A life-saving preceptorship

Pharmaceutical Representative

Face to face with the realities of a physician's day.

I knew when I jumped from a career in the food service industry to pharmaceutical sales, I was staring at a learning curve that ventured straight up. My science background was limited to one semester in college, and it was hardly the preparation I needed to begin talking to doctors on a professional level.

After six weeks of intensive reading, I took the advice of my more seasoned partner and scheduled a preceptorship with one of Portland's most respected cardiologists in the hopes that he could bring my training to life by helping me put some faces with the statistics I had been studying. Little did I know that within two weeks the "face" would be my father's, and the preceptorship would end up saving his life.

First-hand knowledge

At 7:30 on a Monday morning, I met Dr. O. Willis Boicourt and headed straight to the lab. Dr. Boicourt had a packed schedule, including two angioplasties and an angiogram, both procedures about which I had read, but never seen in person. One of my primary drugs was indicated to reduce the need for angioplasty, so I wanted to know firsthand the experience of patients faced with this procedure.

Witnessing the first successful angioplasty of the day led to a flurry of questions, including a discussion about the symptoms of heart attack and, more importantly, the likelihood that a patient would recognize these signals and take the initiative to have them checked out by a doctor.

I spent the rest of the day peppering Dr. Boicourt with questions, and thanks to his infinite patience, we discussed a number of topics which helped my learning and presentation skills. He provided me with insight to the risks and challenges of drug-to-drug interaction faced by doctors in a world where patients take five and six different drugs to combat a wide variety of ailments. This made me very aware of presenting not only the benefits of my drug, but also of making sure the doctors are fully aware of the contraindications so they can prescribe safely.

I also saw firsthand the hectic, breakneck schedule of physicians. This has helped me build rapport with the doctors in my territory. By recognizing and respecting their time, I have made great efforts to make my presentations more succinct, straightforward and accurate. On the other hand, if I find a small window of opportunity to spend extra time with a doctor, I know how important it is to take full advantage of it because it may be months before the opportunity presents itself again.

But while this information was instrumental in my development as a sales rep, it was the words of Dr. Boicourt regarding his patients' ability to recognize symptoms which ultimately proved to be my most important lesson.

I went home the following Sunday to visit my parents and told them about the great experience I had during my preceptorship.

My father, who is 57, mentioned to me that during his daily walks with my mom, he would occasionally undergo a shortness of breath as well as occasional arm pain. Alarm bells went off in my head as I recalled the vision of angioplasty patients on the operating table. I suggested to my dad that this sounded more serious than he was admitting, but he insisted that it was nothing and planned to forge full-steam ahead with a long-scheduled two-month trip to Mexico.

Before the preceptorship, I would have most likely bit my lip and said nothing. However, I directed my dad (he would probably say coerced) to see a doctor before his trip. If everything checked out, I promised him I would leave him alone until he returned from vacation.

The following Friday my father laced up his walking shoes for a stint on the treadmill. An abnormal reading led to a Monday morning angiogram, and by the afternoon, the results were in: 80% blockage in the left main requiring a five-hour triple bypass procedure the following day.

As expected, the surgery was a traumatic experience for our entire family. The long hours in the waiting room, though, gave us a lot of time to think. What if my parents had gone to Mexico and he had suffered his first heart attack, which, according to doctors, was imminent? Thanks to the cardiology department at the Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, WA, however, the operation went smoothly and our worries passed.

Real-life outcome

I tend to think that of all the possible scenarios, the real-life outcome was by far the best we could have hoped for. What if I had not hunted down Dr. Boicourt and participated in a preceptorship? Without a doubt, there would have been no mention of my father's symptoms, a less-educated recognition of potential problems and certainly no sense of urgency to have a check-up performed.

Since then, I have undertaken two more preceptorships with key doctors to expand my knowledge of different areas in the field. Fortunately, I have not had to haul my family members into the hospital after completing the other two, but the information I have learned has been vital to building relationships with physicians and helping me determine how I can make both myself and my products useful to the doctors in my territory.

Sales reps may think they simply do not have time for preceptorships, but I would argue that, to be successful in this field, there is no better way to spend a few hours of your time. Professionally, they have been incredible learning experiences. Personally, they have been lifesavers. PR