Over nearly two decades in the pharmaceutical industry, I’ve been approached a great many times for information and insight on becoming a medical sales representative (Med Rep). To that end I thought it would be an interesting exercise to capture in writing, much of what I have shared while addressing questions on the topic. I’m hoping this series of articles will be useful given that the frequency of queries seems to be increasing over time. Despite many specific questions, it would be naive not recognize that some of the queries encountered may well have resulted from a general interest in employment opportunities given that the job market remains relatively tight. What’s more, as the number of university grads continues to grow from year-to-year, it seems inevitable that perceived interest across all industries and job types, including those in the pharma industry, would increase.
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So Why Does Working as a Medical Sales Representative Appeal to Some?
The point on general interest in employment opportunities mentioned above notwithstanding, it seems certain that specific interest also exists in med rep jobs given the level of interest seen even by employed individuals. This prompted reflection on my part as to ‘which specific aspects of the job would likely prompt the greatest interest and desire to secure a med rep job?’ This interest seems even more pronounced among young science and healthcare graduates who are particularly well represented among those querying the role. Among the most prominent reasons that occurred to me, were the following (Which by the way, do not constitute an exhaustive list):
- As a sales-based job, compensation includes performance-based pay, so income would be a definite motivator, more so because as a sales person, having some degree of control over your earning ability from month-to-month can be quite attractive.
- Depending on the size and structure of the team one joins, the opportunity to travel may present itself with some regularity. This is because various work functions as a med rep may require overseas travel. For example, it is not infrequent that reps work multiple countries particularly in the Caribbean where territories are smaller and from an operational level, may not be able to sustain a standalone office in each country. In addition the technical nature of the products means that staying current with new research and information is critical. Ongoing training is therefore essential and often takes place overseas at some centralized location. In addition, reps may be asked to participate or represent their respective companies at various meetings and congresses overseas. So in short, opportunities to see new and diverse places do present themselves as a desirable feature of the job.
…having some degree of control over your earning ability from month-to-month can be quite a perk.
- Additionally, if you are someone who feels cloistered behind a desk or office doors, this could be the job for you. The job is very dynamic, requiring med reps to be in regular contact with a wide variety of stakeholders and healthcare professionals (HCPs) at various levels of the healthcare system. As such, med reps have the opportunity to interact with a diversity of individuals from all walks of life and these meetings can be very enlightening and informative at both a professional and personal level. As such boredom is seldom a concern.
- Pharmaceuticals and medicine as a whole are both fast-paced, knowledge-driven industries. Predictably therefore the technical nature of the job presents an attractive source of employment through which to engage one’s interests while also applying science-based knowledge and skills likely gained through tertiary education. This may be particularly attractive for holders of science degrees and this does seem to be confirmed by the high frequency of science grads making queries. As alluded to earlier, staying current with new information, industry trends and market information further enhances the level of engagement required of the individual thereby reducing boredom.
- Finally, many of the companies involved in the pharmaceutical industry are themselves large multinational organizations or are closely affiliated with them. A direct consequence of this, is that scope for professional growth and development is often good for those prepared to invest the effort and time required to add the requisite value to their work.
Core Function of the Med Rep
Certainly the above list has captured some strong reasons why new-comers and applicants may desire a job as a medical sales representative. In considering these points however another question arises, ‘Do these persons desirous of a med rep job really know what the job is about at its core?’ ‘What do med reps do’? ‘Why is the job even necessary’? Ultimately, the role of a med rep is ‘To convince customers and potential customers (Most often Healthcare Professionals – HCPs) that their products / services meet their specific needs better than those of their competitors. This entails first identifying those potential customers, arranging to visit them and then convincing them of your products benefits. After getting their agreement to use the product or service, some degree of post-sale service is usually involved but the level of med reps’ involvement in this latter aspect of the business varies widely by company and field. Ultimately, med reps are required to maintain long-term business relationships with customers to ensure that their needs are met, and to achieve this these customers must be visited on an ongoing basis. Strong communication skills are therefore a critical competency of anyone seeking to enter the field.
From the non-exhaustive list of reasons provided above, the job of medical sales representative does appear to be quite desirable. Like any other job though, looking only at a select set of features does not give a true reflection of the job. In light of this, subsequent posts are going to look in greater detail at the reality of the role, from entry requirements to day-to-day duties and even some of the less favoured aspects of the job.