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Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

What They Do

Insider Info

The next time you go to the drugstore, know that the products you see on the shelf have a lot to do with someone called a pharmaceutical sales representative.

These sales reps sell drugs and other pharmaceutical products to physicians, dentists, veterinarians, hospitals and drugstores.

They introduce new products to medical professionals. They acquaint these professionals with the characteristics of a product, related clinical studies and recommendations on the dosage and usage.

At the center of a pharmaceutical sales representative's job is the sales call. That's when the sales representative meets with prospective or established clients.

First, the sales rep must understand the needs of the client. Then they introduce a product, emphasize the unique characteristics of that product, and explain how that product will meet the needs of the client.

To be successful, the sales rep must possess enough background knowledge to communicate with medical professionals about specific pharmacological issues. They must be able to understand the problems facing the client and how their product will solve those problems.

An important part of the job is informing the pharmaceutical companies of any problems. By law, any adverse reactions, side effects, comments, or concerns must be relayed back to the manufacturer.

Sales representatives can specialize in many areas. They may sell medical equipment such as blood glucose monitors and blood pressure monitors. Or they may sell different types of medication.

A veterinarian, an orthopedic surgeon, a radiologist, a hospital administrator and a psychiatrist all require varied approaches and knowledge from the sales rep.

Insiders say that the job is changing rapidly.

"It will probably change from being in direct sales to being more of a consultant," says Scott Berghoff. He is president of the Alaska branch of the Pharmaceutical Service Representative Association.

"We'll probably be working as a team with HMOs [health maintenance organizations], doctors and other large groups in health care. We'll be in more of a partnership."

Sales reps are already acting more as go-betweens than as salespeople. Although they may still work on commission, with sales goals and incentives, they are involved far beyond the initial sale.

For the client, the sales rep is their contact in the pharmaceutical company. The rep is the person the client will call when they have questions or concerns.

"A desire to help others is important," says Vivian Mario Gunter, a pharmaceutical sales rep.

"I think if anyone wanted to sell something, they should consider medicines of value that save lives and improve the living quality of some people. This gives you the opportunity to directly or indirectly help people other than yourself."

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are employed by pharmaceutical manufacturing and wholesale companies. The companies are usually large, with their base of operations in major urban centers.

Travel is a requirement for anyone starting out in the business. The sales rep often travels for extended periods of time, visiting clients within a predefined territory.

As a result, long and irregular hours are the norm. Workweeks often extend way beyond 40 hours. One perk to this is that sales reps are usually allowed to pick and choose their vacation time and days off.

Mike Klaric is a pharmaceutical sales representative in northwestern Pennsylvania. He logs at least 50 hours each week.

"Some days start early. Some days start later and go late, so I don't have any average day or week. Besides the selling and contact with doctors, I have new materials to read and information to gather."

This job can be high stress. Organizational and time management skills are high priorities.

Any physical requirements for this job are tied to travel. Today, the travel industry has found ways around almost every physical barrier. If a sales rep can get to the client, then they can do the job.

At a Glance

Sell pharmaceutical products to a variety of clients

  • The pharmaceutical industry is going through the roof
  • It's more than just sales
  • Travel is a standard part of the job


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.