Making the move from pharma to devices


Many pharmaceutical reps set their sights on eventually getting into medical devices, often attracted by the thrill of being in theatre, the idea of selling a tangible product or the earning potential they have heard about.

Many of our candidates have made this transition and we have been able to glean some useful information from them that may assist you in achieving the same goal.

Why did you decide to move from pharmaceuticals to medical devices?

  • There were limited opportunities to progress within pharmaceuticals.
  • I needed a new challenge, to broaden my experience in the industry and a change of pace.
  • To leverage upon my expertise gained from pharma in a specific therapeutic area e.g. cardiology, pain management.
  • To have more accountability for my own sales results.
  • I wanted a more clinical role.
  • Medical device sales is a tangible process and therefore more rewarding personally and financially.

What do you love about medical device sales?

  • There is more autonomy and less focus on activity based KPIs. The company’s expectation is that you run the business as you see fit, whereas in pharma much of the analysis, planning and targeting is done for you.
  • In devices the focus is on return on investment for the business and you are trusted to make the right decisions that will drive sale growth.
  • In some areas of medical devices you are directly involved in patient care and their clinical outcomes are dependent on your capabilities. Impacting positively on patient care makes the job very rewarding.
  • It’s a continual learning curve and very challenging. Surgeons and Specialists love to teach and will take the time to explain things to you. It is also rewarding to be recognized and respected by customers for your level of knowledge.
  • Selling innovative technology.
  • The sale is tangible, and you know exactly who is using your products.
  • Medical device sales is extremely busy. My stress levels have gone up as a result, however it is worth it as I love feeling valued by the customers and I have closer working relationships with them.

What are the challenges you faced in the first six months?

  • In medical devices the training is more self-directed compared to pharma. The training process can take much longer in medical devices, often up to 18 months. Expect to put many hours of study in during your spare time.
  • The initial training may take you overseas for several weeks and can be very challenging. Daily exams and minimum pass marks are expected.
  • The learning curve is very steep especially if you have multiple products.
  • When you are still learning the pressure in theatre during a procedure is high as you are still expected to be an expert in your product. You have to think on your feet.
  • There is less structure given to you in medical devices when it comes to your day to day activities. Pharmaceutical sales provides a great foundation in managing your time, prioritising tasks and selling skills.
  • The internal workings of a hospital is complex. There are many integral protocols you need to follow (such as aseptic techniques in theatre, sales rep protocols, introducing new products).
  • Sales is the easy part. The real challenge is navigating hospital politics to get your products on shelf. This is one of the most difficult and frustrating parts of the job. So much depends on things you may have little control over - pricing, contractual agreements etc. 
  • Developing relationships with customers can be challenging.  Many medical device reps have been around a long time and so it is important to find ways to add value quickly.

What advice would you give a pharma rep who wants to move into medical devices?

  • Before applying make sure you do your research and that you understand the nuances and demands of the different types of medical device roles.
  • Ensure you have achieved sales successes in pharma before moving into devices.
  • Speak to and / or shadow a medical device rep.
  • Watch procedures on YouTube (or in theatre if you can get the opportunity)
  • Be patient for the right role and company, and don't just take the first job.
  • Focus on your transferable skills and your personal interest in a particular area of medical devices.
  • Know your stuff when you go for an interview. You should study up on anatomy and some of the most common procedures performed in the particular discipline you want to get into.
  • Get ready to work long hours. The hours have the potential to be much longer than pharma and more unpredictable. Some surgeons will operate until late into the evening and you are expected to be present. Make sure you understand the hours for the role you are applying for.
  • Be prepared to study your butt off!
  • Understand the specific device market you will be competing in, who your competitors are and what the major challenges will be on the territory you inherit.

To learn more about pursuing a career in medical device sales - CLICK HERE