Pharmaceutical Industry Workers


Exploring this Job

To prepare for a pharmaceutical sales career, you might be able to find part-time work in a pharmacy or a related sales position. Working for a pharmacy, you can learn about the drug manufacturers, the most-prescribed drugs, and other information about the industry. You may also meet sales representatives, and have the opportunity to read the promotional materials distributed by drug companies.

The Job

The pharmaceutical, or simply, the drug industry, has four main divisions: research and development, production, administration, and sales.

Research and development professionals create new drug products and improve existing ones. Products designed by research and development professionals are manufactured by production workers called, as a whole, pharmaceutical operators. Many of these employees work on production lines, tending equipment that measures, weighs, mixes, and granulates various chemical ingredients and components, which are then manufactured into such forms as pills and capsules. Often these employees inspect the finished goods, looking for such inconsistencies as broken tablets and unfilled capsules.

There are a number of specific job designations in the realm of production, although more drug companies are choosing to have their products manufactured abroad. Capsule filling machine operators run machines that fill gelatin capsules with medicine. They scoop empty capsules into a loading hopper and medicine into a filling hopper. After the filled and sealed capsules are ejected by the machinery, these operators inspect the capsules for proper filling and for evidence of breakage. They may also spot-check individual capsules or lots by comparing their weight with standardized figures on a weight specification sheet. This process is used for certain antihistamines, vitamins, and general pain relievers, for example.

Ampule and vial fillers work with glass tubes and plastic and glass containers with rubber stopules that are filled with medicine and then sealed. The process for filling is similar to that for the capsule filler; however, the operator must adjust gas flames to the appropriate temperature so that the tubes are completely sealed. They also count and pack readied ampules and vials for shipment. (Vials and syringes have recently become the primary containers for liquid drug production in the United States.)

Ampule and vial inspectors use magnifying glasses or inspection machines to check for cracks, leaks, and other damage. They keep records of inspected cartons, as well as damaged or flawed products.

Granulator machine operators operate mixing and milling machines that are equipped with fine blades that mix ingredients and then crush or mill them into powder so that they can be formed into tablets. They are responsible for weighing and measuring each batch, blending the ingredients with the use of machinery, and adding alcohol, gelatins, or starch pastes to help the pill keep its form. They then spread the mixture on trays that they place into an oven or steam dryer set at a predetermined temperature. At the conclusion of the heating process, they check each batch for dryness levels, size, weight, and texture.

Coaters operate machines that cover pills and tablets with coatings that flavor, color, or preserve the contents.

Fermenter operators oversee fermenting tanks and equipment, which produce antibiotics and other drugs. Operators start the mixing tanks, add ingredients, such as salt, yeast, and sugar, and transfer the mixture to a fermenting tank when it is ready. They are responsible for monitoring the temperature in the tanks, for adding precise amounts of liquid antibiotic, water, and foam-preventive oil, and for measuring the amount of solution so that it may be transferred to another tank for additional processing.

Biotechnology production workers have a variety of duties depending on their employer. According to Careers in Biotechnology, by Gina Frierman-Hunt and Julie Solberg, “Biotechnology manufacturing jobs are usually divided into upstream processes, the early part of manufacturing when proteins are produced by cells in the fermentation process, and downstream processes, to fill and package the final product for sale.”

There are also a vast number of laborer professions involved in the production area of the pharmaceutical industry. Hand packers and packagers remove filled cartons from conveyor belts and transport other finished pharmaceutical products to and from shipping departments. Industrial machinery mechanics ensure that all machinery is working properly and at optimum production capacity.

The third major branch of this industry comprises administrative positions. Production managers direct workers in the manufacturing field by scheduling projects and deadlines. These employees also oversee factory operations and enforce safety and health regulations, monitor efficiency, and plan work assignments. They also direct and schedule assignments for the shipping department, which packs and loads the pharmaceutical products for distribution.

The finished products are marketed by the sales branch. Pharmaceutical sales representatives supply pharmaceutical drugs and related products to hospitals, independent medical practitioners, pharmacists, and retail stores. Telephone calls and office visits allow the representatives to maintain contact with buyers, monitor supplies, and introduce new products. Often, reps supplement free samples of new products with printed literature when available. Sales reps may choose to promote, for example, certain vitamins and other nutritional supplements, pain relievers, and general health care supplies. Pharmaceutical sales representatives often must meet sales goals to keep their job or exceed expectations to be promoted.