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Apples and Oranges

Apples and Oranges


It’s been my extreme good fortune to attend, learn and provide product support for the skilled surgeons and their patients who have allowed me the honor and privilege of working with them throughout my career as a medical device rep.   It is one of the saddest parts of killing my career, knowing that I will no longer be extended that privilege.

I always declared proudly, (ah yeah and at times too proudly), that I was a ‘medical* device rep,’ when asked what I did for a living.  Adding to that boast was, ‘startup medical device rep,’ if I really wanted to impress someone.  The next response went one of two ways:

‘Oh I know someone who does the same they’re in pharmaceuticals.’

followed by…

‘How do I get a job in that industry?’

It was like clockwork.

(Medical and Surgical device rep are the same, the industry vacillates between those two terms like ‘startup’ or ‘start-up’ or ‘health care’ and ‘healthcare,’ sadly for me all three apply to my career, so I’m going pick (and try) and to be consistent:  Startup (all one word) medical device rep in the healthcare (all one word) industry. (What can I say, I’m lazy and why say in two words what you can say in one?)

I understand the assumption that pharmaceutical sales and medical device sales are the same; however, there is a vast difference between the two and will be relevant to understand the distinction later in killing my career.  First it’s important to understand the importance of goals of a large pharmaceutical companies and how they differ from startup medical device.

Apples to Oranges 1

Apples to Oranges 2

Here is an example:

Johnson & Johnson to buy Acclarent for $785 million 



There is and will continue to be ample evidence of over selling and under delivering in the startup world (across industries).  Most companies are off on their projections as to when (or even if) they will recoup the purchase price.* Much more detail on this later.

The short version, just as there is a difference between a medical doctor (treats patients and prescribes drugs) and surgeon (treats patients, prescribes drugs, and operates) there is a difference between the reps who ‘call on them,’ or sell or try to sell to them.

Pharmaceutical reps ‘call on doctors,’ in their offices and medical device reps accompany the surgeon into the operating room on cases to support their products.

A medical device, is either an implant (a product designed to be left in a patient), device, or tool used by a surgeon during surgery.  More often than not, in an operating room, but more and more surgical procedures are being done in-office now.

Surgeons, are fewer in number, and have more specialized medical training than their family practice medical doctor counterparts.

Medical device reps, are fewer in number, and have more specialized training than their pharmaceutical counterparts.

And with anything, the more specialized one is in their field, the greater the compensation.

And among surgeons, those who attended prestigious medical schools fall into a further still elite group.*

And among surgical device reps, those who work for startups, fall into a further still elite group.*

*Many will debate this point, but it’s used to illustrate a hierarchy not to be elitist, it’s to give context.

As a medical device rep, you are in the operating room and present during the patient’s surgical procedure.

Surgeons are experts on the procedure and a medical device rep is expected  to be an expert on their product(s).

Tomorrow I’ll follow up on how to get into the industry, the right way (there are a lot of scams out there)!

  • Dont worry

    Sounds pretty elitist to me…so does the ancillary staff and physicians feel you are that more “specialized”, “elite”, the chosen “few”…? Just some friendly advice: a rep is a rep. You can put difft lipstick on said rep…still a rep. Differentiation for the attendee’s of the party you could care less – you just come off as pompous. So spare the details! I know a “high end” car specialist – he is still a car salesman.

    -‘just some advice from a sales “professional” who stumbled upon your site.

    October 28, 2014 at 4:27 pm
  • Dont worry

    You make good follow-up points. Salaries are difft from one to the other, altho shrinking in device due to fiscal constraints, Big Pharma purchasing device firms, etc. I was speaking from a customer/staffing standpoint: the perception of those individuals. I have some friends in device, who have done the pharma gig before – and they feel as though the nurses treat them the same (I have discussed your article). Anyways, you are right, there is some decent money to be made – esp with startups, which I do have experience in. And no – mine were not with a med device company and my posts, surely were not out of envy – I couldnt stomach what is seen in an operating room all day! But I have done just as well in another industry :). But as I always say: its not what you make…its what you save. We live on my spouses small salary, and save all of my compensation – so hopefully, we can retire bf 50. Good luck to you and your device site. Cheers~

    November 1, 2014 at 7:03 am

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