Working in a medical clinic, I’ve seen a lot of pharmaceutical sales representative or commonly called drug reps. On a ‘normal day’ (meaning nice weather on Mondays or Tuesdays), we could easily see 12 drug reps in one day. Meaning 8 am to 5 pm with an exception of noon to 1 pm lunch break. Since our policy only allows one rep at a time to go back and talk to the docs, seeing reps sitting in the waiting room in their cute outfit, between sick people in their pajamas, is quite ironic.

Other than the nice suit, drug reps also known for being nice and friendly. Too friendly, sometimes. You can always tell which one is genuinely nice and which one’s not. There’s a lady rep which I’m going to call Ms Fufu, for confidential purpose. Little Miss Fufu was probably a Miss-something in her younger years, won some pageants or hailed as the State Fair Queen or similar to that; judging from the way she carries herself. Body always straight, walk elegantly, and smile just enough not to show the whole teeth. She likes to dress to impress, appears like she comes out fron an Ann Taylor catalog. Miss Fufu also likes to carry a little basket filled with goodies, be it a pen, a note pad, or chocolates. When she’s done talking to the docs, she’d stop by at the front desk to do her “Hey… how are you? Oooh I like your sweater” routine. She then would hand the little basket and whispered, “Take a pick, don’t be shy…” I just want to roll on the floor laughing out loud. It’s not like she’s handing us gold coins or something, but the way she said it makes the whole situation so awkward.

And there’s Mr Man. If he wasn’t a model, he should consider to be one. He’s only nice and would smile for the nurses and/or doctors. He would smirk to us receptionists only when he needs something, like a doctor’s state license number or to schedule a lunch. Mister Cool is all chatty when he’s back there talking to the docs or nurses, but all quite and short with the front desk. I personally don’t mind it at all, less BS is better. I do find it interesting how drug reps should appear as nice and friendly, and how most of them are good looking.

PLoS Medicine, a peer-reviewed open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science, did a study on how drug reps make friends and influence doctors and it was published on April 2007. A former drug reps for Eli Lilly who is now with School of Pharmacy, University of California, testified that reps may be genuinely friendly, but they are not genuine friends. Drug reps are selected for their presentability and outgoing natures, and are trained to be observant, personable, and helpful. This amazes me. I mean, I would think the real personality of the rep is actually the one they show to us the receptionist. Be it the meany, boring, bitchy, or the lame one. When they go back to talk to the doctor, then they put this ‘genuinely friendly’, outgoing, etc.

Drug reps are like profiler. The journal above mentioned that reps are supposed to be observant. A couple of years ago, our doctor who heads the department allowed a 10-minute talk with a rep once a week, in his little office. Reps liked that very much, instead of trying to catch doctors in the hallway in between patients. But due to the increasing number of patients need to be seen, the doctor decided to no longer doing the 10-minute meeting with the reps. As the journal continues “…  They are also trained to assess physicians’ personalities, practice styles, and preferences, and to relay this information back to the company. Personal information may be more important than prescribing preferences. Reps ask for and remember details about a physician’s family life, professional interests, and recreational pursuits.”  Hm… no wonder they knew every little thing about our doctors. They’d follow up with questions like “How was your golf trip to Colorado?”, or “Did the knee surgery for your son go well?”, etc.

Sounds like a butt kisser? You bet! Do they deserve to be hated? Wait a second. There is always somebody who has to do the notorious job like telemarketer, debt collector, or drug reps. If it pays their bill, so what? Just because their job is annoying to us, doesn’t mean we have to bash them. Which brings me to Mr Naive. He and his wife work as drug reps and although I don’t know them personally, I can tell that they’re genuinely nice people. One day, I had a bad day after dealing with a nasty and demanding patient. When Mister Naive came in and greeted us, I didn’t answer. When he tried to make a small talk, I didn’t budge. I was still steaming. Ten minutes later, he walked out from the back and as he was signing himself out, I told him I was sorry for being short. He said it was all fine. I explained to him briefly what happened and he laughed. “Come with the territory, right? Don’t worry, you’re not mean at all. I’ve seen mean and I’ve experienced degradation,” he said. He also mentioned that most of the clinics he visit in his teritory really look down on drug reps. How he was treated poorly by the front desk, nurses and doctors. “I was just doing my job and really didn’t mean to offend anybody.”

We are all entitled to pick a side. Some doctors and department managers disagree with the whole pharmaceutical business. One of our doctors who retired a couple of month ago was one of them. He’s still nice to the reps and talk a little (he’d also use the reps’ drug samples from time to time) but he refused to give them his signature. He refused to go to drug reps lunches and would throw away any brochures, studies, or phamplets from the reps. There are so many reasons to dislike the business, but that doesn’t mean one should kill the messenger.