What is a pharmaceutical sales representative?

Pharmaceutical sales representatives (often times referred to as pharma reps) are hired by pharmaceutical/biotech companies to educate healthcare providers (HCPs) such as physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and physician assistants (PAs) on their company’s product. That product may be a pharmaceutical (drug), medical device, or even a diagnostic test in some cases.  

What skills are necessary to become a pharma sales rep?

There are two sets of skills necessary to become an effective pharma rep. First, excellent interpersonal skills. Are you able to effectively build relationships? Are you a great presenter? Are you personable and outgoing? Can you easily connect with others? If so, you might have the makings of a great pharmaceutical sales representative. Next, pharma reps need to have a strong foundation in basic science and pharmacology.  Pharmacology is the science of medications and the role they play in the body.  Being able to describe a drug’s mechanism of action (how it works), its efficacy (how effective it is) and its safety profile, are important to providing HCPs with a fair, balanced message. Many sales representatives interested in entering the pharma sales world do not have a background in science.  A great way to distinguish yourself from other candidates is to complete the Pharmaceutical Representative Certification (PRC) program. The program covers all of the most important topics any pharma sales rep needs to know including pharmacology, medical terminology, pharma industry compliance, selling skills and many other important topics. Becoming a certified pharmaceutical sales representative helps set a candidate apart in the hiring process. 

What’s a day in the life like for a pharma rep?

Pharma sales reps typically work from home and spend the majority of their time on the road visiting doctors in an assigned sales territory.  They are given quotas usually for how many doctors they should aim to see per day.  This number is typically 8-10 per day and varies from one company to the other.  They usually have drug samples which they provide to physicians which they carry in their company car.  Pharma sales reps need to be very knowledgeable about healthcare laws such as Anti-Kickback statutes, HIPAA, various payers, formularies and other laws such as the Sunshine Act. Once hired at a pharma company, you will be trained on both the product and particular disease state you will focus on.  Pharma sales reps may work with other functions such as marketing, regulatory affairs, medical affairs, medical science liaisons, and support their field reimbursement specialist team.  

Pharma Sales Rep Salary & Perks

According to the US Bureau of Labor & Statistics, the average annual salary for pharma sales reps is approximately $90,000.  It is for this reason that pharma sales representative jobs are highly sought after.  Many recent college graduates may be eligible for pharma sales reps positions, especially if they distinguish themselves by becoming a certified pharma sales representative.  Currently, the only accredited pharmaceutical sales rep certification is the Pharmaceutical Representative Certification (PRC) program by the ACMA.  

In addition to a competitive salary, pharma sales reps enjoy other benefits such as stock options, excellent medical and life insurance coverage, tuition reimbursement, a pension (in some cases), company car, fully paid business trips, and lucrative bonuses.  Total compensation for a successful pharmaceutical representative with 5+ years of experience could be around $150,000.  

The Future of Pharma sales representatives

Pharma sales jobs will continue to be a vital part of the pharmaceutical industry.  Pharma sales is projected to grow significantly over the next 10 years.  Pharma sales representatives of large pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Merck, and others enjoy the luxury of stability and security.  This is not always the case with other industries where mergers and acquisitions lead to a higher frequency of layoffs. Pharmaceutical sales representatives are an important part of a company’s educational arm to HCPs and becoming a certified pharmaceutical sales representative can help to establish your value for a long time to come.