in both face-to-face and online mode. They built up my organizational skills and time management which were crucial for this department. At first, I was tasked to handle an ongoing task passed down by former interns whereby I had to assist in the Complementary Medicine Education (CMEd) masterclasses. By communicating with pharmacists and others in the healthcare profession, I was to handle their participation in the classes. Upon completion of the classes, I had the opportunity to go to the office to pack graduation packs for participants. Besides that, I was also tasked in contacting fertility clinics or gynecologists for sampling products. These tasks proved to be a challenge because it required proper communication and understanding of the particulars.

Additionally, I assisted in researching content in complementary medicine for the purpose of educating pharmacists who have very little knowledge on the content. Overall, the tasks were not daunting as they seemed as most could be done with ease once the idea was fully understood. However, I felt I could have done better in my communication skills especially when communicating with important clients and I would stutter frequently when I am not able to answer back properly in a professional manner.

In the Regulatory Affairs, I had an opportunity to understand how product licensing works. The knowledge and understanding from the Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Analysis III modules were particularly helpful. From the Pharmaceutics module, the theory behind the in-process quality control which I’ve also had some hands-on practical sessions during my course in the Pharmaceutics lab helped me in reviewing specifications of certain products such as their weight variation, content uniformity and disintegration time. Similar to drugs, health products can be in different types of dosage forms and hence different requirements in their specification. From the Pharmaceutical Analysis III module, the practical sessions were fundamental as the information I’ve grasped were important for further reviewing the product’s specifications. The parameters were the basis of what I had learned including the finished product specifications which include the certificate of analysis being provided, assay, hardness test etc. Additionally, raw material specifications were also reviewed, which the Pharmaceutical Analysis III module had prepared me for. In a nutshell, in the Regulatory Affairs Department, the specifications and formulations are to be checked meticulously to conclude if they comply with the Malaysian Guidelines by following the Drug Registration Guidance Document (DRGD).

An Intership Working from Home
Although having the internship during the pandemic was a struggle as I would have to wait for emails from my supervisors to know my tasks, it was a matter of self-discipline and knowing not to overwork myself since the environment of working from home compared to working in the office is a whole 180° turn. My supervisors intended to educate me more than just reviewing data, the tasks provided to me were indeed having their own respective challenges whereby the research tasks in both departments were very difficult and required a lot of critical thinking in knowing the content. During my internship review, my supervisors mostly gave me positive feedback and it was truly a relief as I had doubts often on whether the work I give back were up to their standards. Self-confidence is something I would have to work on from time to time.

During this internship, there were moments which motivated me to do better. There was one moment during my time in the Regulatory Affairs, the task was all about using reputable sources and search for clinical papers which highlighted the importance of a certain ingredient in a product. Undoubtedly, it was a hard task but I put a lot of effort to find as much as I could. Prior to giving me the task, my supervisor who had also done some searches on her own and when I presented the findings I got, we could compare. As daunting as how the clinical papers searched were not up to the standards we wanted, from the results I got, she advised me on how I could refine my search and narrowed it more, knowing I could do more as she has found current findings. She encouraged me to take adequate rest as I continue on with the searching as I should not be stressed even if the task was challenging. With perseverance, the results were more refined and I had the chance to even communicate with the team from Australia through my supervisor on my findings.

To my juniors who are preparing for internship or having their internship currently, here is my advice:
1. Never hesitate to ask your supervisors.
2. Mistakes will happen but take the feedback from your mistake and improve yourself.
3. Prioritize your workload properly and have a sense of ownership.
4. Do not overthink and ask if instructions were not clear before undertaking the task.

Overall, the experience was an eye-opener and insightful for me. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be able to gain fruitful knowledge and improve myself in character in these four months of internship.

For my future plans, I would like to explore more into lab work especially more hands-on as I did not have the chance to work in a proper lab during this pandemic. However, I do also enjoy the work in regulatory affairs where the importance of registering and licensing products are crucial in the industry. Additionally, given the chance, I would like to pursue a job in the cosmeceutical industry.

Written by Tuang Ling Kai

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