From an interview with Hardik Patel.
In India, Hardik Patel completed his MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), a five and a half year medical program. He graduated as a family physician. For three years following his MBBS, Hardik did his residency in pharmacology with an eye on possible future opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry.
In 2015, he joined a global US-based pharmaceutical company in India as a Medical Science Liaison. As an MSL, Hardik’s role was to support oncologists with clinical and scientific product information. He was promoted to a scientific advisor, which was a head office position where his role took on a more strategic function, which he came to enjoy very much. All the while, Hardik had the idea of moving to another country to explore new opportunities and a better quality of life.
Hardik left his home and family in Mumbai and moved to Canada in 2018, on a six-month tourist visa. Beyond trying to break into the Canadian healthcare industry, taking courses, upgrading his skills, finding a job and becoming a permanent resident in 2019, Hardik also found the time to give back to the community, helping distribute personal protective equipment at the outset of COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful to Hardik for taking the time to talk to us about preparation, perseverance, newcomer support and giving back as a new Canadian. Our community is better for his being a part of it. Here’s Hardik’s story.
I always had it in my mind that one day I would like to explore other countries beyond India. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do my residency in pharmacology so that I could get an opportunity in the pharma industry. If I had my own practice as a doctor and I moved to another country, I knew I’d have to clear all of the exams again, and it would be a very long journey. By doing a residency in pharmacology and working in the pharma industry, I’d get that experience and could more easily explore opportunities in another country.
The newcomer journey starts with goals, aspirations and determination
My professional goal was to actively participate in the rapidly changing science and in clinical trials related work. I wanted to go to a country where I could do much more than just read about trials. It’s niche work, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.
My first objective was to pick a country where it’s easy to move, and I could have a better quality of life. I ended up shortlisting Canada and Australia. The immigration process is comparatively easy in both countries in terms of a work visa or permanent residency. I decided to move to Canada.
It was very difficult to leave my job. It was even more difficult to convince my parents that I should leave everything behind and come here. But I was determined that I would do something and that I should go right away. If not then, I didn’t know when.
I came to Canada in 2018 on a six-month tourist visa, and as soon as I landed, I applied for my permanent residency. I was very organized and had all my documents, transcripts and experience letters from companies I had worked for ready. Surprisingly, It took only one and a half months to get my PR after submitting my final application to IRCC. It was a lot faster than I expected.
I also started taking courses. One course at University of Toronto provided an introduction to the Canadian healthcare system. It was very basic, but I needed this basic knowledge. I knew the pharma company part, and I had that medical knowledge, but I needed to understand the system in Canada – this would make my profile stronger.
Newcomer expectations meet the Canadian reality
Honestly, my expectations were a little bit too high when I arrived. I thought that with my education and experience with a big pharma giant, I would find a position in four or five months. I didn’t expect to get the head office position as I had in India right away, but I wanted to start with a field position, which would be MSL. That was the timeline in my mind – if I started networking and did everything that’s required, four or five months should be enough time to get this position. That was my expectation, but the reality was quite different.
The reality was that in Canada, the MSL position is not an entry-level position; it’s a senior-level, high-paying role. I realized that I should not focus only on this position, but should broaden my horizon. I had my permanent residency, so I quickly moved my search to various other positions.
I was pretty much open to anything and everything that involved some kind of medical knowledge. In Canada, all the big pharma companies outsource their clinical trials to contract research organizations (CRO). The CROs hire people from medical backgrounds, and there was a lot of work in clinical trials.
So I also applied for an entry-level position as a clinical research assistant (CRA). I understood that I was overqualified, and working on the CRO side of the industry was not a part of my strategy, but I didn’t have any Canadian experience. This exposure could help me get into pharma.
Finding a job in Canada was definitely more difficult than I expected. I used to think, OK, I have all this experience from India, so why are people looking for Canadian experience? Why won’t anyone give me an opportunity or chance? I have since come to understand why employers might be hesitant to hire newcomers. Most hiring managers don’t know about India. They don’t know how the Indian education system works, or about the college I graduated from, or the companies I used to work for. I get it now. Even with a big global pharma name on my resume, I was applying for jobs and getting no response.
Rethinking job search strategies
I began attending networking events and enrolled in the TRIEC mentoring partnership program. My mentor was in the clinical research field, and she really helped me revise my CV and resume and introduced me to her contacts in clinical research.
Joining ACCES Employment, my job search experience definitely became more positive. I learned many very useful skills, starting with job search tactics (starting out, you may not know where to even start your search). I remember one of the soft skills we learned was the Elevator pitch. The concept was totally new to me – how to introduce yourself and convey your skills and qualities quickly. We also practiced how to engage another person in conversation. It’s not only about you; you should also ask about the other person; the conversation will be smooth.
