Today’s spotlight features an occupational therapist who transitioned into the world of pharma sales. She works as a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative at Kowa Pharmaceuticals.
What is your full name and title at your current job?
Tonya Dubin, OTR/L
Pharmaceutical Sales Representative at Kowa Pharmaceuticals
Where are you located?
I am located in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Where did you go to OT school, and what year did you graduate?
Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida
Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, 2012
UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas)
Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology, 2004
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
My first position as an OT was a travel assignment in a SNF (skilled nursing facility) for 3 months. I worked with adults/geriatrics.
What did you do after that, and for how long?
After the travel assignment ended, I stayed mostly per diem for about 7 years and worked at multiple SNFs, LTACs (Long-Term Acute Care), outpatient facilities, and acute rehab facilities.
The majority of my time working as an OT has been in the cardiopulmonary/neuro acute rehab inpatient setting, working with all sorts of people including stroke patients.
Hoping to transition into a sales or marketing role, I worked as a Care Transitions Coordinator for a home health company assisting with patients discharging from the hospital to home.
What did you enjoy about your early roles?
In the acute setting, I really enjoyed being able to make a direct impact with patients by increasing their quality of life.
I felt like I was doing detective work sometimes as I would try to identify any potential issues or risks that should be addressed to help with a patient’s recovery.
Working with a team of skilled professionals in a multi-disciplinary environment was really great too.
What didn’t you enjoy?
I did not enjoy the limited time for documentation.
When and why did you realize you wanted to go non-clinical ?
When I saw that I was not making much progress with paying down my student loan—and I realized I was still working per diem without benefits, while simultaneously anticipating the eventual need for a less physically demanding job—I realized that I wanted to do something non-clinical.
What are you doing these days?
I am working as a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative with cardiovascular products. I call on cardiologists and primary care physicians.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I’m 100% non-clinical at this time.
How long have you been in your current role?
About a year and a half.
How did you find your job?
I asked a local primary care doctor if I could copy the business cards of all the reps that call on him, and then I just texted them all blindly!
I shared in my text a little about my background and experience, and that I was looking to get back into pharmaceutical sales. About 20% of them returned my text.
One of the reps who wrote me back ended up texting me again a couple months later saying that there would be a position with her company opening soon and encouraged me to apply.
Soon after I applied, I had a couple interviews by phone and in person, then received an offer quickly.
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?
Since I had worked as a pharmaceutical representative prior to becoming an OT, I had that sales experience.
However, I think my transition from OT to Care Transitions Coordinator assisted the hiring manager with showing how serious I was about getting back into a non-clinical OT role.
What was the interview like for Pharmaceutical Sales Representative role?
During my phone interview, I walked through my resume and described my reasoning for each position I had been in since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree.
There was emphasis on why I wanted to get back into a non-clinical role.
During my in-person interview, I was asked questions that could demonstrate how I think and what kind of approach I have with accounts.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
I had received a CMR (Certified Medical Representative) certification prior to my OT career.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
People have been supportive of my transition. I have even had a few people ask me for advice for themselves.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you?
Every day is a little different. I connect with my accounts either virtually or in-person. I perform presentations and in-services, and then I follow up with accounts on their use of the products.
What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
I support accounts by doing all of the following:
- Assisting with questions
- Providing sample shipments
- Meeting with customers
- Pursuing continued education
- Performing business analyses
What are some of the challenges of your role?
Some of the challenges of my role include time management within the accounts and tailoring presentations to each account per their specific needs.
What are the rewards?
I get to educate medical professionals about cardiovascular medicine with an OT approach. This includes incorporating empathy for patients and providing reminders on the importance of lifestyle modifications for health and wellness.
I feel like I am able to still utilize my OT background while educating about my product to hopefully increase quality of life.
Having worked in cardiopulmonary/neuro rehab with stroke patients, it is really neat to be able to have pro-active conversations about preventing cardiovascular events from even happening instead of treating them as an OT after they have already happened.
I think the accounts that I have respect my opinion since I am a clinician and have an OT background with plenty of clinical experience.
How do you think working as an OT prepared you for this role?
Working as an OT prepared me for this role by giving me a greater understanding and empathy for what healthcare professionals go through when trying to implement a plan of care with patients.
Additionally, I can now speak to my personal experience of how devastating a cardiovascular event can be for a person and their family, emphasizing the importance of health and wellness.
Which skills transferred?
These skills are some of those that I have transferred from OT:
- Interpersonal skills
- Oral communication
- Active listening
- Customer service
- Critical thinking
- Creative thinking
- Organizational skills
- Research skills
- Advanced computer skills
- Time management
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
The pay varies with position, but it is comparable to OT. However, in pharmaceutical sales, typically every year there is a pay increase. Overall, it tends to be more lucrative financially.
Hours are usually more of a Monday-Friday daytime timeframe. In patient care, there is usually work available every day, including weekends, and also starting earlier in the day.
I have found in clinical OT jobs that the pay is somewhat limited and more dependent on hours worked.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
Someone who is positive, flexible, adaptable, resilient, proactive, focused, determined, and consistent would do well in this role.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
I work both remotely and on-site at account offices.
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
I am sure any pharmaceutical company would consider PT, OT or SLP professionals who have acquired the skills needed and have at least some sales background.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
I have read and recommend these books:
- “Insight into a Career in Pharmaceutical Sales” by Anne Clayton
- “The Tipping Point-How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell
- “The Challenger Sale-Taking Control of the Customer Conversation” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson
CMR Institute Certification www.cmrinstitute.org
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
A typical career path for someone in my role is moving into a specialty/trainer/management role.
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
I am open to what opportunities might come my way. I am happy to be able to utilize my skill set and education with a Health and Wellness focus.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours?
I recommend acquiring some kind of sales/marketing experience and networking with pharmaceutical/medical device representatives.
Stay in touch with them and check in with them every couple months or so, as job opportunities are usually first known by the representatives.
Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
- Consistency is key
- Sometimes you have to take 1 step backward to go 2 steps forward
- “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou
- “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
The instability of the pharmaceutical sales industry means we sometimes deal with layoffs; it’s an understood thing with these positions. Keeping yourself marketable, socially connected, and educated is always a good idea.
If you could give yourself one piece of career advice you wish you had during OT school, what would it be?
Stay flexible and open to working in multiple settings.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
Obtain work experience and travel internationally whenever possible. This will provide a greater understanding of the world, increased empathy for others, and more ability to relate to your colleagues and customers—all while giving you a competitive edge in the workforce.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Those looking to get into this industry should look into obtaining a bachelor’s degree and getting some kind of sales experience behind them.
No idea how to get sales experience? No clue where to start? Not even sure you want to do sales?
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