Vice President, International Medical Affairs

Medicine as a catalyst for change

Becoming a doctor was the perfect launchpad for Vinay Patroe’s wide-ranging career in the pharmaceutical industry

Dr Vinay Patroe’s nephew asked him recently for some career advice. “He’d been wondering whether to study a pure science degree or go for medicine, as I did.”

Medical degrees, says Dr Patroe, open far more opportunities than was evident a couple of decades ago. He’s now a vice president in International Medical at GSK.

“A doctor can now follow scientific interests in many other areas – and develop personally and professionally.

"I’m a great believer in clinical work after training, but we don’t need to be blinkered by what people used to do.”

In fact, Dr Patroe did work in intensive care and anaesthesia after qualifying as a doctor in 1993.

But 15 years in the pharmaceutical sector have satisfied his need for variety – he’s worked in research and development, consumer healthcare and is now in a more strategic role at GSK, without sacrificing his focus on patient care.

When he took up this post more than a year ago, it didn’t exist, and his job spec was just one page long, so he’s had the opportunity to craft his role from scratch.

His role includes helping shape GSK’s relations with health professionals and patients worldwide, aside from the USA and Japan.

“How do we, as a medical organisation, meet and respond to the needs of patients, of our own medical staff and the healthcare professionals who make the decisions?

"How do I stay close to the centre of the company and understand the perspectives from the periphery?”

His medical and business training – he has an MBA from the prestigious London Business School – has helped him develop a methodical approach and prioritise. “I made sure my first step wasn’t to get bogged down in the detail. It’s about being rigorous and stepping back: applying a medical lens and finding a signal in all the noise.”

Being a doctor has helped him understand the needs of patients and healthcare professionals. “When making decisions, I look for an overlap – how does this benefit the patient, how does this benefit the company? If I can’t answer those questions, I ask myself if it’s the right thing to focus on. We are a business so we shouldn’t be embarrassed about seeking a commercial benefit, but of course that must bring benefit to society. Having someone at the table who can speak from the patients’ point of view is always valuable. Transparency, respect, integrity – you don’t have to be a medic to have those values.”

He does occasionally spare a moment to consider where he’d be, had he remained an anaesthetist, and he does miss the contact with patients, but never considered himself a “dyed-in-the-wool” hospital consultant.

“In clinical medicine at the time there didn’t seem to be a huge investment in personal development, and I didn’t want to spend the next 35 years doing the same thing day to day,” he says. By contrast, he feels opportunities in a company as large as GSK are vast.

“And, as in many large, successful companies, they understand the value of investing in individual employees. I do think GSK and pharmaceutical companies in general recognise the importance of people in delivering success. And even in a company half this size, there are so many different parts of the business where you can learn and develop, from commercial through to research and development.”

This article first appeared on the Telegraph STEM Awards website.