How to be a drug rep

April 20, 2008 at 3:04 pm (Uncategorized)

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.



  1. Chris Aycock said,

    We get vendors who constantly try to sell us stuff, from database software, to data feeds, to analytical models. We once asked a salesman what his data warehouse’s throughput was. He replied, “faster than what you’re getting.” We didn’t ask him any questions after that.

  2. anonymous said,

    I was dead broke after I had one of my kids when my husband got laid off right after the birth. Due to my breasts being unlike anyone else’s on the planet (because every other female can breast feed if she tries hard enough– according to a dickheaded hospital pediatrician) I needed formula. For two months my doctor helped me score soy formula that I couldn’t otherwise get. My doctor was happy to help me and said that the rep was actually flattered that he paid attention to him when he went in. . . it was really just for my unusual request though.

  3. Anon said,

    A few tricks of the trade are listed here:

    PLoS Medicine: How Drug Reps Make Friends and Influence Doctors

  4. Chang said,

    Wow. How completely arrogant and sexist.

    I’m not a drug rep, nor am I a physician, but I do have a MUCH better grasp on modern medicine, and our capitalist society than you.

    Guess what. Drug reps are effective, and because of that, have become necessary tools of the pharmaceutical firms that develop the drugs that physicians use to treat patients. Big Pharma should be allowed to profit from its efforts, just like any other industry. Just like any physician. This is capitalism.

    I agree that it’s a damned shame that drugs cost as much as they do, and many of the practices of Big Pharma are abhorrent, but such is the nature of capitalism. But to consider that flaw applicable strictly to Big Pharma is laughable. We can look to Enron, the sub-prime lending, ambulance chasing lawyers, and even physicians themselves to see corruption in the name of profit. You would not believe how many rheumatologists prescribe infusion products for RA over injections simply because of the profit inherent in infusion. I could give you many other cases where patient comes second to profit.

    That you find what a drug rep does for a living to be abhorrent is your opinion, and you are entitled to it. That you translate that opinion into obnoxious self-righteousness and deprecatory behavior:

    “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.””

    makes me wonder about your bedside manner and your future as a patient-facing physician. I’m sure you’d be a fine clinician. But would people want to deal with your lofty self-sentiment?

    And if we’re honest, there are many drug reps who would flat out school you in the depth of the knowledge of their disease, 2nd year. Even in their short skirts and push-up bras.

  5. Unomiked said,

    Chang rocks. He said everything that needs to be said about every physician that acts like they are better then a drug rep. We all want to make money to support families and achieve goals. Many drug reps are dolts and obnoxious. I agree with the physician in that regard. However, I am amazed everyday how so many intelligent physicians act like they are the keepers of secret knowledge that no one else has. If I had a physician like this one, I would leave. He obviously treats his patients with the same contempt.

  6. Dr. Dredd said,

    Unomiked, I stand in awe of your psychic abilities. From one blog post about an encounter with a drug rep, you’ve obviously been able to predict with 100% accuracy how this physician deals with actual patients! Absolutely stunning!

    Seriously, though, the arrogance of your post astounds me. I’m amazed by how many people act like they are the keepers of secret knowledge of how the physician mind works.

  7. Confucius said,

    Physicians _are_ better than drug reps, end of story. One treats suffering and disease, the other dispenses pill bottles and knicknacks. End of story.

  8. safa said,

    well, I think that not all the doctors see it this way.I’m sure some of them die to have a rep dropping in or visiting thier clinic.From how I see it..I think doctors are the ones to have responsibilty to stop such a thing..
    They-doctors-have to be well educated ,confident and play imposiable to get.If they adopted this attitude the drug reps will vanish and give up..
    note:I’m a pharmacy student and sfter reading this article i don’t intend to be in the drug sales when i graduate..

  9. Neumed said,

    I thought about becoming a drug rep, but I just don’t have the legs for it.

  10. Iowa Doc said,

    It’s become exactly like the lobbying industry. Everyone has deluded themselves to believe that these relationships are necessary and inevitable…but they aren’t.

