To answer the question what degree do you need for a career in medical device sales, there is a short-answer and a long-answer to this question – and I’ll give you both right here.
Let’s cut to the chase with the short answer first.
The short answer to the question is – your undergraduate degree doesn’t ultimately matter.
Your undergraduate degree is not going to be the primary difference maker for you to get into the industry. There are more important things than the degree which will determine if you get your foot in the door or not.
This short answer to the question I just gave is likely most applicable for those of you who have already graduated or are at the point where changing your degree to a more preferable one for medical sales is not feasible.
If you are one of those people, it’s important to know that there are PREFERRED undergraduate degrees, but there are no degrees that are REQUIRED for medical sales reps.
Medical sales is not like other career paths where if you want to be a nurse, you have to go to nursing school. If you want to be an engineer, you have to get an engineering degree.
Medical device sales reps come from all different backgrounds with many different undergraduate degrees – business, science, psychology, nursing, education, etc.
If you have heard otherwise or you’re skeptical about my answer, you can check this out yourself. Simply go to LinkedIn and search for people with the job title “medical sales rep” (or some version of that).
Most people you search for will have their educational background filled out on their LinkedIn profile, and many of them have the degree they graduated with.
If you click on any random medical sales rep profile, simply scroll down to the education section and see if they have their major listed. And as you do that, you’ll see that there is a wide variety of backgrounds and degrees from the people in the industry.
As a quick example, a guy recently reached out to me recently who is a medical sales rep and has been in the industry for about 10 years. I looked at his LinkedIn profile and saw he got a bachelors of science in Ecology/Zoology.
Now, I’m sure you would look at that degree and assume that is not the ideal undergraduate degree for a medical device sales rep – and you would be correct!
Yet, he was able to get into the industry and has had a strong career thus far.
The point to be made is that the short answer to the question of which degree do you need for medical device sales is simply, there is no single degree required.
People from many different degrees and backgrounds are in this industry, regardless of which degrees are “preferred” for medical sales reps.
And I would encourage you to confirm it for yourself by doing that quick LinkedIn search for Medical Sales Reps. That way you will see that there are a variety of undergraduate degrees within the industry which can give you confidence as you are trying to get your foot in the door.
With that said, there certainly are degrees that are “preferred” for medical sales reps and I’ll expand on that now.
This longer answer to the question should be most helpful for those of you who are either:
- Going into college and will have to decide which degree path to take
- You are early in college and can still decide which degree you aim to get
I’m going to take a little bit longer to answer this question because I want to give some context and clarity as to why I think a specific degree path is best. And also provide first-hand experience to back it up.
When we look at the job of a medical sales rep, it breaks down into roughly two distinct halves of the job:
- The sales side of the business
- The clinical side of the business
Knowing that there are two halves of the business and each carry a certain level of importance, your best-case scenario is to get a degree that is focused on the sales side of the business AND the clinical side of the business.
This is easier said than done because a degree focused on the sales side of the business would likely be something related to business, sales, marketing, etc. (I know there are some schools that offer a sales specific degree, but I believe those are quite limited)
And a degree focused on the clinical side of the business would likely be a science degree focused around biology, anatomy, physiology, etc.
It’s going to be quite difficult (impossible) to get both an undergraduate business degree and an undergraduate science degree while still enjoying your college experience.
So, we have to make a decision on which degree would be a better option – sales focused degree or a clinical focused degree.
This is where I want to shed some light on how the industry works from the inside to be able to justify which degree I think would be best.
Many people I talk with have the assumption that medical sales reps have to be very strong clinically because they are responsible for selling products that are specifically related to patient care. And, in many cases, are being used to treat patients directly.
While it’s true that medical sales reps are selling products that are directly or indirectly related to patient care, medical sales reps are not clinicians. Nor do most of them want to be – myself included.
At the end of the day, the physician customers are the ones responsible for making decisions regarding their patients. They are the ones who went to school for 10-15 years to be in the position of authority on clinical decisions for patients.
Conversely, medical sales reps are sales reps.
And the companies hiring these medical sales reps want to know that the reps they are hiring understand their role within the healthcare system.
Frankly, if it were necessary to hire true clinicians for these roles, many (probably most) medical sales reps would not be in the position they are in. They are either not that interested in patient care directly, wouldn’t have the clinical acumen to do it, or simply just want to be in sales.
I also find that many people struggle with, or are surprised by, the idea that there is a clear problem with a medical sales rep trying to convince a clinician to use their product.
