A day in the life of… a Director of Scientific Services at Darwin Healthcare Communications

Elif Fincanci-Smith

Darwin Healthcare Communications

Elif Fincanci-Smith, Director of Scientific Services at Darwin Healthcare Communications shares what a typical day is like for her and what inspires her work in the medical communications sector.

Continuing our new series where we speak with individuals from various roles and functions across the pharma industry on what a typical day is like for them, we speak with Elif Fincanci-Smith.

Elif is Director of Scientific Services at Darwin Healthcare Communications and shares with us what her typical working day is like and the rewards and challenges to working within a healthcare communications agency. She explains why, despite, working in this environment for 18 years, she continues to learn new things all the time and how every day brings a fresh challenge.

Interview Summary

RA: How did you come to be in this role?

EFS: Essentially it’s by virtue of accidentally being at the right place at the right time (several times!) – from science degree to clinical research (and not enjoying the lab work) and via various editorial roles in scientific and medical publishing. I then went on to manage a stable of sole-sponsored journals, and to being there at an agency start up. Since then I have worked in agencies of all shapes and sizes and on a huge variety of accounts.


“This gives me an opportunity to share why I love working in this industry…”


RA: What does a typical day / week at work look like for you?

EFS: I know it’s a cliché but there really is no such thing – only endless variety. I’m part of the Darwin senior management team and we have a very hands-on approach to our accounts, so I could be onsite with a client to support my team deliver an event, or pitching for business with a potential new client.

Darwin’s business has grown significantly in the last 2 years so I do spend a lot of time interviewing prospective medical writers at all levels (the scientific services team has grown from 7 to 25 since I joined at the end of 2008), and because of this a significant part of my time goes to managing a sizeable team.

I’m heavily involved in speaking about medcomms at several universities’ careers days, which are organised by Peter Llewellyn. This gives me an opportunity to share why I love working in this industry with PhD students and post docs wanting to know more about agency life.

Part of my role at Darwin is to ensure we adhere to, and promote, the highest ethical standards across all of our work so I might be attending an industry event such as the ISMPP annual meeting, or running a GPP workshop for one of our clients.

I have even written the odd item when required!

RA: What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?

EFS: Managing the unexpected! Even after 18 years in this environment, every day brings a fresh challenge and I’m still learning.

We strive to bring creativity to everything we do, and finding new ways to ethically present data that support positive differentiation for a brand in an environment circumscribed by codes of conduct and compliance is a fine art.

There are also challenges to team management, in providing our staff with variety and intellectually challenging opportunities as well as striving to reward them for their performance and commitment to the business.

I work with clients to support their timely planning and decision making so that I can ensure we have the appropriate resources available when needed and that we are delivering work that helps them achieve their objectives and which will also, ultimately, make a difference.


“A man wise beyond his years once told me that you should position yourself where you want to be and grab every opportunity to demonstrate your skills.”


RA: What are the parts of your job that you find the most rewarding?

EFS: I really enjoy seeing my teams gain new skills and develop in their roles. The best part of my role has to be telling one of my team about his / her promotion.

Receiving good client feedback and recognition for the team’s efforts is fantastic.

Over the last 18 months we have been delivering more and more digital work, which is very exciting and brings a new dimension to Darwin. We are fortunate in having an excellent in-house team of digital experts – developers, information architects, UX designers, and so on – within the group, which makes the production and delivery process much simpler.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in this industry has to be that the overall aim of everything we do is to improve patients’ lives – we must never forget that.

RA: What are the most important skills in doing your role well?


• Remaining focused and calm whatever is thrown at you

• Listening

• Scenario planning – lots and lots of it! I learned very early on that you definitely need a plan B, and usually plans C and D as well.

RA: What is the likely progression from where you are now?

EFS: You never know what opportunities will present themselves, but right now I’m exactly where I want to be, working with a brilliant managing director to grow the business in a sustainable manner, and see the results of that effort. I’m always up for a challenge though!

RA: What advice would you give a job seeker on looking to get into this role?

EFS: A man wise beyond his years once told me that you should position yourself where you want to be and grab every opportunity to demonstrate your skills. In my role you have to be willing to do whatever the business needs, whether it’s researching a new idea or forward planning or being very hands on with a particular current project.

RA: Who inspires you the most?

EFS: My mother was a huge early inspiration… she worked very hard to juggle several lives at once and to keep everyone happy, but there are many people… and not just people: places, experiences – actually I’m easily inspired!

RA: Elif, thank you for your time.

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About the interviewee:

Elif Fincanci-Smith is an experienced medical communications professional with over 18 years’ agency experience, she has held senior positions within a number of medical communications agencies and is currently at Darwin as head of scientific services.

Elif has worked extensively at both international and national levels, leading the strategic planning and implementation of integrated communications programmes for products in early phase through to post-launch. These have included publication planning, medical education initiatives, KOL development and patient education programmes.

Who inspires you the most?