Monday, July 20, 2009

"Carry the bag" to break into pharma

If you're trying to break into the pharmaceutical industry, you may need to "carry the bag." What bag? The bag of drug samples and other detailing materials that drug reps carry. That bag should be much lighter now that you can't give away pens or note pads and especially as detailing moves towards e-detailing. Now, the bag mainly consists of drug samples, journal reprints, and a few other things.

If you're a clinician, does it make sense to enter the pharmaceutical industry as a drug rep? It's certainly one way to gain entrance into the field. However, your salary isn't driven by traditional sales and commissions, so don't expect a hefty paycheck.

You may want to consider a different option. You can also enter the pharma industry as a medical science liaison or MSL. Some companies use different terms (such as Regional Medical Liaison or RML, Medical Science Manager or MSM, Regional Medical Scientist or RMS, and others). Expect a ton of travel if you work as an MSL. Job descriptions usually state: "Must have an MD, PharmD, or PhD degree with excellent communication skills." Salary is commensurate upon industry experience. So how do you gain that industry experience? Well, you can always start by carrying the bag as a drug rep and then switching to be an MSL after you gain a few years of experience. It won't be the most efficient career path, but it's one way that you can climb the ladder within corporate America. Sometimes you hear of janitors who climb their way to become CEO. I realize that those stories are rare (and unusual), but where there's a will, there's bound to be a way.

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