    The reps who work for drug companies are like most corporate employees: Good people looking to make a living. Getting mad at them is like getting mad at a shark for attacking a swimmer; they are just doing what they do. I don’t resent the slinky blonde who is here to stroke my ego; but I don’t let her come in either. And I don’t want to read any of her propoganda either.

    The people who have really let us down are the doctors and politicians who have convinced themselves that these relationships don’t affect their judgment. Millions, perhaps even billions of public dollars are being wasted. Poured into the pockets of those who are already so wealthy they don’t know what to do with all of their money. How much longer are we going to sleepwalk through this travesty. When will we wake up?

  11. halfmd said,

  12. Bob said,

    Not to be an asshole smarty-pants, but a p value of .07 is actually NOT statistically significant. A p value of .05 or less is required to be considered statistically significant. I know that you don’t care, and I know that’s not what the post was about, but I couldn’t help but interject like the smartass that I am.

  13. halfmd said,

    Not quite. Statistical significance is however you define it. If you state that you’re comfortable claiming significance with any p value less than 0.09, for example, then any test meeting that cut-off is considered significant. Medicine has traditionally set the limit to 0.05, but this value is only based in history and has no real scientific basis.

    Other misconceptions are the phrases “approaching significance” or “barely significant.” Either results are significant, or they aren’t. There is no gray zone.

  14. MC said,

    Read few your posts, including this one, and I must say you come off as compete @$$. I wonder how you function in society by being rude and obnoxious.

  15. Othniel said,

    Pretty clothes, freebies, drugs for my patients without insurance… since I have had hardcore pharma instruction and live without tv, the drug names are meaningless and new, so it is fun for me to learn the trade names to put with the generic names I know so well.
    If I wasn’t hammered in school about the dangers of the companies, it would be easy for me to pick some of their drugs up as my new favorites. The thing that has stuck in my head the most is “why do they spend millions on advertising to doctors if it doesn’t work? Aren’t they the greediest co’s in the world?”

    Because of my instruction, I just smile, nod, take the Xyzal and prescribe the Cubbies brand cetirizine.

  16. Pharmasupporter said,

    To the poster who claims doctors treat suffering and disease and drugs reps dispense junk. If it were not for these pharma. co’s..these physicians would still be treating suffering and disease by such tried and tested tactics as drilling holes in their heads and ice baths. The anger of people towards pharma. co’s is beyond me. This is the industry that has cured and prevented more diseases and suffering than all the doctors in the world combined. Just keep this in mind the next time you go to get your “free” antibiotic sample. Or maybe doc will just do some voodoo if he doesn’t have any meds?

  17. How to Get Six Pack Fast said,

    Hey, cool tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a bottle of beer to that man from that chat who told me to visit your site 🙂

  18. Pharma Police said,

    Typical hater that cannot or will never be able to become a drug rep… Get in line with the rest of the world tough guy.

    Oh, by the way… Not under 30 or female and still dominating the industry.

  19. Drug Rep 83 said,

    I sense alot of hate for people who are just doing their jobs. Not everybody has the grades or money for med school. I couldnt go to pharmacy school for those reasons. But I had a passion for the health field, mainly pharmacy so I went into sales. You dont have to insult people or “feeding” hate to the masses. Ive helped alot of people out by giving them samples, enough for a couple years worth as well as coupons for patients for meds that dont have geqs yet. Just like any profession there are sleazballs and good hearted people trying to feed their family. I know plenty of doctors practically throwing vicodin at their patients and pharmacists just wanting to make a buck. For those of you saying pharm reps of the medical realm, I would implore you to reexamine your claim. You wanna go after someone, go after the fat cat corporations that are really in control and are the problem not the little guys just wanting to put food on the table. I know enough drug reps that arent ditzy hot blondes in mini skirts but respectful intelligent college graduates who realized that the way their going isnt making them enough money.

