Chinese docs trade up to jobs in pharma sales

What's a low-paid Chinese doctor to do? Become a pharma rep. As Bloomberg reports, physicians in China are abandoning medical practice for jobs in drug sales, finding that they can better their $300-a-month doctors' salary by marketing drugs, rather than prescribing them. The human resources firm Aon predicts that as many as 14,000 Chinese doctors will join foreign drugmakers over the next 5 years.

Such is one unintended consequence of Big Pharma's Chinese gold rush. As drugmakers have laid off thousands of reps in the U.S. and Europe, they have been hiring big-time in emerging markets, especially China. The competition for drug reps in China is intense, too; turnover rates are high as major drugmakers such as Sanofi, Eli Lilly, Merck, and Bayer recruit one another's salespeople.

Needless to say, doctors are highly in demand because of their specialized knowledge. "In most other countries, it's extremely rare to get fully trained doctors as medical representatives," Chris Lee, managing director of Bayer Healthcare China, told the news service.

Losing doctors to the drug business could exacerbate an existing shortage of physicians. China has only one doctor per every 7,000 people, and the government has been offering incentives such as free training to attract more people into primary care. Doctors willing to work in villages can win even more perks, such as relocation fees.

It's all part of China's effort to revamp its healthcare system, the very effort that has experts predicting big growth in the Chinese drug market for years to come. That growth, of course, has foreign drugmakers salivating--and jockeying for their share. As Bloomberg notes, Aon predicts that foreign pharma's Chinese offices will hire at least 35,000 sales staff by the end of 2014. That would more than double their sales force, which amounted to 33,000 at the end of 2010.

- read the Bloomberg story