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Emotional Intelligence is topic that is constantly discussed in the MSL profession. Brian Bischel, Senior Director, US Field Medical Affairs with Notal Vision, shared his views on Emotional Intelligence with the MSL Society. Take a look at his interview below!

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is a term that first gained popularity in 2012 when Daniel Goleman published his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”. The phrase has many interpretations but is generally defined as the ability to be aware of how to handle interpersonal relationships with self-awareness and empathy. It measures how well an individual is able to regulate their own emotions and the consequent emotions of others.

 Why is it necessary for successful MSLs to have Emotional Intelligence?

It is not challenging to find very intelligent individuals for an MSL role. If someone has the discipline and intellect required to obtain a doctoral degree, they usually can master product information quickly, even if it is a new therapeutic area for them. The bigger challenge is finding MSLs who also have the proper levels of self-awareness so that they can read the personalities of those they are communicating with and adjust their levels of questioning or presenting appropriately.  

 What are some examples of questions you would ask an MSL candidate to assess their level of Emotional Intelligence?

A common question is “What is your proudest professional moment?” Someone with a heightened level of Emotional Intelligence will likely answer with a story about a team they were a part of that achieved a challenging goal by working together, as opposed to an example of individual accomplishment.

Another question to explore Emotional Intelligence levels is to ask the candidate to “Teach me something as if I’ve never heard of it before”. I like this question because often this is what MSLs are asked to do, and it gives me an impression of how they concisely explain potentially complex material. This question also gives me insight into their level of poise, as it is appropriate to pause and consider a response instead of just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. And finally, I can see if they use check-in questions (“Does this make sense”?) in the course of their explanation, which I consider important for MSL presentations.

My last comment is not really a question, but a situation in which I like to interview. I prefer to do my interviews over lunch, brought into a conference room at my company. There are many reasons for this. First of all, many of our interactions with KOLs are over the meal setting, and I like to see how they handle the balance of talking and listening while also eating. Secondly, it sends the message that they can relax a little with me and that in turn really allows me to get to quality answers I need to hear in order to decide if they have the Emotional Intelligence I desire.

As an MSL Manager, what would inspire you to hire a certain MSL?

I certainly prefer therapeutic area fluency whenever possible. However, some of the most successful MSLs I’ve hired are young, hungry individuals without this experience, but have demonstrated that they put the work into preparing for the interview to improve their therapeutic area knowledge. These are people I know I can further mentor to consistently get better. 

In addition, I need someone who can work as a team. I realize this is a little cliché, but it is vitally important. I require my teams to work together on a multitude of projects, so no individual is overwhelmed. MSLs who seek only to elevate their personal brand, and not the group as a whole, do not have a place in my organization.

What skills should be improved often throughout the MSL career?

It really is a never-ending process of learning. I tell my teams that the physicians we call on may know more about the body than we do, but we must be seen as peers in terms of disease state knowledge, and have more knowledge than them when it comes to product knowledge. To that end, we have to stay current on publications and presentations.

Other skills depend upon what the MSL wants out of their career, which is something I ask all of my MSLs soon after they start in their role. Do they want to remain an MSL? Do they want to manage an MSL team? Do they want another role within Medical Affairs or some other department within the organization? Their answers tell me what I need to offer them to help them succeed, whether it’s leadership skills training or experience on internal teams such as Regulatory Affairs, Health Economics, Medical Information, Medical Communication, or others. I’m very proud of MSLs I’ve hired who have gone on to tremendous success in these different areas, perhaps due in some part to the experiences and training I provided.


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