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Switching from pharma to medical devices sales
21 Oct 2019 | Words by the Star People Recruitment Team

If you’re thinking about making a move from pharmaceutical sales to medical devices sales it’s important to understand the differences between the two, and also your main objectives around what you would like to achieve from the change. 

On the face of it, from an external perspective, selling to the NHS is the same regardless of what your product is, whether that be within devices or pharmaceuticals. However, on closer inspection there are major differences between selling a drug to selling a device.

Key pharma and medical devices differences

Unlike the pharma industry, which is heavily regulated, the devices sector is not governed by the ABPI but by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK.  

With devices, territories are usually much larger due to the nature of what you’re selling, in that customers may be more spread out, and you’ll find that you have more visibility and autonomy; most often you’ll be the only person on patch selling your products, and therefore very accountable for the sales that you generate.

As a pharma rep you sell a physical drug, but it is more of a ‘clinical sell’ compared to the devices sector, which is more ‘hands-on’. Reps who understand and have an interest in the science behind what they’re promoting in order to confidently pass on this knowledge are likely to do well in pharma. Medical devices reps need to know the technical aspects behind the device in order to educate the customer on how to use it, and why it would be good for them.

Day-to-day devices

There will be longer time spent on customer calls when working in devices, as there are more technical aspects to discuss with regards to the product: with pharma, you would be discussing the clinical aspects of the drug.  

It’s important that you have expert knowledge on a particular piece of equipment if you want to consider a change to medical devices, and you need to be able to answer complex questions in a high-pressured setting, such as in a theatre during a surgical procedure.

Due to the nature of the job and the customers you will be selling to in devices flexibility is key, which means that you need to be prepared to work ‘out of hours’ or be “on call”, as the workload is dictated by emergency operations where surgeons may need your expertise on a product.   

It helps if you aren’t squeamish, as you may be asked to ‘scrub up’ and go into theatres when promoting your product; you could spend hours observing operations, which is definitely not for the faint-hearted. 


The difference in sales is quite significant. Working in medical devices you would be generating purchase orders instead of getting commitment from a GP writing a script within pharma. This means there would be visible units being sold, giving you a clearer idea of what you have sold each week. In pharma, you would be waiting an estimated time of three months on average to see any data. 

We regularly hear from candidates asking for guidance on how to make the transition from pharma to devices, and our advice is to really research the field you want to go into. Try and pick an area that is close to what you currently do; for example, if you are currently selling a respiratory drug for COPD, opt for a respiratory device if you can, so that you have an understanding of the customer base and some existing relationships to make the transition easier.

Get to understand what the differences are that you will face when moving from pharma to devices and think through ways that you can make these differences seem less of a challenge. 

Do your research, shadow a devices rep, show that you are serious about making the move, and that you understand it will be quite different. At the end of the day, your determination will be the driving factor if you do decide that this move is right for you.

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