Through ACCES, I learned about graduate courses like Regulatory Affairs at Humber College and Clinical Research at Seneca College, which also offers internship opportunities. I learned how to prepare for a job interview in Canada and how to write a resume to make it more effective.
I had been using the same resume to apply for every job. The problem with that approach is that job recruiters use algorithms to screen for keywords and phrases in resumes. People weren’t reading my resume. The strategy I learned from ACCES was to pick keywords from the job posting description and incorporate them into your resume and cover letter, so they are customized to each and every job. It really helped.
Prior to this, I would apply to ten jobs and maybe get one response. After learning these tactics, I would receive at least five or six responses from applying online. That was a big thing. It was definitely motivating to finally be getting responses. It was really promising. After I started getting responses, I got to the first screening calls. If you get five or six screening calls, you might get a chance to talk to the hiring manager.
At the same time, I tried to leverage my connections in the pharma industry from India. I also began reaching out to people on LinkedIn. These were people at other big pharma companies who were kind enough to introduce me to the hiring managers in their respective companies. During this process, I really learned a lot and made good connections.
Breaking the job search rules and getting a break
I had a few interviews at other companies, but they didn’t pan out. I also received several automatic responses saying that I had not been selected for a position. It was very demotivating. Tired of tailoring my resume for every job description and filling out lengthy forms, I searched for one-click, easy-apply jobs, using just the keyword Medical.
The next week, I got a call saying you applied for the role we posted and we really like your resume. I couldn’t remember which job they were talking about, so while I was on the call, I quickly searched and pulled up all the job sites I applied to. The position was Medical Information Specialist at a downtown biotech and artificial intelligence startup company. We interviewed, and they offered me the job.
At the time, I was completing the Healthcare Connections program with ACCES. I really wanted to finish the program, and although I didn’t have negotiation power at that time, I just tried my luck and told the company that I wanted to finish this program because it was a learning opportunity. They agreed. That’s how I got my first job in Canada.
It was a three-month contract with a very small startup, but they renewed it for a year and also increased my salary. Simultaneously, I continued searching for MSL positions directly in pharma. Five months into the contract, I interviewed for a Scientific Advisor role. I had three interviews with the recruiting firm and four more with the company and was offered the position. It was September 2019, and that was my second break. I had reached my end goal of working as a medical or scientific advisor at a pharmaceutical company! I was very happy.
I learned about an MSL position in Oncology (which I had always dreamed of) opening at another company. Still, I was concerned about leaving my current position after such a short time and how that would look on my resume. But I was told that the new role wouldn’t happen for at least six months, which meant I could finish a full year in my current role.
In March of 2020, COVID-19 hit. The process got delayed again until finally, in July, I started my new job as a Medical Science Liaison in Oncology. I haven’t met any of my colleagues in person, not even my manager. Eventually, I will go to hospitals, do on-request visits, share clinical trial data, and attend conferences and medical events. But we are not currently meeting any of our customers, and are doing everything online.
The importance of giving back and maintaining a positive mindset
In India, ninety to ninety-five percent of patients pay out of pocket. There’s no government insurance. It’s difficult – even for upper-middle class people to afford expensive Oncology medication. You have to be really rich. People who come from a below-poverty level cannot afford basic medicine. I remember during my college days, sales representatives from pharmaceutical companies would give doctors free samples. Those free samples would often stay in the doctor’s office until they expired, and they’d have to be thrown out. No one used them. So we came up with this idea: Why not collect all of those samples and create a drug bank for people who could not afford it. I found it very satisfying to be helping those in need.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started here, I wondered what I could do to help here in my new home. In the middle of March, hospitals were running out of personal protective equipment, and I heard through a friend about a clothing company that had decided to use their equipment and resources to create reusable masks and PPE for frontline healthcare workers. It was part of the #sewbettertogether project started by volunteers in Toronto.
The company used their workshop and recruited volunteers from across the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) who would sew masks at home. As a volunteer, I would collect raw material from their warehouse and distribute them to the volunteer sewists’ homes. We would also collect and deliver finished products. When I saw the photos of the healthcare workers wearing the masks and using the PPE at hospitals across the city, it was very satisfying. We had done something concrete to help.
I remember going to an event once, and Toronto Mayor John Tory was there. I didn’t recognize him at first, but he came to talk to my friend and I. We were newcomers; I had been here for nine months or so, and Mayor Tory asked me how it felt now. I told him it felt like home, and he said, “ Oh, wow! That is so nice to hear.”
I do feel at home in this country that matches my ideology. With the acceptance, love, and everything I got from this country, I felt it was my time to give back to the community. There are many opportunities, many organizations that need volunteers. Just go online to any hospital site or any other NGO website. If someone wants to do something to help, they definitely can.
I know It’s easy for me to say now because I have a job, but I really mean it when I say If I had a job the day after arriving, I would not have learned all the things I have. I’ve had to learn how to tackle difficult situations, how to search for solutions rather than focusing on the problem, and how to have patience.