  20. DoctorWho said,

    I have psychic powers and can predict this of the medical mind:
    Whatever it knows today will be foolish tomorrow. If so, then it is only time before a doctor is shown to be a fool and the patient that believes him to be a bigger fool.
    I say, humbleness is the key to knowledge, and any man who stands upon the shoulders of giants and claims to be their greater is bound to be an arrogant trite little person who deals out insults and demeans those that are trying to make a living. Watch out though, he may be your doctor.

    Just to add, doctors in America rarely practice medicine, they practice insurance. So, high and lofty as the field may sound, it’s just another business. The more money you make the more the world loves you and crooks and fools abound. Doctors are a dime a dozen… Good doctors on the other hand; just like good people – are even harder to find.

  21. suipleimput said,

    Hello people, Happy Fool’s Day!!!

    Doctor: You’re in good health. You’ll live to be eighty.
    Patient: But, doctor, I am 80 right now.
    Doctor: See, what did I tell you.

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

  22. anonymous MD said,

    The 22 yr old scantily clad female reps I have come across actually kiss the male docs on the cheek when they arrive and when they leave. Very disturbing on the part of both parties. If you ask them a simple question they have not rehearsed, they just spit out the answer to a different question altogether. Let’s see…exchanging goods for services….kinda like a twisted big pharma prostitution ring. And if Pharm is so fabulous, why the massive PharmFree movement by the likes of Stanford and the University of California system? And if they are such humanitarians, why is so much time and energy being pumped into erectile dysfunction when millions of people still die of ancient infectious diseases every year? The bulk of the humanitarian-angled pharmacological research is being done by the NIH and academia. Not by Pfucking Pfizer. The dumb 22 yr old pretty reps are liberal arts majors. The 45 year old intelligent ones are med school rejects. They do make serious cash so I suppose they are laughing all the way to the bank while thousands of hard working Americans go to Mexico and Canada to purchase their overpriced meds.

  23. drugrep72 said,

    Not sure where this physician trained but obviuosly a place where bed manners are a secondary. If the physician believes that they are a superiour person to the next, then that makes you a first class tool. In a sales call, I make sure I present information of value to that physician, might be a clinical paper, might be a follow up from a previous request, irrespective of how I spend my time with my clients, we are there as an add-on service and if this physician feels we are a waste of time, i’d be happy to debate disease states and pharmacology anytime! I don’t know about making serious money in this industry, here in Aaustralia, we are paid national average wage and a quarterly bonus if we hit target and this still doesn’t amount to much. At the end of the day Mr Physician, I would seriously reconsider your vocation, your profession does not need your attitude trying to drag other people down and if you had to hear what your fellow Drs say to us reps after a dinner or lunch meeting and these Drs tell us about colleagues like you who are just a pain in the butt! Sad but true. Medical Repping is a noble profession and the ones who stay around are the ones who have worked what is important to you and what is not, just a pity you can’t take the time put your mis-guided bigoted beliefs to one side and just relax around us!

  24. berry_china said,

    cool in america. i have interest to be a drugs rep if work in america. as i’m a chinese.

  25. Amber Cannon said,

    I just have to say this. I completely agree with you! I worked as a Medical Receptionist, I had alot of experience with dealing with Drug Reps. I’m not going to lie, we had a set of reps that the office loved. But those were the same ones that took us out to lunch, gave us free stuff, and were “entertaining”. Most of any medical office staff will say for the most part, they are annoying. They think they can jump ahead of patients to go talk to the doctor. Our office would make them wait til all patients had been seen. There were drug reps that couldn’t be trusted, someone had to be in the room with them while they were stocking meds. I agree with the Legs and Looks requirement, there’s no way I would qualify, even the guys were good looking college frat types. I don’t think his post was rude or offensive, I think it was honest. Alot of people share these same views. People just need to quit getting offended so easily.

  26. Tim Mcmorrow said,

    i want to know how to become a drug rep…how much schooling, where can i go to obtain the lisence i need or credentials otherwise?…can anyone tell me where to go and what i would have to do to become a drug rep?…i just got out of the marine corps after 4 years, i am 24 years old, and regardless of what anyone has to say, I know that this would be a perfect career for me…???

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