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Pharmaceutical Sales Representative: Education and Career Information

After a doctor diagnoses a patient’s ailments, he or she writes a prescription for the drugs needed to help or cure whatever sickness the patient is suffering from. The patient takes this prescription to the pharmacy to have it filled. But, what influences the doctor’s prescription? A pharmaceutical sales representative’s job is to sell a company’s drugs to health care facilities, so that patients will, in turn, purchase them.

What does a pharmaceutical sales representative do?

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are highly educated individuals that not only sell drugs to physicians and other health care professionals, but also educate these professionals on the uses of various drugs. After gaining employment with a company, these representatives (also known as PSRs or pharma reps) will usually work in a specific geographic area for that company.

A PSR’s job is to set up meetings with health care professionals, where they provide information on new drugs. At these meetings, pharma reps must be able to describe a medicine’s method of action, chemistry, interactions with other medicines, and side effects. This requires a pharma rep to do a large amount of research on the drugs they sell so that they will be very knowledgeable and able to effectively make a sale. Many PSRs will choose to specialize in a particular class of drugs, such as psychiatric or respiratory drugs, so that they are able to have a deep knowledge base, making them invaluable to their company and physicians alike.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives also work to find new customers for their company. This includes conducting field research on behalf of the pharma rep’s company, as well as monitoring the prescription patterns of health care professionals in their geographic zone. As PSRs work on commission, they must put in many hours to succeed, including nights and weekends. However, there is a great deal of freedom for a pharma rep to set up their own schedule.

PSRs attend many conferences in the pharmaceutical industry, which leads to plenty of traveling. In fact, they spend the large majority of their time on the road, driving between nursing homes, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. They may also conduct continuing education workshops for physicians and other medical professionals, as well as speak at events. These require a pharma rep to be personable and comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. The pharmaceutical field is always shifting, and advances in medicine are made rapidly. Because of this, a pharmaceutical sales representative’s job is always exciting and changing.

There are also several opportunities for advancement within this career path. Pharmaceutical sales representatives may achieve administrative positions with time and experience. More advanced positions include supervising junior pharma reps, overseeing the launches of new drugs, and planning campaigns. Pharma reps can achieve these promotions by continuing their education in pharmacology as well as pursuing more advanced degrees, most preferably in the areas of either business or the life sciences.

How much does a pharmaceutical sales representative earn?

A pharma rep has a great deal of control over how much they earn in the pharmaceutical industry, due to commission earnings. A pharma rep need only to increase their sales to increase their income. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics cites the mean annual salary of a pharma rep at $86,750. Most PSRs earn an annual salary between $52,280 and $149,010. The more established a pharmaceutical company is, the more impressive benefits packages they are able to offer to their representatives. These packages often include benefits such as use of a company car, stock options, medical insurance, expense accounts, retirement plans, and tuition reimbursement.

What types of skills are needed to become a pharmaceutical sales representative?

There are several skills that are essential to success as a pharmaceutical sales representative. These skills include:

Interpersonal Skills: PSRs spend their time building relationships with various health care professionals. Their livelihood depends on their ability to gain the trust of these professionals without appearing pushy or aggressive. To create and maintain a large clientele base, pharma reps must have interpersonal skills.

Communication Skills: Pharma reps often speak at conventions and continuing education sessions, and must feel comfortable presenting information on their products to a crowd. They must also be able to provide information on pharmaceuticals in an objective and clear manner.

Curiosity: The world of pharmaceuticals is full of rapidly advancing science, which requires a pharma rep to stay up to date with the research, as well as the science behind their products.

Science Background: A science background is not required to become a pharmaceutical sales representative, but is an invaluable asset to the job. Much of the job for a PSR includes understanding how products work and interact with other drugs. A background in chemistry, biology, or statistics is particularly beneficial.

Sales Experience: While not all pharmaceutical companies require sales experience, it is usually preferred. Knowledge of the drugs and how they work is essential, but a PSR must also be able to make the sale.

Internship Requirements

While there are no set internship requirements for becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative, any internship that furthers the skills outlined above is sure to help you in your career.

Educational Requirements

There are not specific educational requirements for PSRs, however, a vast majority holds a four-year bachelor’s degree. It is common for a PSR to have a degree with a science background, which helps them be able to understand their products and effectively educate the health care professionals to whom they sell to. Pharmaceutical companies are particularly attracted to applicants who hold master’s degrees in either the life sciences or business, so any of these educational paths would be great for you to consider if you would like to pursue a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative.

Specific training is provided by pharmaceutical companies on-the-job. Additionally, tuition reimbursement is usually given to new pharma reps who are taking coursework in either pharmacology or the life sciences. Additionally, pharma reps are usually expected to keep up with professional development and continuing education opportunities rigorously throughout their entire careers.

While certification and licenses are voluntary, choosing to become certified definitely makes a pharmaceutical sales representative more attractive to potential employers. The National Association of Pharmaceutical Representatives provides certification as a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative, or a CNPR. Requirements include completion of an accredited training program as well as a passing grade on a knowledge exam.

Pharmacology Scholarships

Tylenol Future Care Scholarships Express Scripts Foundation American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation Student Scholarship
American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) Student Leadership Awards Allied Healthcare Scholarship American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) Scholarships
National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) Foundation Scholarships Indian Health Service (IHS) Scholarship CVS Health – Pharmacy School Scholarships
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