Contrary to the opinion of irascible doctors up and down the country, medical sales reps have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of both healthcare and the NHS. Experienced reps enhance this knowledge during their many years interaction with the medical profession but it is often kick started by study for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry exam. The ABPi insist that all pharmaceutical sales representatives pass an examination within two years of starting work in the industry, the Association’s stated aims in making reps take this exam are,
(a) To ensure the overall quality of representation in the industry
(b) To set a standard of attainment in those disciplines considered to be essential for the basic training of all representatives
(c) To enhance the relationship of the industry with medical, pharmaceutical and other health care practitioners, the Department of Health and the public, as appropriate, and to support the industry position as to the important informational and advisory role of the representative.
It is this last aim that is most important as far as the young rep is concerned. Much of sales success is down to confidence and it is vital that reps can talk knowledgeably to medical professionals, not only about the products they are selling but also about wider healthcare, industry and NHS issues. The Medical Sales rep is in the front line of interaction between the drug companies and the prescribers, and with increasing pressure on doctors from the government and from patients, the consultative aspect to the role is growing in importance. A successful rep will be trusted and respected by the medical professionals with whom they deal and this respect will often be translated into prescribing.
So the exam is an essential constituent of the reps role in the first two years, but graduates or career changers looking to get into a reps role are not prohibited from taking the exam. Although no companies make passing the exam a pre-requisite of consideration for a rep post, as they do shadowing, it demonstrates a considerable amount of conviction on the part of the applicant. In addition, applicants who favour working for a certain company above others can tailor their choice of specialist areas in the afternoon exam to reflect their desired company’s areas of excellence. We can see then that the exam is a necessity, but is it a genuine test of knowledge or a perfunctory exercise in regurgitation? In the most recent tests in November 2000 the pass rate for the morning exam was 94% and for the afternoon exams it was 75%, this gave an overall pass rate of 70.5%, slightly less that the average suggested by the ABPI of 80%. When you take into account the fact that many of those failing will have been in a Medical Sales Rep role for a number of months and had either in-house or external trainers it becomes clear that the exams are by no means a token gesture by the ABPI. They require genuine effort and application on the part of the candidate.
So, if you can accept the fact that all those proud post college/university boasts about ‘never taking another exam’ are going to have to go out of the window, how do you go about passing and getting the ABPi Certificate? In the rest of this article and the links that follow, PharmiWeb takes you through what is involved in the exam and how best to prepare, pointing out the people who can help, the disease areas you need to know, and, of course, how to register.
The syllabus for the exam is approximately 180 pages long. The topics covered can be seen by clicking here, along with links to useful websites that offer additional information. Copies of the syllabus are also available directly from ABPI publications at 12 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY (ref. 443/98/6700V) at a cost of £80.
The examination consists of two papers, one in the morning and the second in the afternoon. The morning paper is mandatory and all candidates must sit it. In the afternoon session there are four papers, the first of which is mandatory and is sat by all candidates. The following three papers are in specialist areas and can be chosen by you personally or are chosen by the company entering you for the exam. The three papers are chosen from the following subjects,
1. Neurological Disorders
2. Mental Disorders
3. Diseases of the Circulatory system
4. Diseases of the Respiratory system
5. Rheumatic disease and other disease of the musculoskeletal system
6. Diseases of the digestive system including disorders of nutrition and metabolism
7. Diseases of the urinary system
8. Diseases of the endocrine glands
9. Diseases of the reproductive system and sexually transmitted diseases
10. Diseases of the skin
11. Diseases of the eye and ear, nose and throat
12. Infectious diseases
The entry fee for the exam is £205.62 for both parts (including VAT) or £117.50 for either the morning or afternoon session. However, you cannot sit only one session unless you have
previously sat it and failed.
The exam is held twice annually (in May and November) at regional centres in London, Leeds, Manchester, Coventry and Glasgow. Registration for the exam is performed via the registrar at the following address:
Ian Irving or Kay Suckling
ABPI Examinations Registrar
Unit for Health Service Development
Tel: 0207 930 3477
Transend Training Services provide distance learning facilities to augment the training you receive from your company, or to independently prepare you for the ABPi exam. The course consists of 12 weekly modules that together explain the entire expanded syllabus in detail with weekly test papers on each section. The independent working innate in distance learning is backed up by comprehensive individual feedback and support on each test paper. Help in any areas of concern for candidates registered on the course, by post, telephone or e-mail is also available. Regional revision workshops and a mock examination are on offer to candidates to complete their preparations.
The course itself uses established memory techniques, acronyms and mnemonics, along with plenty of revision hints and tips and a useful guide to the specifics of question wording. Unlike many other training organisations the Transend course sticks rigidly to the question format used by the ABPI so that all candidates understand perfectly how questions will be asked and, more importantly, how best to answer them.
Courses for the November 2001 exam begin in mid-July.
Distance learning package
– 12 weekly modules covering each section of the syllabus together with a weekly test paper which will be marked and detailed feedback given - £150
– based on the exact format of the actual exam but half the length. Detailed feedback provided - £65
– regional one-day workshops, including mock exam and tailored revision topics. 2-4 weeks prior to exam. From £75 per candidate
020 8558 0926