Back in my primary care days, which also coincided with my penny-pinching new gad period of life, I was wowed by the pharmaceutical industry. Drug reps provided the clinic where I worked with an endless array of snacks and daily lunches. I was invited to talks, which I frequently attended, at trendy restaurants. While these talks were certainly delivered with an agenda in mind, I quite enjoyed them – and not just for the free filet mignon.
Presentations given by speakers for pharmaceutical companies offered a chance to network with other providers as well as expand my clinical knowledge. Presenters were always engaging speakers, and full of information related to their fields of expertise. I have always wondered how nurse practitioners could get involved in these professional opportunities. Today, one of my very best friends and former NP program classmates, Jennie, filled me in.
Jennie has been working as an outpatient hematology/oncology nurse practitioner in Tennessee for more than seven years. One of Jennie’s more recent career endeavors involves speaking for pharmaceutical companies. Today (despite having a 3-week old infant at home!), she agreed to give me the inside scoop on her experience. Here’s what she had to say.
How did you get started speaking for pharmaceutical companies?
“I had always been interested in giving drug talks”, Jennie says. One day at work, Jennie overheard a pharmaceutical rep asking the physician she works with if he would be interested in speaking for the company. The physician politely declined on the grounds of other competing responsibilities. “I’ll do it!” Jennie piped up. So, the pharmaceutical rep gave Jennie the job.
What was the onboarding and training process like with the drug company?
First, to officially begin her speaking arrangement, Jennie signed an agreement with the drug company outlining her compensation and responsibilities. Negotiation regarding pay was expected.
Next, a process somewhat similar to credentialing at a hospital took place. The company reviewed Jennie’s licensure, certification, and other credentials required to practice as a nurse practitioner.
Lastly, Jennie was trained by the company about the medication she would speak to as well as compliance issues related to presenting the information. The pharmaceutical industry is strictly regulated. As representatives of the company, providers speaking for drug companies must keep in line with such regulations. Jennie, for example, must mention that the medication she presents may cause respiratory depression as a side effect. “Training typically occurs at a quarterly convention held by the company” Jennie explains. Conference dates did not fit with Jennie’s schedule, so she completed her training online.
How do the logistics of speaking for pharmaceutical companies work?
Once onbaorded and trained, the drug company Jennie works with places each speaker in a database. When drug reps around the country want to host a presentation, providers speaking to that medication receive an email inquiring about availability.”If you are available, you may sign up to give the talk. If not, you decline”, Jennie says.
Presentations may be local or require travel. For those requiring travel, the company plans everything. When Jennie travels to deliver a presentation, for example, a driver picks her up at the airport and drops her off at her hotel. The drug rep then picks her up from the hotel and takes her to the location of the presentation. Flights and lodging are coordinated and booked by the drug company making travel as seamless as possible.
What kinds of drugs do you represent?
Given that she is an oncology NP, Jennie treats many of her patients for chronic pain related to their disease. She speaks for a drug company offering a rapid release opioid medication for patients with significant tolerance to pain medications. “Sorry, no free samples”, she jokes.
How much preparation is required for each speaking engagement?
“Well, my first presentation was terrible”, Jennie admits. After her flop, Jennie spent 8 to 10 hours mastering the content for her talk. Now that she has her presentation down pat, she reviews for about an hour before each speaking engagement. “The presentation is the same each time, so once you have mastered the material it doesn’t take much time to prepare” she notes.
What is the speaking experience like? Do you always know the answers to the audience’s questions?
“You feel like a rock star!” Jennie exclaims when I ask her what it’s like to speak in front of a medical crowd (she’s much braver than I!). Jennie has been all over the country speaking in locations like Boston, Connecticut, and locally in Tennessee. “I don’t receive many questions I don’t know the answer to”, Jennie says. When she isn’t sure about the answer to a question, she defers to the drug rep or refers to her own practice as an NP.
Are there any compliance issues nurse practitioners need to be aware of when speaking for drug companies?
The biggest compliance issue NPs must be aware of is that providers must talk ‘on-label’ in their discussion about the drug. For example, “the medication I speak about is FDA approved to treat opioid tolerant pain” Jennie says. “If an audience member asks about using the medication to treat post-op pain, I can’t present the medication as a treatment for this problem, that would be off-label” she explains.
What is the biggest challenge about speaking for pharma?
“For me, the biggest challenge related to speaking is finding the time” Jennie laments. She loves the opportunity to travel, meet other providers, and expand her professional skill set. To do so, however, often requires taking a day off from her full-time clinic position.
Can you share any advice for other nurse practitioners who would like to get involved with speaking for pharmaceutical companies?
“It is about what you know, but also who you know”, Jennie says. “Get to know the drug reps who visit your practice and let them know you are interested in speaking” she advises. “You never know who will be looking, promote yourself”.
Thank you to Jennie for sharing her insights on speaking for the pharmaceutical industry!