Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

On Call with... Dr Grainne Quinn, Class of 1992

30 April 2018

"Cynicism of big pharma is on a par with public distrust of the tobacco industry. It is unjustified."

Grainne Quinn

Q&A with Dr Grainne Quinn, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Perrigo, the world's largest manufacturer of store brand over-the-counter medicines as well various other pharmaceutical products.


After graduating from RCSI and training in Ireland, I completed my internal medicine residency in the US and I practiced medicine there for several years before joining the pharmaceutical industry.

Prior to joining Perrigo in 2014, initially as Vice President and Head of Global Patient Safety, I was Vice President and Head of Global Pharmacovigilance and Risk Management at Elan. Before that I held various medical roles at research firm Quintiles.


I moved from clinical medicine more out of serendipity than design. I was working in clinical medicine in the US and wanted to return to Ireland. It was difficult to see how I could figure out a way into hospital medicine so, when an opportunity to work with research organisation Quintiles came up, it was a means for me to use my experience and branch into an area that was interesting and that facilitated my return to Ireland. I found the move into the area of drug safety fascinating.


It's not such a dramatic change. My primary responsibility is still the patient. Operating in a corporate culture is very different to practicing medicine but the qualities that are important in the former - empathy, emotional intelligence, authenticity and interaction with people - are as vital in the latter, but there is also the global dimension: the impact of what we do is vast. We manufacture 60 billion doses of product a year - this means a tremendous responsibility.


Why not? It is fantastic for Ireland to have developed as a hub for pharmaceutical companies. Of our 12,000-strong workforce in 35 countries, there are over 100 in our headquarters in Dublin led by two members of the executive team, one of whom is me. I manage a team of professionals in the US, Australia, UK, Belgium and Israel and report directly to our CEO who is based in Michigan. We routinely conduct business by telephone and videoconferencing but I travel on average for one week of every month - Michigan, New York and New Jersey are typical ports of call. I am very fortunate to be based at home and to have a role with such global reach.


It breaks my heart to see this. It seems to me that cynicism of big pharma is on par with distrust of the tobacco industry. It is unjustified. What I see every day, and look after every day, is a total focus on patient safety and improving patient outcomes. When there is an adverse event we all feel it. But, in any industry there are bad performers and this, unfortunately, is what the world hears about. It's a sort of Wall Street version, where confidence is everything. If things go wrong for pharmaceutical companies, the negative impact will be suffered not just by stakeholders in the business but by the end-users, the patients.


I am an early morning person, up at 5am checking email, having coffee. I am a Blackberry diehard and as I am dealing with people in many time zones, it means I am only off duty when asleep! I drop off my two children (aged 15 and 11) to school and am in the office on Grand Canal Street before 8.30am. It's right in the centre of everything. Mornings are spent on product safety issues - anything from data review, feedback, regulatory matters to plant standards - and prepping for meetings; from noon, I am usually in six hours of teleconferences. Sometimes there's time for a short business lunch or a networking event in the evening. I make sure to keep connected with my parents and friends and manage the kids' calendars. At weekends, all four of us try and do something together - golf, walking or basketball. My husband is American, hence the basketball!


I believe discourse about end-of-life issues is extremely important. When I was a clinician, I found working with the dying and their families very rewarding. Death is inevitable. It is so much better for people to be able to plan and prepare and communicate their wishes.


I realise now, without knowing it at the time, RCSI gave me an international perspective, a cultural appreciation of the world at large. I am so proud to say I am a graduate. I remember with fondness Professor Rooney's anatomy lectures: he had such a gentle style of communication. Clinical rotations in Beaumont Hospital with Professors Fielding and Bouchier-Hayes were also a highlight: I learned so much just listening and learning at the bedside. The penny finally dropped!


Thank you Dr Quinn!


'On Call' is our new alumni interview series in which alumni supply the answers to our searching questions. If you have any comments, feedback, or would like to be put in contact with Dr Quinn please email