Job Profile: Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

portrait of Staff Writers
Staff Writers
Read Full Bio

Contributing Writer

The staff writers for BestColleges collaborate to deliver unique, student-driven content on topics such as career development, college life, and college planning....
Updated on July 19, 2022
Learn more about our editorial process is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

Prescription medications play an important role in keeping people healthy by treating and preventing the occurrence of illness. Since aspirin was first introduced in 1899, the pharmaceutical industry has evolved by light-years with drugs to addressing virtually all medical conditions. In the United States, the healthcare sector spends an estimated $425 billion each year on medications. Pharmaceutical sales representatives provide a vital link between drug manufacturers and pharmacies to spread potentially life-saving medicines. Pharma reps are persistent, assertive selling gurus who travel to healthcare facilities to promote new drugs tested by their company. It's the PSR's job to present product samples to physicians, surgeons, medical specialists, or other clinicians and persuade them to prescribe the drug to their patients. Pharmaceutical sales representatives strive to form long-lasting purchasing connections with healthcare providers to meet productivity goals.


According to the 2016 Pharma Sales Salary Report, the average yearly salary for PSRs in the United States is currently $122,107, with a mean base of $90,862. Specialty pharma reps earn higher salaries at $138,150 on average. Pharmaceutical sales representatives employed by small manufacturers make less at $119,933, but the highest paid work for large, multi-national manufacturers with an average compensation of $133,407 per year.

Beginning Salary

New pharmaceutical sales representatives with less than two years of experience typically land on the lower end of the salary spectrum with annual income around $100,083. However, salary potential increases significantly with time. Pharma reps with 20+ years of experience bring home total compensation over $154,283 annually. Representatives who advance into executive positions like pharmaceutical sales VP make $200,455 on average.

Key Responsibilities

Pharmaceutical sales representatives have the primary task of informing clinicians about the medical benefits of dosing patients with their company's product. They meet frequently with healthcare professionals to describe the drug's chemistry, uses, side effects, and potential interactions. Companies hire pharma reps to follow leads and target potential new customers within an assigned geographic region. They'll present at industry conferences, establish networking events, and conduct workshops to cultivate potential sales. Most pharmaceutical sales representatives specialize in promoting certain drug classes, such as analgesics, antibiotics, antidepressants, or beta blockers. PSRs are also responsible for administrative tasks like taking purchase orders, establishing new accounts, reviewing product literature, and resolving consumer complaints.

Necessary Skills

Being successful in the fast-paced pharmaceutical sales world requires having exceptional interpersonal abilities. PSRs must have the verbal communication skills to objectively convey detailed statistics about and ingredients in medicines. Sales skills are essential for pharma reps to successfully gain purchase orders without seeming aggressive. Pharmaceutical sales representatives must possess scientific knowledge to know exactly how different drugs impact the human body's chemistry. It's important for PSRs to be organized enough to handle multiple contractors with great autonomy. Being self-motivated, polished, polite, and determined is a job requirement. Pharmaceutical sales representatives must also have the mental stamina to handle the pressure of sales quotas.

Explore Online Healthcare Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Degree and Education Requirements

Pharmaceutical companies generally only hire sales representatives who hold a four-year bachelor's degree or higher from an accredited college. A specific major isn't required, but many PSRs study life sciences, especially biology and chemistry. Aspiring pharma reps would also benefit from undergraduate study in marketing, sales, advertising, and business administration. Some universities offer Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences programs that could be ideal. Remember to fill your electives with courses like organic chemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, and toxicology for great career preparation. Some employers will prefer hiring representatives who hold graduate degrees, such as a Master of Public Health, Master of Health Science, or Healthcare MBA.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Jobs for pharmaceutical sales representatives are among the most coveted in the medical field, but there's both advantages and drawbacks. On the plus side, drug reps earn lucrative six-figure salaries that exceed most other sales jobs. PSRs enjoy corporate perks like expense-paid trips, bonuses, commissions, benefits, and even mileage reimbursement. Pharmaceutical sales representatives typically report high job satisfaction for introducing new medicines that can boost quality of life. Pharma reps aren't stuck sitting behind a desk daily; they enjoy traveling to visit various healthcare facilities. However, PSRs have a grueling profession that comes with the stress of commission-based sales. Pharmaceutical sales representatives need to continually educate themselves about new company product lines. Most pharma reps have poor work-life balance because they travel up to one-third of the year. Even though there's autonomy, working evenings and weekends is common. Pharmaceutical sales representatives also have high burnout rates because pressure for high performance expectations can be overwhelming.

Getting Started

Employers won't solely look for top performers in the college classroom. Pharmaceutical companies prefer hiring drug reps who already have sales experience. During college, fine-tune your resume with jobs where you'll gain customer service skills. Gaining internships specifically in the pharmaceutical or medical industry will be best. Pharmaceutical sales representatives traditionally must complete on-the-job training to learn the company's unique product offerings. Your first few years will be spent building industry connections with doctors and medical providers. Joining the National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives (NAPSR) could aid in networking. While working full-time, consider taking the GRE or GMAT to attend graduate school either in evenings or online. Another excellent advancement option is professional certification. For example, you can become a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR) with a six-month training program.

Future Outlook

The NIH reports that the United States consumes around 75 percent of the world's prescription drugs. Nearly three in five adults nationwide are prescribed at least one medication. The percentage only increases with age, so America's "baby boomers" will be sparking greater demand. New pharmaceutical achievements being adapted from high-tech manufacturing are expanded the list of FDA-approved drugs too. This creates a favorable job outlook for pharmaceutical sales representatives who are selling these products. CNN Money predicted that 10-year job growth for PSRs will be 16.4 percent, which is considerably above-average. Around 400,000 more pharmaceutical sales jobs will be created through 2022. Drug reps are recruited by pharmaceutical manufacturing firms, research institutes, distributors, and wholesalers. Overall, pharmaceutical sales representatives are refined, confident salespeople who master medical jargon to promote prescription or over-the-counter drugs. At the crossroads of marketing and healthcare, PSRs spend their long days traveling to healthcare providers to drum up sales for their pharmaceutical company. If you decide to break into the pharmaceutical sales representative job, you'll land a profitable career helping patients gain access to drugs that effectively treat their ailments. Another great resource: 50 Most Affordable Selective Colleges for Healthcare Management is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.