Instead of putting the patient first and doing what is best for the patient, the medical sales rep is simply trying to push their product to be used. Which is best for the sales rep, not the patient.
It’s easy to see a potential problem with this scenario, but I don’t want you to lose sight of the decision maker in this system.
The clinician is the one deciding which product is best for their patients. The clinician decides which sales rep they want to work with to treat their patients.
Ultimately, we don’t need two clinicians deciding what to do for these patients (the physician and the sales rep). That’s why patients are welcome to get a second opinion from another physician.
No sales reps that I know of are acting as the second opinion for patients.
And there are also plenty of governing bodies responsible for keeping ineffective products off the market and giving the green light to the effective products. It’s not as though the sales reps are selling products that haven’t already been approved by these governing bodies as being cleared for clinical use.
I don’t want to beat this to death but I also want to provide a little more context about how the industry actually works so you can make the best decision with your degree choice.
I think it’s fair to assume that if medical device companies are looking at two candidates where one of them has a business degree and the other one has a science degree, assuming all else is equal, the one with the business degree is probably more focused on business results and the one with the science degree is probably more focused on patient care.
Now, this doesn’t always hold true but no “rule of thumb” does hold true in every situation. It’s simply a short-handed way of trying to understand the motivation of the individuals and what made them decide to pursue their two different degrees.
We can use my situation as an example. I graduated with a bachelors of science in the school of kinesiology.
When I originally decided to pursue this degree, I was planning to go into Physical Therapy. And the majority of my fellow classmates getting the same degree were also planning on a patient care position as either a Physical Therapist, Physician, Physician Assitant, etc.
Obviously, I was able to get into medical sales with a science degree, so let’s not forget that the degree is not the primary deciding factor on your medical sales career.
But it’s also useful to point out that many of my fellow classmates did pursue patient care as a PT, MD, DO, PA, etc.
And I’m sure most of them never even considered a career as a salesperson.
Therefore, I believe the best degree you can get if you want to become a medical device sales rep is a business degree that is focused in sales or marketing (or something similar to that).
But the clinical side is also important, so I would recommend you use your elective courses to take individual classes like biology, anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, etc.
Using your elective courses to take specific classes focused on the clinical side of the business will be a great way to have a base level of knowledge and allow you to get up to speed more quickly once you’re hired as a medical sales rep.
And here’s the thing with the clinical side of the business.
First, the clinical aptitude required to sell medical devices varies widely based on the specific product you are selling.
For example, the clinical aptitude required to sell surgical implant products is much higher than is required to sell hospital beds.
If you are selling surgical implants, you’ll obviously need to know the product itself. But you’ll also need to know the anatomy and the procedures quite well to have a legitimate conversation with a surgeon about why your product would be a better option than what they are currently using.
However, if you’re selling hospital beds (I haven’t done this so I’m making an assumption), I’m sure knowing human anatomy and surgical procedures is completely irrelevant in your ability to get a customer to buy your beds.
You’re going to get that customers’ business because of your sales ability, relationships, quality of the product, contracts you have in place, etc. – none of which is focused around the clinical side of the business.
Lastly, when medical sales reps are first hired, it’s not as though they are expected to be servicing and selling their products day one.
Each company has their own on-boarding process and training programs to bring new sales reps up to speed before they throw them in the field alone. Companies don’t want new medical sales reps that don’t know their product to be managing their business, supporting their customers, or being put in a position to answer questions from customers that they clearly haven’t learned yet.
All companies are required to train their new salespeople on the products and services they are providing. And what I have seen is that most of the training early on is focused on the clinical side of the business – product related training primarily.
The companies will teach new hire reps enough of the clinical side of the business to be able to support the products they are selling – because they have to.
So, if you’re graduating with a business degree and aren’t as strong clinically, the companies hiring you will teach you enough of what you need to know on the clinical side to be able to fully support your products.
You can become an expert on the clinical side of the business along the way, but let’s not forget that your role as a sales rep is not to be a clinician. Your first role is to support the product you’re selling by knowing it well and answering the questions your customers will have.
As a brief thought experiment, let’s assume you are the one doing the hiring for a medical sales rep position. Your primary goal is to grow the business of the company you are working for and you have to decide if you would prefer to take somebody who is stronger on the sales side of the business or stronger on the clinical side of the business.
I’ll give you the answer – you are looking for great salespeople.
This is why I believe the best degree you can get if you want to become a medical sales rep is a business degree with a focus in sales or marketing (or similar). Then take your elective classes focused on the clinical side of the business.
What medical device companies are ultimately looking for are great salespeople