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Pharmaceutical Sales Representative Job Description, Career as a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Two to four years of college and on-the-job training

Salary: Median—$60,130 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are employed by drug companies. They distribute information about their companies' products to physicians, hospital nurses, and medical technicians. They do not take drug orders from these health care practitioners but instead try to persuade doctors to prescribe more of their companies' drugs. Patients then buy the drugs.

Most doctors are very busy, and sales representatives usually have no more than five or six minutes with them. In that time the representative must describe their company's newest products. They outline what a drug is designed to do and how it works. They also explain its advantages over older drugs, attempting to convince doctors as to why their product is better than others.

Sales representatives must have a basic knowledge of how the human body works. They must also have some understanding of disease and pharmacology (the study of drugs and their effects on humans), because doctors will question sales representatives about drugs and their side effects. Sales representatives must also know which drugs will be of interest to doctors in different specialties. A pharmaceutical sales representative discusses information about a drug with doctors. Representatives must speak clearly and concisely under pressure, because they only spend a few minutes at each medical site. (© Jim Craigmyle/Corbis.) Sales representatives are assigned territories based on postal zip codes. They make up their own itineraries, concentrating on doctors who write the most prescriptions. This information is available from surveys of pharmacists. Sales persons may leave samples of new drugs with doctors and must keep careful records concerning the samples they leave.

Sales representatives must be able to speak clearly and concisely under pressure. They must have pleasant personalities and be able to build long-lasting relationships with doctors. In addition, sales representatives must be able to accept rejection. About 40 percent of doctors refuse to see sales persons. Others will not see them when they are very busy.

Education and Training Requirements

To become a pharmaceutical sales person, a person must have a high school diploma. Most employers prefer to hire college graduates, preferably with a bachelor's degree in science. However, two years of college should be sufficient to qualify for most jobs. Drug companies provide on-the-job training, selecting trainees on the basis of their verbal and social skills. Training consists of intensive study followed by supervised field work.

Representatives must keep abreast of current medical and product knowledge throughout their careers. They attend regular meetings to get product information. They must maintain a general knowledge of advances in medicine. Correspondence courses are available through their company and the Certified Medical Representatives Institute, which offers certification.

Getting the Job

College students should ask their college placement office for information about applying to become a pharmaceutical sales representative trainee. Representatives of drug companies may also visit campuses. Otherwise, interested individuals should write to major drug companies and request interviews. Once a person is selected as a trainee, a job is guaranteed.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Some representatives prefer to stay in the field. Some advance to supervisory and training positions. A few advance to administrative and planning posts. Occasionally a sales person will transfer to another department in the company or move into a related health occupation.

Employment of sales representatives is expected to grow as fast as average through 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job outlook for pharmaceutical sales representatives is good. Some companies are expanding rapidly and will need to hire additional representatives.

Working Conditions

Pharmaceutical sales representatives set their own hours to fit doctors' schedules, often having appointments in the early morning, in the evening, or at lunch. Representatives may spend much time traveling and often have to wait to see doctors despite appointments. The general atmosphere in the drug industry is becoming increasingly competitive. Pharmaceutical sales representatives must be able to cope with stressful situations caused by competition with other sales representatives for access to doctors during their limited free time.

Where to Go for More Information

Certified Medical Representatives Institute, Inc.
4423 Pheasant Ridge Rd., Ste. 100
Roanoke, VA 24014-5274
(800) 274-2674

Earnings and Benefits

Commissions account for a large proportion of earnings for sales representatives. Depending on the company, roughly 10 to 20 percent of their earnings are derived from commissions based on the drugs ordered by doctors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in May 2004 the median salary for pharmaceutical sales representatives was $60,130 per year including commissions. Sales persons receive health insurance and paid vacations and holidays. They also receive free cars and some travel expenses.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesHealth & Medicine