Pharmaceutical Sales Representative – A Day in the Life

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that, in 2018, Americans spent more than $325 billion on prescription medication. Sales in this market are driven by skilled and compelling pharmaceutical sales representatives who educate medical professionals about the drugs their company offers.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, over 20,000 prescription medications are on the market, with more added every day. In 2019, for example, there was nearly one new drug a week with 48 medications approved. It can be challenging for doctors and other medical professionals to keep up-to-date with all the new drugs on the market, which is why pharmaceutical sales representatives are critical. They provide educational materials to doctors, put on seminars to explain new medications, and attend medical conferences to inform health care workers about the latest in drug development.

Pharmaceutical representatives generally have an office at their employer’s headquarters and spend much of their time on the road meeting with healthcare professionals face-to-face. Their daily work lives vary based on who they are meeting with and where they are traveling.

Continue reading to learn about their work environment, typical duties, required skills and knowledge, and regulatory requirements in this lucrative profession.

Work Environment

Pharmaceutical sales representatives work all over the United States, so professionals in this field have choices when it comes time to pick a place to live. Top cities with pharmaceutical companies hiring sales representatives include Chicago, Seattle, Raleigh, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. However, while pharmaceutical sales representatives may have an office at the home office, they actually spend most of their time on the road.

Since most pharmaceutical sales are made by having face-to-face contact with doctors, professionals in this field spend much of their day in medical offices, clinics, outpatient care centers, and hospitals. They communicate with their office by phone or email but spend most of their time interacting with medical personnel. Overall, pharmaceutical sales representatives work independently and are generally responsible for sales and not the number of hours they work.

Daily Responsibilities

The primary goal of a pharmaceutical sales representative is to increase the sales of their company’s medications. They are most often based out of the pharmaceutical company’s home office but spend most of their time on the road.

Day-to-day duties vary based on the company they work for, the territory they are assigned to, and the medications they are representing. However, typical responsibilities include:

  • Scheduling meetings with medical professionals
  • Educating medical professionals about the effectiveness, use, and side effects of drugs
  • Presenting at medical conferences
  • Placing purchase orders for clients
  • Sourcing new clients
  • Resolving any complaints current clients may have
  • Reviewing drug literature to stay on top of new developments

Required Skills & Knowledge

Pharmaceutical sales representatives must have a variety of interpersonal and technical skills to excel at their job.

First, professionals in this field must be strong communicators. They must have the ability to talk to anyone as well as communicate their message clearly. Not only do they have to be great at communicating in person, but they must also be persuasive and engaging on the phone and by email.

In addition to interpersonal and technical skills, pharmaceutical sales representatives must have extensive scientific knowledge. They need to how the drugs they are selling impact bodies’ chemistry. Most pharmaceutical representatives have completed at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s degree. Typical majors for this field include public health, biology, and chemistry. Taking elective courses in marketing, administration, advertising, anatomy, and toxicology can be advantageous as well.

Pharmaceutical Sales Representative Regulatory Requirements

There are no certification requirements for pharmaceutical sales representatives. However, there are federal and state laws that representatives must follow.

One way sales representatives can familiarize themselves with these laws is to earn a National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives (NAPSR) CNPR Entry Level Pharmaceutical Sales certification. This certification demonstrates to employers that a candidate has passed an exam that tests them on Food and Drug Administration regulatory requirements and other laws that regulate the pharmaceutical industry.

While not legally binding, most professionals in this field adhere to the Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals, created by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). This code details what information pharmaceutical representatives are ethically bound to provide as well as when and how they should interact with medical professionals.

In addition to state and federal regulatory requirements, pharmaceutical representatives must be aware of and adhere to companies’ policies and procedures and facilities they work with. Many hospitals and clinics have rules around when pharmaceutical sales representatives can visit, where they are allowed to visit, and what incentives or gifts they may distribute.

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson

With a unique knack for simplifying complex health concepts, Kimmy Gustafson has become a trusted voice in the healthcare realm, especially on, where she has contributed insightful and informative content for prospective and current MHA students since 2019. She frequently interviews experts to provide insights on topics such as collaborative skills for healthcare administrators and sexism and gender-related prejudice in healthcare.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.

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