In Rochester, Minnesota, Pharmaceutical Specialties Inc. (PSI) is formulating and manufacturing health and beauty products designed specifically with sensitive skin in mind. The company has been a player in the sensitive skin-care market since the 70s, and five years ago their Vanicream brand gained nation-wide distribution, now carried at big-name retailers like Target and Walgreens.

Getting there meant a lot of quality control and research and development, two areas of production that Pharmaceutical Specialties takes very seriously. Dr. Nicole Scobba knows this firsthand. She started at PSI as an intern and now, fifteen years later, she’s an R&D Manager helping to guide the next wave of interns as they learn what it takes to create a quality product from start to finish.

A comprehensive tour of PSI
A Pharmaceutical Specialties internship begins with training and onboarding. They’re then given exposure to every department in the company, from manufacturing to packaging and shipping. In addition to receiving their own research projects, the interns are trained on PSI’s quality assurance procedures as well as customer service.

“Our goal is for them to see how we operate as a company but also to get them exposure to understand how each department operates together,” said Quality Control Manager Ryan Perralt.

Learning while contributing
This summer’s interns were Samuel Amidon and Elizabeth Reicks. Amidon, a biomedical engineering major, worked on several projects. His main project was an irritation potential evaluation, which explored the degree to which various products stripped proteins from the skin. He also evaluated the foaming capabilities for soaps with the goal of achieving a foamier product to satisfy the customer perception that foaminess implies cleanliness.

Working on these projects required Amidon to hone his skills in various areas of R&D which in turn helped him grasp the bigger picture. “I learned how much thought and how many pieces go into a single product,” Amidon said. “There are so many unexpected interactions between ingredients and such a small change in one thing can have a big impact.”

Reicks, a chemistry major, primarily worked with raw materials using PSI’s HPLC machine. To run her tests, she needed to learn about every part and piece of this device. The experience, she said, gave her a huge advantage, since every company in her industry uses HPLCs.

The level of autonomy that Reicks received during her internship, she said, gave her a sense of purpose. “It makes me feel like I’m an important piece of the company, even while only being here a short time,” she said. “My footprint, and the work that I’m doing could possibly be used in the future or will help them come up with a new method in the future, and that’s really cool.”

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