Nurses leaving to go into pharmaceutical industry, says MedZilla expert

Marysville, WA - Frank Heasley, PhD, President and CEO of, says that he has never seen so many nurses posting for pharmaceutical sales positions. According to Dr. Heasley, there have been days during the last three or four months when half the nurses coming to the site were looking for jobs as pharmaceutical sales representatives.

MedZilla, founded in 1994, is a leading Internet recruitment and professional community that targets jobseekers and HR professionals in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and science. Each month about 24,000 nurses visit to post resumes and conduct job searches. Overall, Dr. Heasley says that more than one-quarter of the nurses who come to the site monthly are seeking pharmaceutical sales positions.

Today's growing clinical trial activity, especially driven by human genome discoveries, is opening pharmaceutical jobs for clinical research associates (CRAs), according to Jonathan W. Ward, chief strategy and marketing officer, Cross Country, Inc., of Boca Raton, Fla. Cross Country's business unit ClinForce services the pharmaceutical space. Ward says that 50% of CRAs are former nurses--nurses who have decided to get the additional training and have made a career change.

Pharmaceutical companies also hire nurses to staff inbound telephone centers and respond to consumer and clinician questions about new drugs, according to Ward.

A trend?

It's hard to tell if it is trend that nurses are leaving the profession to go into the pharmaceutical industry, says Cindy Price, senior public relations specialist with the American Nurses Association (ANA), Washington, D.C. While Price doesn't know of statistics that point directly to where nurses are going when they leave the profession, recent surveys indicate that nurses are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the profession-especially in the acute care setting. "We know that there is a looming shortage of nurses and spot shortages around the country and that working conditions are sited as being the primary reasons for nurses leaving the profession. Issues like mandatory overtime are driving them to other jobs in fields where they don't necessarily have to work a double shift or 20-hour day," Price says.

There might be some clues that nurses are not only going into sales, but also becoming educated as pharmacists. Richard Penna, Pharm D, executive vice president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, says that he can't verify that there is a trend, however, he says, "I can tell you that the average age of the classes that enter into pharmacy school is increasing, which means that students entering pharmacy school who have either worked before in other fields or have degrees. About 30 percent of our entering class has degrees in other fields. Some could be in nursing."

A number of factors are making pharmacist careers more attractive, according to Penna. Because there is a shortage of pharmacists, salaries are going up. And pharmacists today can work in areas where direct patient care is a part of the job, such as acute care hospitals, long-term care, hospice and home care. "It would certainly be logical that a nurse who has direct patient care background would look to pharmacy as a second career," Penna says.

According to Penna, the number of people interested in pharmacy as a career increased 9 percent in 2001. It had been going down in previous years.

Nationwide stats predict trouble within the nursing profession

Nursing satisfaction surveys indicate more nurses will want to change careers. The ANA's Staffing Survey, February 6, 2001, showed that 75 percent of nurses surveyed feel the quality of nursing care at the facility in which they work has declined over the past two years, while 56 percent of nurses surveyed believe that the time they have available for patient care has decreased. In addition, more than 40 percent of nurses surveyed said they would not feel comfortable having a family member or someone close to them be cared for in the facility in which they work. And over 54 percent of nurse respondents would not recommend their profession to their children or their friends.

Also according to the ANA: More than 40 percent of hospital nurses reported being dissatisfied with their jobs, according to a study of nurses in five countries by Dr. Linda Aiken and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

Finally, one out of every five working nurses is considering leaving the patient care field for reasons other than retirement within the next five years, according to The Nurse Shortage: Perspectives from Current Direct Care Nurses and Former Direct Care Nurses, an April 2001 study commissioned by the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Voices from the field

In February 2002, MedZilla queried nurses about whether they are considering going into pharmaceutical sales or research and many responded that they were, citing the lack of respect they get as nurses from doctors, patients and other nurses. They also said the field lacks growth potential for those who don't go on for advanced degrees.

John Pitts, RN, BSN, wants to make the change to a pharmaceutical sales career. "There is a good reason why we are in a nursing shortage. I could literally talk for hours are the problems nurses face," Pitts says. "In the five years I have been a nurse, conditions have only gotten worse."

Echoing the problems in nursing, Chris Cavanaugh, RN, Orlando, Fla., a practicing nurse in home care and infusion, has been trying for six months to secure a job as a nurse educator with a pharmaceutical company. These nurses, she says, educate clients about the products they buy from pharmaceutical companies.

"I like the independence. People respect you for what you are-that you're a registered nurse. You're really very autonomous to make your own hours and schedule," she says. "Nursing seems to be a thankless profession. It blows my mind that as a registered nurse, I can make maybe $23 an hour to do my job, and you go into sales or even as a clinical education person, you're making $60,000 to $80,000 a year to start, plus bonuses. [Working in pharmaceuticals allows you to] use your skills and be treated as a professional instead of a workhorse," Cavanaugh says.

Sandi Bratton, RN, Charlotte, NC, has found the competition for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry to be fierce. She wants a job in pharmaceutical sales but so far has been told that she lacks sales experience. Still, she continues to pursue her desire for a new career. "Being a nurse working on the floor you have 10 to 12 patients and your license is really on the line. They expect too much for you and when something happens you're found liable. This [pharmaceutical sales] is a better opportunity," Bratton says.

Ward says that one way for nurses to enhance their chances for securing a job with a pharmaceutical company is to go with a company like ClinForce. The nurse he says "would have an advantage because if we put together a program that's designed to help nurses make the transition from being a nurse to a clinical research associate that's much easier than if nurses try to contact pharmaceutical companies on their own without any experience, etc. One of the benefits of working through us is that the pharmaceutical companies look to ClinForce as having an expertise in staffing people for such jobs. It would be different than hiring someone off the street."

Brian Nugent, RN, successfully made the change and has been in the pharmaceutical research field for three years. A nurse for 8 years, Nugent says that he was happy to leave the tension and almost adversarial relationship with patients. "I was looking for change and advancement. In nursing you can advance so far," he says. "[The job now] is more of a 9-to-5 job. The field is a growth field. You have a wonderful opportunity for advancement. You get a lot of respect from the people around you. In the future, I can become a manager of a department or director. I think nurses are ideal for these positions, especially those who have a baccalaureate degrees."

Finding the pulse of nurse candidates

"Our candidates represent the pulse of the job market," Dr. Heasley says. "We're hearing discontent from nurses and one logical place for them to go is in pharmaceutical sales and other areas in the industry. We believe this is a trend-especially given the attention that the pharmaceutical industry has drummed up in recent months to attract great candidates."

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