How to Get Pharmaceutical Sales Certification

If you want to work in sales and marketing in pharmaceuticals, you may be interested in becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative. These sales professionals educate doctors and other healthcare professionals about the new developments in the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives connect healthcare providers with the pharmaceuticals that they need to provide the best care to patients. They also provide education to doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare-related professionals about the newest pharmaceutical products.

Professionals interested in pharmaceutical sales may wish to earn their pharmaceutical sales certification, which can open up more job opportunities. Details on how to earn this certification are below. But first it is important to understand more about what pharmaceutical sales representatives do.

What They Do

Pharmaceutical sales representatives must possess an excellent grasp of pharmacology, which is the science of drugs and how they affect the body. When a sales rep is marketing a new drug, he has to be able to clearly describe the chemistry, how it acts in the body, possible side effects and what the potential interactions are with other drugs.

Some pharmaceutical sales representatives may specialize in different classes of pharmaceuticals, such as psychiatric and cardiac drugs. Having a deeper level of expertise about these specific classes of drugs can make the pharmaceutical sales rep of greater value to physician specialists and make them more effective in promoting such products.

Most of these sales professionals work on a commission sales basis in a specific geographic territory. They often will attend sales and marketing events with healthcare professionals, follow up on new sales leads and find new drug customers for their company. Sales reps also may regularly attend drug industry conferences, speak at healthcare provider events and also do continuing education events for healthcare workers.

Some pharmaceutical sales representatives also may do research in the field for their company. They might need to monitor how doctors in their territory are prescribing drugs, or gauge the reaction to a new drug treatment.

How to Earn Your Certification in Pharmaceutical Sales

One of the most popular ways to enhance work opportunities in the pharmaceutical sales field is to earn the Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR) designation. This program will provide you with the skills and training to become a certified pharmaceutical sales rep, with training in the following areas:

  • Pharmacology
  • Medical terminology
  • Physiology
  • Pharmaceutical sales regulations

There are many online training programs available to earn the CNPR certification. Once you have successfully completed the program, you are eligible to sit for the CNPR national certification examination.

Benefits of CNPR Certification

Pharmaceutical sales can be a very rewarding and lucrative career. The drug industry is growing fast as more drugs are coming to market every day. Drug sales are rising by as much as 6% every few years due to the aging of the US population, as well as new breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals.

An effective and proven way to break into the pharmaceutical sales industry is to earn the CNPR certification. Here are some of the reasons why you may want to consider earning your certification:

  • It assures potential employers that the candidate has met drug product and industry requirements to be a successful and ethical pharmaceutical sales representative. The CNPR certification program can be taken through many colleges and universities, many of them online.
  • Certification shows that you have attained proper industry knowledge, clinical training and pharmaceutical education
  • Certification will help you to get noticed and to stand out from other sales rep applicants.

Objectives of the CNPR Certification

The goal of the CNPR sales training program and certification process is to enhance your skills and knowledge of physiology, clinical pharmacology, pharmaceutical sales guidelines, and medical terminology. All of this knowledge will enhance your knowledge and grasp of pharmaceutical sales, the regulatory process and much more.

The CNPR program was developed by the National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives (NAPSRx).

The goal of the CNPR training program and certification is to provide new pharmaceutical sales representatives with knowledge in:

  • Medical terminology
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Managed care
  • Pharmaceutical terminology
  • PI descriptions
  • Drug sampling rules and regulations
  • Effective sales skills
  • Therapeutic drug classes and categories

After you have completed the CNPR training program, you will have an understanding of the following learning objectives:

  • Understanding of key pharmaceutical terms, abbreviations and definitions that are needed to sell pharmaceuticals
  • Understanding the role of FDA in the drug and device industries, laws that FDA enforces, and regulatory compliance as it relates to drug promotion and labeling
  • Understanding Medicaid and Medicare laws and regulations and how they affect pharmaceutical sales
  • Understanding the R&D process of new pharmaceutical products. This includes stages and timelines in the drug development process, as well as clinical trials
  • Obtaining expert knowledge of reimbursement programs by the US government, drug discount memberships, managed care concepts, the major stakeholders in managed care, drug marketing legalities, and group purchasing groups.
  • Grasping how pharmaceutical sales territories are planned and learn how to organize doctor call plans and keeping records. Also, learning how to handle calls and strategies for the no-see offices.
  • Understanding how to do hospital sales calls and the sampling rules in place in hospitals.
  • Be generally prepared to sit for the CNPR examination.

CNPR Test Topics

After you have completed your online CNPR training program, you are eligible to sit for the CNPR exam so that you can earn your pharmaceutical sales certification. There are many topic areas covered in the exam and may include:

  • Clinical trial regulations
  • Drug discovery
  • Vaccines
  • Gene therapy
  • Stem cells
  • Generic drugs
  • P&T committees
  • Drug formularies
  • Therapeutic drug classes
  • Drug patents
  • Drug wholesaling
  • Drug transport mechanisms
  • Body toxicology
  • DTC advertising
  • Brand medicine
  • Competitive product commenting
  • Closing sales
  • Exhibit prep

After you have completed the CNPR training program, you can register to take the CNPR exam at the NAPSRx website. The exam consists of 160 questions and takes 120 minutes to complete.


Earning your pharmaceutical sales certification is a very important step to enjoying a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative. The competition for these jobs is very strong, and sales professionals who have earned their certification will have the best chances of landing one of these coveted jobs.


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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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