Farrell Street – Class of 1977
Pharmaceutical sales representative / Former biology teacher, wrestling coach,
East Burke High School

My career path took me from being a biology teacher and wrestling coach at East Burke High School to being a pharmaceutical sales representative for a large national company.

I didn't realize when I chose a biology major right out of high school that it would open so many doors for me. I'm sure that this is true of many different areas of study, not just science. My experience was that because I pursued an area of study that I enjoyed in college, I found a career path that I never would have imagined in high school. That is one of the values of pursuing higher education. But other people already seem to know exactly what they want to do at a younger age and are equally or more successful by pursuing that specific career from the start.

Part of what led me to a biology major was that I really enjoyed growing and culturing microorganisms in my tenth-grade biology class at East Burke. Eleanor Lindsay was my teacher, and I suppose she noticed my enthusiasm; she really encouraged me in my love of biology. She found roles for me in the science department, such as serving as lab assistant and doing independent study, that allowed me to work in the department and assist in the preparation of the specimens that the other students would be examining during class.

Another reason I became a science teacher was that one of my role models was my wrestling coach, Jerry Murray. It's possible that I would have emulated him and have become a chemistry teacher except that my physical science and math skills were not nearly as good as my propensity for life sciences. This is probably because I tend to be stronger in the verbal areas of learning than the mathematical areas. But even though I didn't follow precisely in his footsteps, I still very much enjoyed being in the same department with him as a student and then later as a teacher.

I've been doing some reading recently on how we learn. And one of the major ways that we learn is by emulating others that we like and/or admire. And this happens on both a conscious and a subconscious level. Knowing that now and looking back, I realize that many of my teachers had much more influence on me than I realized at the time.

For example, Wayne Fletcher taught me not only how to have courage and be ferocious when competing but also how to be extremely loyal to my friends. Rick Ogle taught me how to treat everyone the same way no matter what their station in life, to give them the same amount of attention, and to show interest in what they had to say. He seemed to embody a principle that if you like other people there's a good chance that they will like you back! Jerry Murray taught me how to face adversity with a sense of humor and also to work hard and not make excuses.

These are just a few of the many other people that I could name. But it's no accident that the people I looked up to the most were all teachers... so I became a teacher!

I attended Appalachian State University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Education. I taught biology at East Burke for eight years and also coached the wrestling team. Apparently, I was the first person to graduate from East Burke High School to come back and teach there. Despite the fact that most of the faculty knew so many of my quirks and foibles and shortcomings that I had exhibited as a student, they all treated me very well and welcomed me back to East Burke.

One of the joys of my time there was coaching the wrestling team. We won multiple conference championships and had two individual state champions during that time. Many of those individuals still occasionally reach out to me, and many of them have expressed gratitude for being a part of our program over the years; that thoughtfulness has really blessed me. One of my wrestlers went on to coach a high school team in South Carolina that has won many state team championships, and he has had a multitude of individual state champions there as well. It's so gratifying to see that tradition continue that started with coach Murray and passed on to me and I'm sure will pass on through many others of those that went through our program.

Likewise, over the years, I've had more than a few students who have approached me to tell me that they really enjoyed my biology class. Like a lot of disciplines, there are a lot of students who are just passing through. But there's a subset, maybe 10 or 20 percent, who seem to really enjoy the subject and have their eyes opened to science in a new way ...and it's always gratifying to teach and to get positive feedback from those students.

After a time, I came to realize that I needed to move on to another career path. To be candid, my family was growing, and we needed additional income. It had become very difficult to make ends meet. I remembered that Linda Hager, who was my supervising teacher when I did my student teaching at Freedom High School, had told me once that I might consider pharmaceutical sales because of my science background and communication skills. So I began to pursue that type of job.

So after about two years of educating myself and developing a resume and going to multiple interviews, eventually I was offered a job. But believe me, there was a lot more to it than that. Specifically, there were a whole lot of sincere and fervent prayers. It was definitely a long shot for me to make that transition because most of the people going into the pharmaceutical sales field were actually from marketing and business schools, not biology majors. As I prayed, I often said, "Lord, if you will open this door for me, I will always give you the credit... and I will always let people know that it was you and not me."

And I knew that it was a God thing that was happening when I went to interview for a job that was in Wilmington, N.C. The interviewer looked at me and said, "Do you know where Hick-ory is located? We just had a position to come open there.” Even though, she wasn't sure how to pronounce "Hickory,” I just smiled inside and said, "Thank you Lord!" ...

So I went off to sales training with considerable trepidation wondering if I could make it in the intensely competitive world of sales. I knew that if I didn't perform well that I could lose my job very quickly, I did the math and said, "Well, if I can last six or seven years, it would financially be worth it, and then maybe I can get another teaching job." 🙂 But at times even lasting that long seemed like a long shot. But in an amazing and gracious way God preserved me in that job with the same company for 29 years. I really had never dreamed that would happen. I was able to retire in 2019 to be able to more fully enjoy being with my family.

A pharmaceutical representative serves as a liaison between the pharmaceutical company and physicians and/or hospitals. The role of the representative is to present new medical information to physicians as it becomes available and to relay any questions or concerns that the physician might have back to the company. Also, representatives often provide samples of their medications to physicians. This practice allows patients to try a medication to see if they can tolerate it before they purchase it. That way they don't lose money if they find out they are not able to take a medication.

A pharmaceutical sales representative requires good communication skills, a good understanding of how scientific papers are written, and a knowledge of how to verbalize medical information. It is equal parts communication skills, ability to understand medical information, and people skills.

You have to be able to read people and understand if they are growing bored or if they are not following what you are saying or not getting value from the information that you're providing them. You learn to tailor how you present information to different people based on the way they like to receive it. For example, some people are very amiable and relaxed and like to be conversational, and other people want to have the facts quickly and to the point.

Any sales job also requires tenacity. You are going to be told "no" much more often than "yes," and sometimes you're going to get told “no” in a very direct and even harsh way. You have to learn not to internalize or personalize these kinds of setbacks and to recalibrate and try a different approach. This area is where I think my wrestling background helped so much. You learn in wrestling very quickly how to get back up after you've been knocked down!

But it also can be extremely rewarding when you have a great interaction with a physician and you know that you just provided them with information that is going to help them to treat patients more effectively and to have better health outcomes for that patient. And when that physician expresses gratitude to you, it means so much more to you after all you've been through to finally reach that point. And over time, you develop relationships with many people, both the staff and physicians in many offices and hospitals.

And some of those people become lifelong friends.

I am now enjoying retirement with my family in Burlington, and I'm very grateful to the community of people that is East Burke High School for helping to shape me and to guide me into two careers that have blessed me very much!

Go Wild Bunch!

Published February 2021

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