What is a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative?

Mary McMahon

A pharmaceutical sales representative or “drug rep” is a professional who represents a drug company to doctors, clinics, hospitals, and other medical institutions. Drug reps are responsible for ensuring that their product is widely distributed, and they use a variety of tactics to network with potential buyers and to ensure that their products remain popular. Employment in this field is very competitive, as a skilled pharmaceutical sales representative can make very high salaries and enjoy numerous perks of employment.

A pharmaceutical sales representative must be able to succinctly describe the benefits of a new drug.
A pharmaceutical sales representative must be able to succinctly describe the benefits of a new drug.

Typically, a pharmaceutical sales representative has a college degree in the sciences, and some are actually medical doctors who have chosen to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals. In addition to being knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the sciences, drug company representatives are also very skilled at public speaking, and they are talented at getting a point across, getting people to like them, and establishing strong business relationships.

Primary representatives work with small clinics and individual doctors, typically selling a company's entire line of products. Their goal is to establish a good working relationship to ensure that orders keep coming in. Specialty sales representatives focus on a particular area of medical practice, such as gynecology or oncology, and they may even represent a specific medication. They work with patient advocacy groups and physicians. Institutional sales representatives handle relationships with hospitals, medical schools, and other large institutional clients.

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In all cases, pharmaceutical sales representatives spend a lot of time on the road so that they can visit old clients, meet new ones, and keep track of developments in the field. They tend to attend large numbers of medical conferences, especially if they are specialty representatives, and they are extremely knowledgeable about the medical field. Working as a pharmaceutical sales representative can be very stressful, due to the high degree of competition in the pharmaceutical industry.

The role of a pharmaceutical sales representative has been criticized in some regions. Sales representatives are infamous for handing out freebies to doctors, ranging from fancy lunches and dinners to all expenses paid vacations in resorts, and they often provide physicians with free samples of their products and giveaways like branded pens, notepads, clipboards, and so forth, ensuring that the name of their company and their products remain in the doctor's mind long after they leave. These practices have sometimes been viewed as underhanded or questionable, and in some regions, the activities of drug reps have been limited out of concern that they may have unreasonable influence over prescribing habits.

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