Preceptorships: Walking in their footsteps

September 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

One of the best methods to build relationships and gain valuable application knowledge is to take part in a preceptorship.

As a new member of the pharmaceutical sales industry, I believed that the best method to building relationships and gaining valuable application knowledge was to take part in a preceptorship. The two days that I spent observing and participating in physicians' offices, however, were more rewarding than I anticipated.

Sometimes we forget that our targeted physicians are normal people who like to teach others about what they do. The two physicians I approached regarding participation were not only the top users of my two core products; they were also two of the top three users in the product classes. Fortunately, both physicians were very receptive to the idea of having me observe them to gain real world experience.

Prior to embarking on my preceptorship, I developed some questions that I presented to each physician. My objective was to gain insight while spending time with them and the office personnel. A few of the questions focused on determining why the doctor liked a specific product class and what features the physician valued when choosing a specific product to treat his patients. I've observed that this information is invaluable when speaking to other doctors in my territory, as many physicians like to know if their peers are using a particular product and, if they are, what they think about it.

The office as classroom

Although each doctor's specialty area was different, their office structures were similar. I had been calling on both offices for a few months, so I was already familiar with the personnel and their job titles, but I couldn't explain how they contributed to the office environment. One of the benefits of participating in preceptorships is that I gained insight at all levels.

Because each office was very busy, both physicians stressed time management and organizational skills. While the doctor was reviewing the patients' charts, the nurses were helping the patients complete any necessary forms and gathering information regarding their health.

Also, as I observed one physician interact with his patient, I was delighted to see that the steps the doctor took with his patient were similar to the product sales detail process.

In this case, the doctor greeted the patient (opening statement) to determine the reason for the visit and build a relationship with the patient. Next, he questioned the patient (probe) to determine how she was feeling, and how she felt about her current medication. If the patient had some objections, such as cost, side effects or delivery of the medication, the physician would have addressed how the medication would improve the patient's quality of life (feature and benefit), and made changes, if necessary, to the medication previously being used (support and limit). Finally, the doctor set up objectives for the next visit, and then "closed."

During my preceptorship, I was able to observe and speak with the patients in the examination room, and their feedback on the medications and treatments was insightful and encouraging. I was very glad to hear testimonials from patients who were on my product and doing well. When patients said things such as, "I can breathe better for the first time," or "I know that anytime I take my medicine, my migraine goes away," it made me feel good about my company and the products it manufactures.

Of course, there were some patients who did not do well on my products. Having the opportunity to ask them why they did not think it worked, or why they believed the competitor's product worked better, was still very beneficial. As sales reps, we might like to say that our products are the best for everyone. However, by spending time in a doctor's office, I realized that my medication might not be the best choice in certain cases. This is where the physician's expertise and knowledge come into play.

Time well spent

During the course of the day,several pharmaceutical representatives approached the office to share information with the key physicians and staff regarding their products. I felt privileged to listen to their details, and noticed what they did extremely well or areas where they needed improvement. (See sidebar.) Prior to my preceptorships, I wondered if we actually made a difference in a doctor's prescribing habits. After completing the preceptorships, I know we do.

The time I spent with these two physicians and their staffs was a worthwhile investment. My knowledge about my core product areas was expanded greatly and I was able to get to know these physicians as people. I now look to these physicians as sources of information, and they provided me with additional skills to help me become the professional sales representative that I want to be. PR

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