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Medical Representative

What does a Medical Representative do?

Medical representatives (or ‘reps’) are the key point of contact between pharmaceutical and medical companies and health care professionals, promoting product awareness, answering queries, providing advice and introducing new products. They work for pharmaceutical companies to sell prescription drugs, medicines and medical equipment to GPs, hospital doctors, pharmacists, dentists and nurses. Medical reps are usually based in a specific geographical location and specialise in a particular product or medical area.

Medical reps may:

  • arrange appointments to see existing clients and ‘cold call’ new contacts
  • make presentations in medical settings or conference rooms
  • persuade clients to use or buy your company’s products
  • negotiate contracts
  • build strong relationships with medical staff
  • plan work schedules with other sales team members
  • provide an after-sales service
  • meet sales targets
  • organise and attend medical conferences
  • check competitors’ products and prices
  • keep records of sales and customers
  • report information back to head office about clients’ needs.

What qualifications do I need?

Employers of medical reps usually prefer graduates with relevant qualifications in life sciences, pharmacy, medicine, nursing or dentistry. These qualifications can be an advantage for medical sales positions requiring specific, technical knowledge. If you do not have a science or health care-related qualification, a background in business or sales is important. New recruits normally receive an initial period (up to six months) of intense training, following which they may shadow experienced sales staff before commencing work on their own. It is imperative to keep up to date with new products and research developments throughout your career.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Life Sciences
• Physical Sciences


Where can I study?

University of the Western Cape
Bachelor of Pharmacy or Medicine

University of the Witwatersrand
Bachelor of Pharmacy or Medicine

North-West University
Bachelor of Pharmacy or Medicine

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Bachelor of Pharmacy or Medicine

University of KwaZulu-Natal
Bachelor of Pharmacy or Medicine

Leading Edge Training
Marketing and Sales Training Course

University of Cape Town
Sales Management

Bachelor of Commerce: Business

College SA
SAIM Business Management Diploma

Where can I get more info?

The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa (IPASA) – www.ipasa.co.za
Institute of Marketing Management – www.imm.co.za


Interview with a Medical Representative




Why did you choose to work in this profession?
Thanks to my background in science, and the combination of my extroverted personality and good people skills, medical sales was the ideal choice for me.

Explain what it is that you do
Well, I am a ‘legal drug dealer’! But on a more serious note, I market prescription drugs to doctors and pharmacists. A drug is defined as a chemical substance used in the treatment, cure, prevention, or diagnosis of disease, or used to otherwise enhance physical or mental well-being, so even a laxative is considered a drug.

There are, however, drugs that are sold over the counter, and drugs that are scheduled and need to be prescribed by a healthcare professional (doctor). So my job entails understanding the mode of action of the active ingredients of a drug as well as the pharmacological properties of a drug and, if any, its possible associated side effects.

What training did you undergo?
A science background is a standard prerequisite; I have my Honours in Microbiology, and medical experience in pathology, and that gave me a sufficient foundation for understanding the medical industry.

However, once you are with a pharmaceutical company, they have training facilities and exam modules designed to educate the medical representative on the products before they go out into the field to communicate with doctors or pharmacists.

Describe a typical day
We are expected to ‘call’ or see eight doctors and three pharmacists per day. The average day entails being at the first doctor’s appointment by 8am, where one will sometimes wait up to an hour or more in order to work around patients.

Once in the doctor’s room, we have discussions with him/her regarding their experience with selected drugs offered by my company, and encourage the use of the latest drugs on the market that will add value to their patients’ lives.

What do you enjoy most?
Medical representatives have a very social job. I get to meet a lot of people, and every day is full of different people and places.

Career highlights?
Overachieving in my sales targets and being rewarded with large incentive bonuses, as well as going to conferences in exotic destinations, both SA and abroad.

Experience vs training?
It’s a combination. A science background is always better, however, rookie reps are sometimes employed through graduate programs.

Hurdles you have overcome
There is a lot of competition in the pharmaceutical industry, so competitor representatives make it difficult for one to corner the market. Also, the high call rate of eight doctors daily is not always easy to achieve.

What ‘makes’ a medical rep?
One should be very sociable, very patient, very understanding, and alert at all times… because a lot of time is spent on the road; planning and organisational skills are a must; one should be articulate and able to communicate well; and it is important for one to be dynamic and leave a lasting impression.

Advice for young reps?
Persevere; it takes about six months in order to become accustomed to the lifestyle, the pre-planning needed to achieve targets set out by the company, as well as finding one’s way around the territory. A GPS is essential.

Your job in three words
Exhilarating, exhausting and enthralling.