How many of you have watched TV in the past month? Chances are if you sat in front of a television for more than 30 minutes, you’ve come across a commercial hocking any number of prescription medications. For example, Pfizer states that it can give great erections, Merck will cure your depression, and everybody has a treatment for restless leg syndrome.
These commercials do a lot of damage to physicians. Patients show up all the time feigning symptoms to obtain the latest medication. Probably the most disgusting is the commercial for Abilify, an antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia. From what I can gather by watching the commercials, the manufacturer is telling people that Abilify can treat memory loss. What’s worse is that Abilify cost nearly $300 a month. I don’t know a single schizophrenic who has the income necessary to pay for this drug.
But if you’re ready to sell your soul and start hocking the goods to doctors directly, consider becoming a drug rep. These company reps make a ton of money simply by distributing free samples to physicians and then obtaining their signatures. From the intelligence I’ve gathered by talking to reps, a talented employee can make more than a pediatrician. They get loads of free gifts from their bosses, and can sometimes go on trips at the company’s expense. But before you start asking where to sign up, realize that there are several necessary qualifications that must be possessed before joining.
First, you must be a gorgeous female under the age of 30 who is blonde, willing to wear short skirts to show off perfect legs, and be able to convince male physicians that you are considering going out with them if they continue to take your free samples. The best reps can flirt as if they are at a nightclub and trying to pick up strangers for the evening. They will provide a private two-hour lunch to the doctor that causes him to run very late in seeing his afternoon patients.
Notice, I said nothing about education or medical experience. Most drug reps graduate from college with a liberal arts degree and find themselves at the age of 22 with no redeemable skills in the business world. Eventually, they turn to the pharmaceutical industry and take a six-week course on hocking Lipitor. They learn to say the right buzzwords like “randomized controlled trial,” “statistically significant,” and “This medication is on most insurance companies’ formularies.” If you become a drug rap, realize that you’re a salesman first and foremost. Any knowledge you have about pharmacology comes secondary to your ability to communicate with others. Think of the used car salesman. How many of them even know what a catalytic converter is, much less where to find it on the particular model that they’re selling?
The absolute worst drug reps are the ones who try to make everything professional, or worse still, become defensive when their profession is attacked. Earlier this week, I saw drug rap hanging around the patient waiting area. Spotting a drug rep is easy: they are always wearing business suits or dresses, and are carrying a significant load in a luggage cart. To any casual observer, they look as if they are about to board an airplane. But I know better. They are here to sell.
I saw this person, approached him, and said, “Are you a drug rep?” To which he replied, “I’m not just any rep. I’m the best! Would you like some information on…”
I cut him off and said, “No, I just want a free pen. I will also take free textbooks, medical equipment, or trips to Colorado.” At this point he became irate and said, “Do you know anyone who is gotten a free trip to Colorado?”
“So you’re just saying that. My company has never given me or anyone else that I know a free trip.”
Cool it, mister. I’ll gladly show you the door if you’re going to get annoying. We’ve got a dozen drug reps visiting this office every afternoon. There is certainly no shortage of people jumping all over themselves to get a two-minute opportunity to talk to the physician. And you can ditch the speech about how your company’s randomized controlled trial of pitting your drug against your major competitor is statistically significant to a p value of .07. I don’t want to hear it. Neither does my attending. So give me the free stuff and be on your way.
And if you really want to piss off a physician, just try teaching him pharmacology. If you pimp me, I’ll school your ass very quickly on how the body works. You’re here is a marketing liaison, not as a medical school professor.
So remember: breasts, thighs, and a nice smile deliver medications. Leave the attitude and the book learning to me.
Edit: a reader alerted me to this article from the Public Library of Science about drug reps and their tactics.