If you're target-driven 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'll 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-sale service.

As a medical sales representative, you'll need to:

  • arrange appointments with doctors, pharmacists and hospital medical teams, which may include pre-arranged appointments or regular 'cold' calling
  • make presentations to doctors, practice staff and nurses in GP surgeries, hospital doctors and pharmacists in the retail sector
  • organise conferences for doctors and other medical staff
  • build and maintain positive working relationships with medical staff and support administrative staff
  • manage budgets for catering, outside speakers, conferences and hospitality
  • keep detailed records of all contacts
  • reach, and if possible exceed, annual sales targets
  • win new customers, as well as developing long-term relationships with existing ones
  • plan work schedules and weekly and monthly timetables with the area sales team or discuss future targets with the area sales manager
  • regularly attend company meetings, technical data presentations and briefings
  • keep up to date with the latest clinical data supplied by the company, and interpret, present and discuss this data with health professionals during presentations
  • analyse sales data to improve results and make sure resources are effectively allocated
  • monitor competitor activity and competitors' products
  • keep up to date with new developments in the NHS, anticipate potential negative and positive impacts on the business and adapt strategy accordingly
  • develop strategies for increasing opportunities to meet and talk to contacts in the medical and healthcare sector
  • stay 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.
  • With experience you can typically earn between £25,000 and £40,000. Salaries for managers and senior-level roles start at around £40,000.
  • Pay is supplemented by bonuses or performance-related pay and you can achieve high earnings if you're successful in meeting and exceeding sales targets.

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 and some evenings, but not weekends or shifts. For example, you may have to attend breakfast meetings or conduct presentations in the evenings at a local hotel or conference venue.

Work is generally office or home based but you'll spend a substantial amount of time travelling to and from clients. Part-time work is also possible.

Self-employment and freelance work is uncommon.

What to expect

  • Opportunities occur throughout the UK, but the job usually involves responsibility for a particular geographical area, often called a 'territory'. 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.
  • There may be some opportunities for overseas work or travel with multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Qualifications

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

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

You don't need a science degree, however, and a good number of medical sales representatives have a non-science degree. A business or marketing degree, for example, can be particularly useful, especially if accompanied by some knowledge of medical sales and what this involves.

Entry with an HND or foundation degree is possible. Life science or healthcare subjects are particularly useful or experience in marketing or ethical sales.

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

Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is possible if you have a strong record in sales and business development.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication and presentation skills
  • an outgoing and persuasive manner and negotiating skills
  • sales and customer relationship skills
  • 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. Experience in a sales or marketing role is particularly useful.

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.

For details of recruiters see the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (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 handle vacancies.

If you want to make speculative applications, see the ABPI Members List for a list of its member pharmaceutical companies. Check company websites for advertised vacancies and details of graduate recruitment schemes.

Professional development

Initial training is provided by your 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.

The Prescription Medicine Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) requires medical sales representatives to take the ABPI Medical Representatives Exam within one year of beginning employment, and pass all units within two years. If you want to work as a medical representative (rather than a generic sales representative) you must pass the Level 3 Diploma. To pass, you'll need a broad understanding of:

  • body systems, diseases and treatments
  • the development of new medicines
  • the structure and function of the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry.

General sales training is offered by organisations such as the Institute of Sales Management (ISM) and The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). They provide a range of awards, certificates and diplomas for new and established sales and marketing professionals.

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

Promotion depends, to a large extent, on your ability to deliver on your sales and activity targets. Being able to move to a different geographical region or to move into a specialist area can also help.

With experience, many medical sales representatives move into:

  • area or regional management
  • product or account management
  • NHS liaison
  • 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.