In China, pharma hires thousands of doctors to sell drugs

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Bloomberg News reports that pharmaceutical companies in China are poaching thousands of trained physicians, many of them recent grads, to become sales representatives in the massive push to take advantage of China’s exploding drug market. The companies can offer salaries that are two to three times those the physicians would earn otherwise, and Bloomberg’s sources estimate that as many as 14,000 more Chinese doctors will become marketers in the coming five years.

The hiring boom is hampering China’s three-year, $131 billion effort to stem a massive shortage of doctors in rural and peripheral areas and provide basic health insurance to at least 90 percent of the population. Paradoxically, it’s that same push, and the demand for drugs that it has created, that’s providing the incentive for big pharma’s Chinese campaigns. One pharmaceutical representative told Bloomberg that China is expected to overtake the United States as his company’s largest market within the decade, and companies have been budgeting accordingly.

Foreign drugmakers like Sanofi and their local affiliates will hire at least 35,000 sales staff by the end of 2014, Aon Hewitt China estimates, based on a survey of 24 companies. The same employers had 33,000 on staff at the end of 2010. About 30 to 40 percent of people recruited for sales jobs will have a medical degree, said Jarroad Zhang, a consulting director with Aon Hewitt in Shanghai.

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