Breaking into Medical Sales Job Search

Ask Linda: I’m an O.R. Nurse – How Do I Break Into Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Sales?


Written by Linda Hertz, medical sales recruiter, career blogger, and founder of the Linda Hertz Group

Dear Linda,

I am currently working as a nurse at a Hospital in Dallas. I have been applying to various pharmaceutical and device rep jobs within the Dallas area. My understanding is that this industry is very competitive and hard to break into.

I wanted to reach out to you to see if you could help me find jobs in the Dallas area in medical sales. I have experience working in labor and delivery, OR, and PACU units in the hospital. My career goal is to break out of nursing and grow in my career in medical sales or as a clinical specialist at a medical device company.

I have included my resume for your review and I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope to hear from you soon.       

Jennifer V.

“I wanted to reach out to you to see if you could help me find jobs in medical sales.”

Hello Jennifer,

Thank you for an excellent question. It is one that I receive from nurses all the time. Many ask about Clinical Support positions for the medical industry (that will be covered in the article following this one!).

I’d like to address your question about jumping into the heat of the battle and becoming a medical sales person directly from your hospital nursing experience. It appears you have lumped medical device sales and selling (detailing) pharmaceutical products together; you may be assuming these are similar types of jobs.  

In fact, these are two very different types of sales jobs, and I will first do a short and overly simplified explanation on the differences (so you can determine which one really suits your personality). Then I will drill down on how to transition from nursing to either type of sales position.  

YOU are the one who must ultimately take charge to prepare and find a medical sales job, and I have suggestions for you to do just that — and as a spoiler, I saved the best suggestion for last!  

  • Medical device sales is a process of selling a device or disposable medical products and asking for a Purchase Order to get it billed and shipped. Thus, it is about asking for the order with many complicated steps in-between.  
  • Pharmaceutical sales is about getting a physician to prescribe their company’s drug to his or her patient. Some pharma sales people call only on doctor offices, others call upon the hospital (their goal is to get their drug on the hospital formulary), and sometimes a pharma rep. is a combo of both call points.

A medical device sales representative does not make a sale until they gain approval from a clinical decision maker, gain a purchase order from the facility they represent (hospital, surgery center, clinic, physician office) and it’s shipped. A pharma rep. gets a sale after “detailing” a product to a doctor, hoping the doctor will prescribe their product to the patient and then ultimately get a sale as recorded by a pharmacy or hospital pharmacy within their territory.  

Both types of jobs, medical device and pharmaceutical sales, are about selling a product, but the point of purchase inherently makes the two jobs completely different.

Medical Device sales is usually seen as a much more aggressive sale and Pharmaceutical sales is a more passive type of selling via educating or detailing products for gaining prescriptions. So first decide which one you are better suited for.

So how does a nurse jump into EITHER medical sales role right from their nursing job? Well, let me be up front, it is a very difficult maneuver, but it can be done with willpower and refusing rejection. In fact, those are the two skills you will need in either sales position!  

I interviewed candidates for one of my medical device sales positions this past week and a few had been nurses in their past and have been very successful as sales people. I posed your question to them as well. Collectively, with their knowledge and my experience, there seems to be three methods and, as they said, a bit of luck added in as well!

Get to know your medical sales reps.

Do make sure you meet and greet the sales people as they enter your hospital — introduce yourself and be friendly to them. This may seem self-serving, but they are there doing the same thing, meeting and being friendly to potential customers within your hospital to sell their products and/or service.  

  1. Ask them for their business card and let them know your desire to be doing what they are doing for a living.  
  2. Ask them how they broke into the business.  
  3. Find out if they have Associate Sales Roles at their company or if their company hires nurses as sales people.  
  4. Ask if you could connect to them on LinkedIn as you begin your quest to attaining a medical sales job.
  5. After you have an established business relationship, ask if you could be introduced to their manager when he/she travels with him or her in your hospital next time.
  6. Make sure YOU DO NOT violate your employer’s guidelines during this process. Let’s not lose the job you have or stir up trouble for the sales representative too!

Keep using job boards and LinkedIn.

We say in recruiting candidates for job openings, “It only take one candidate to fill a job.” This is said because often our clients want five to seven candidates to interview for a position, but we know only one person get’s the job. So on the other side of the coin, “It only takes one job for you to get a break into medical sales,” so keep applying to jobs and looking for job postings that may be a fit.

  1. Keep using job boards and keep looking for pharma or medical sales jobs that may allow a nurse the opportunity for an entry level sales position. Look for Associate Sales Positions too.
  2. Utilize and to set up job alerts sent directly to you with “Associate Sales Position” AND “Medical Sales” as keywords.
  3. Be active on LinkedIn and use a professional profile picture that makes you look like a medical sales representative (dressed in business attire, not your scrubs).
  4. Reach out to District Managers and Medical Sales people employed by companies you are interested.

Apply to “Business to Business” entry level jobs.

Jennifer, you graduated two years ago with your BSN, you are a very early career person and you still have a window to apply to entry level B2B sales positions (I usually suggest this for business graduates who have graduated from college within the past six to seven years).

You can make more money as a BSN in a hospital than in an entry level sales job, but these positions have excellent sales training programs. If you stay with one company for two to three years with top sales, combined with your BSN and hospital experience, medical device and pharmaceutical sales companies will hop on your resume immediately when you apply to their job openings!

It is important you select the right B2B sales company like ADP and PAYCHEX payroll services or Cintas uniform sales. I have written an earlier, yet still valid, article on this topic: How To Break Into Medical Device Sales. You may jump into this sales position (baptism by fire) and either love it or hate it, but you will know if you truly want to get into medical sales. As a nurse, you can always go back to your hospital job in a second!

Ultimately, a job candidate must take on the burden of finding their next job opportunity and in addition, make sure they are using an approach that is strategic given their current qualifications against those required of a position. In the situation of a nurse attempting to cross directly over into a medical sales position, I would suggest doing all three strategies mentioned above simultaneously to increase the probability of a successful outcome.  

Please stay in touch and let me know if you were able to break the barrier of entering into the medical sales world. I will keep my readers informed of your career journey. Safe travels!

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