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Category : General, Medical Rants, Pharma

Gimme an Rx! Cheerleaders Pep Up Drug Sales

As an ambitious college student, Cassie Napier had all the right moves – flips, tumbles, an ever-flashing America’s sweetheart smile – to prepare for her job after graduation. She became a drug saleswoman.

At game time, Onya cheers on the Washington Redskins. But she saves some of her energy for her job in pharmaceutical sales. Drug companies have found that former cheerleaders like Penny Otwell are good at persuading doctors.

Ms. Napier, 26, was a star cheerleader on the national-champion University of Kentucky squad, which has been a springboard for many careers in pharmaceutical sales. She now plies doctors’ offices selling the antacid Prevacid for TAP Pharmaceutical Products.

Ms. Napier says the skills she honed performing for thousands of fans helped land her job. “I would think, essentially, that cheerleaders make good sales people,” she said.

Anyone who has seen the parade of sales representatives through a doctor’s waiting room has probably noticed that they are frequently female and invariably good looking. Less recognized is the fact that a good many are recruited from the cheerleading ranks.

Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force. Some keep their pompoms active, like Onya, a sculptured former college cheerleader. On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infection.

The sad thing is that the companies probably know what they are doing. They want to influence our prescribing habits. I have previously reference Dr. Robert Cialdini’s work on Influence. This web site gives a nice summary – Influence

I recommend reading the entire page, but will quote the key portion

People prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. This simple rule helps to understand how Liking can create influence and how compliance professionals may emphasize certain factors and/or attributes to increase their overall attractiveness and subsequent effectiveness. Compliance practitioners may regularly use several factors.

Physical attractiveness–is one feature of a person that often may help to create some influence. Although it has long been suspected that physical beauty provides an advantage in social interaction, research indicates that this advantage may be greater than once supposed. Physical attractiveness seems to engender a “halo” effect that extends to favorable impressions of other traits such as talent, kindness, and intelligence. As a result, attractive people are more persuasive both in terms of getting what they request and in changing others’ attitudes.

As I said above – the drug companies are not stupid. We physicians have a responsibility to understand what the companies are doing. We have an ethical obligation to not use drug reps as a source of information. No matter how cute, perky and nice, they have one job. They are trying to persuade us to use their product.

We have a different job; we have an obligation to prescribe the most appropriate drug for the clinical condition. Information provided by the pharmaceutical industry is, one can always assume, the result of positive spin. To borrow from Bill O’Reilly, my practice is a no spin zone.

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Comments (5)

“To borrow from Bill O’Reilly, my practice is a no spin zone.”

This makes me chuckle.

Generally, our practice group (20 physicians spread out over 3 offices) gives about 5-10 minutes/week toward listening to reps (or 120 seconds/day. )

most doc’s make a token appearance for 2 minutes perhaps twice/week. I am sure some practices will have more time to chat with reps . We are so busy (primary care)that we have no time to waste, lunch breaks are about 5 minutes.

I wish we had the luxury of down time.

many in our group have no contact ever with reps.

I would guess that a major percentage of practices run the same way. I am sure many other practices in other specialities have more time to waste and can have more exposure to reps.

[…] If you didn’t see yesterday’s piece on Pharma hiring college cheerleaders to promote their products, look no further than DB’s Med Rants. The site updates us on the work of influence, something very important that we remember as physicians. Thanks DB! […]

Pharma hired me with a science degree and an MBA, but I didn’t get a mention in that article. Nerds don’t make for good copy.

It is interesting none the less that the pharmaceutical companies are going for the attractive personality types as opposed to the well versed clinical types. I realize the two aren’t mutually exclusive by rule, but be honest by practice we all know the two virtues if we can address them as such… rarely cross paths. To the pharma’s defense, maybe they see the role of these reps less as educational partners and more as motivating the practitioners to choose medication x over medication y when all other factors are basically nondescript. It is nonetheless amusing copy.

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