If you are target-driven, enjoy sales and want to use your knowledge in a medical field, a career as a medical sales representative could suit you

Medical sales representatives (widely referred to as 'reps') are a key link between medical and pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals.

As a rep, you'll sell your company's products, which include medicines, prescription drugs and medical equipment, to a variety of customers including general practitioners (GPs), hospital doctors, pharmacists and nurses. You will work strategically to increase the awareness and use of your company's pharmaceutical and medical products.

It's likely that you'll be based in a specific geographical location and specialise in a particular product or medical area. You may have to make presentations and organise group events for healthcare professionals, as well as working with contacts on a one-to-one basis.

Responsibilities

In any setting, the process of selling involves contacting potential customers, identifying their needs, persuading them that your products or services (rather than those of competitors) can best satisfy those needs; closing the sale by agreeing the terms and conditions; and providing an after-sales service. As a medical sales representative, you'll do all of this and more.

Duties often include:

  • arranging appointments with doctors, pharmacists and hospital medical teams, which may include pre-arranged appointments or regular 'cold' calling;
  • making presentations to doctors, practice staff and nurses in GP surgeries, hospital doctors and pharmacists in the retail sector. Presentations may take place in medical settings during the day, or may be conducted in the evenings at a local hotel or conference venue;
  • organising conferences for doctors and other medical staff;
  • building and maintaining positive working relationships with medical staff and supporting administrative staff;
  • managing budgets (for catering, outside speakers, conferences, hospitality, etc.);
  • keeping detailed records of all contacts;
  • reaching (and if possible exceeding) annual sales targets;
  • planning work schedules and weekly and monthly timetables. This may involve working with the area sales team or discussing future targets with the area sales manager. Generally, medical sales executives have their own regional area of responsibility and plan how and when to target health professions;
  • regularly attending company meetings, technical data presentations and briefings;
  • keeping up to date with the latest clinical data supplied by the company, and interpreting, presenting and discussing this data with health professionals during presentations;
  • monitoring competitor activity and competitors' products;
  • maintaining knowledge of new developments in the National Health Service (NHS), anticipating potential negative and positive impacts on the business and adapting strategy accordingly;
  • developing strategies for increasing opportunities to meet and talk to contacts in the medical and healthcare sector;
  • staying informed about the activities of health services in a particular area.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for medical sales representatives typically range from £18,000 to £24,000.
  • Salaries for those with three to five years' experience range from £25,000 to £40,000.
  • Managers and senior-level roles start at around £40,000.

If you are successful at making sales, you can achieve high earnings consisting of a basic salary, supplemented with performance-related pay.

You may work as part of a team of sales reps, sharing the same sales results, or independently.

Many companies offer other incentives and benefits such as a company car, laptop, mobile phone, pension and private health insurance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include regular extra hours, but not weekends or shifts.

Work is generally office or home based but a substantial amount of time is spent travelling to and from clients.

Self-employment and freelance work is uncommon. The prospects for re-employment after a career break are good. Part-time work is also possible.

What to expect

  • Opportunities occur throughout the UK, but the job usually involves responsibility for a particular geographical area. If you're successful, you may find yourself head-hunted from one company or region to another.
  • Smart dress and a professional appearance are essential.
  • There is a lot of travel during the day with occasional absence from home overnight. You may have to attend client dinners on some evenings.
  • Overseas work is uncommon.

Qualifications

Although this career is open to all graduates, the following subjects may improve your chances:

  • dentistry;
  • life sciences;
  • medicine;
  • nursing;
  • pharmacy.

A business or marketing degree may also be helpful, especially if accompanied by some knowledge of medical sales and what this involves.

Entry with a HND or foundation degree is possible as training is given. Life science or healthcare subjects are particularly useful.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not necessary, although a relevant Masters can be an advantage for medical sales positions requiring specific, technical knowledge.

If you do not have a science or healthcare-related qualification, a background in business or sales is important.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent communication skills;
  • an outgoing and persuasive manner and the ability to deal with people who hold differing beliefs or values;
  • confidence and persistence;
  • patience and self-motivation;
  • analytical and planning skills;
  • a flexible approach to work in order to adapt to changes, for example in the healthcare system or product and drug formularies;
  • strong teamwork and networking skills;
  • commercial and business awareness.

A driving licence is essential.

Work experience

Try to gain pre-entry experience and find out as much as possible about the realities of the job by arranging to shadow a medical sales representative. Contact pharmaceutical companies to arrange work shadowing or try your doctor's surgery or local pharmacy.

Relevant work experience in a hospital placement or in a commercial environment may also improve your chances.

Research the pharmaceutical industry and keep up to date with developments in the NHS. Talk to chemists and pharmacists.

Professional bodies may have local groups, and networking opportunities may be provided with student membership of organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

Employers

Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are the major employers of medical sales representatives. These companies develop and produce pharmaceutical goods or products, including drugs, medical products and equipment.

Some employers ensure that their representatives work by therapy area, so it is possible to target pharmaceutical employers who produce medical products for particular specialist areas, such as:

  • gynaecology;
  • oncology;
  • rheumatology.

Some of the main pharmaceutical companies include:

  • AstraZeneca;
  • GlaxoSmithKline (GSK);
  • Novartis;
  • Pfizer;
  • Sanofi.

For details of recruiters see ABPI Careers - Pharmaceutical Recruiters.

Many pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are international, allowing a wide choice of possible employers and the potential for an international career.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies.

If you want to make speculative applications, there is a list of member pharmaceutical companies on the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) website. Check company websites for advertised vacancies and details of graduate recruitment schemes.

Professional development

Initial training is provided by the employer and involves developing product and medical knowledge, as well as promotion and sales techniques.

After this training, you may spend time with an experienced medical sales representative before gaining your own sales territory.

Some companies introduce new staff to the business by placing them initially in an office-based role, providing administrative support to the sales team, before they move into a full sales role.

Medical sales representatives must take the Medical Representatives Examination provided by the ABPI within one year of beginning employment, and pass all units within two years. The exam is made up of the Level 3 Certificate in the promotion of prescription medicines and the Level 3 Diploma in the promotion of prescription medicines. These qualifications examine the skills and knowledge required to promote medicines.

If you want to work as medical representatives (rather than generic sales representatives) you must pass the Diploma, which is recognised by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA). It is possible to take this exam before getting work as a medical sales representative in order to make yourself a more qualified candidate when applying for entry-level jobs. See the ABPI website for further details.

Sales training is offered by organisations such as the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management (ISMM). It runs courses aimed at aspiring sales personnel as well as established practitioners and offers a range of awards, certificates and diplomas in sales. Relevant training is also provided by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

Continuing professional development (CPD) is vital at every stage of your career and involves keeping up to date with new products, developments in research and competitor behaviour.

Career prospects

The usual first role in medical sales is the promotion of prescription products to health professionals in a specific regional area.

Career development may involve moving into a specialist area or different geographical location. Promotion depends on mobility, experience and, to a greater extent, ability.

With experience it is possible to move into related areas such as:

  • NHS liaison;
  • product, area, or account management;
  • sales training.

You may also move into other areas such as marketing or related sales fields, for example, medical disposables and equipment. Some experienced reps progress to working as field trainers - training and developing new or more junior medical sales representatives.

Many pharmaceutical companies are multinational, providing some opportunities to work abroad.