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Dr. Jihad Rizkallah Explains the Importance of Building Trust and a Productive  Relationship Between Manager and MSLs

Dr. Jihad Rizkallah Explains the Importance of Building Trust and a Productive Relationship Between Manager and MSLs

  1. Why is it important to build trust and a productive relationship between a manager and MSLs?

Trust is very important and essential between manager and MSls because without trust, communication, teamwork and performance will suffer and nothing gets accomplished.

  1. How does this type of relationship determine the fate of an MSL team?

Without trust, you are set up for failure. Trust boosts engagement, motivation and candor. MSLs are more likely to follow through on goals and be more forthcoming about the challenges they face at their level.

  1. How has the concept effected your career in the MSL profession?

 Throughout my career as an MSL and manager, I strived to be trustworthy, to lead by example, to walk the talk and be transparent. Showing people how much you care about them and their career and giving them opportunities to develop and grow, and truly acting upon it, has helped me grow and progress in roles of increased leadership over the years.

Copyright 2013-2018 The Medical Science Liaison Society. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authorization. The MSL Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization dedicated to advancing the global MSL career.

3 Ways to Reimagine KOL Engagement

3 Ways to Reimagine KOL Engagement

By Jennifer Vernazza, Sanofi Genzyme

Ms. Vernazza contributed to this article in her personal capacity. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sanofi or Sanofi Genzyme.

With medical affairs’ shift to a critical strategic function, the role is seeing tremendous growth – medical science liaison opportunities alone are expected to grow by 20% this year[1]. However, this change also demands new skillsets and competencies. As the HCP-facing branch of medical, field teams are at the forefront. Today’s MSLs are essentially the CEOs of their territory, and a key local resource as the rare disease space continues to grow. 

As MSLs roles grow, companies can refine their approach to KOL engagement and MSL enablement and learn new ways to approach some relevant key areas – including the MSL role, digital strategy, and the building blocks of an effective field medical function.

Changing the MSL Role

MSL teams are expanding because they are increasingly relied upon as both the internal and external expert for the diseases they cover. Much of their time is spent working with and training internal sales, marketing and R&D teams on the medical education around these diseases. They can also be responsible for understanding the healthcare landscape, spending hours of prep time researching the publications, recent clinical trials, and scientific interests of key stakeholders. Beyond serving as an internal scientific resource, MSLs can be the voice of the HCP back to the company. This data generation is a unique resource that MSLs can deliver.

Cultivating Digital Savvy

More and more, digital and technology savvy is a core distinguishing factor of an effective MSL.  As new tools emerge, such as medical-specific multichannel CRM, eMSL, MSL on-demand, and virtual meetings and events, MSLs are expected to be proficient in these technologies. Moreover, leading MSLs are helping to shape innovative use cases and digital strategy. Reliance on paper-based processes is declining as MSLs start realizing the benefits of leveraging technology to break down silos and improve transparency.

Caption: To meet the expanding demands of KOL engagement, medical affairs departments are rethinking how they engage, their core technologies and processes, and the core competencies of their departments.

Medical affairs will also need to have a more structured approach in planning for KOL engagements, as HCP time is limited and valuable. So leveraging HCP information captured in CRM, along with other external data, is crucial to tailoring communication. For example, we are now leveraging stakeholder data to segment thought leaders in new and different way so that “rising stars” can be identified. This can lead to new relationships that possibly would have been missed entirely. 

Additionally, the process of delivering scientific statements will also change as MSLs use iPads and other mobile devices to augment and capture feedback during face-to-face interactions. And even as access challenges proliferate, one can see a counter-trend of HCPs reaching out directly to MSLs, enabled by emerging virtual meeting and MSL on-demand technologies. This requires a mindset shift, but as seen consistently in KOL surveys, timely responses are extremely valuable to HCPs who have to make quick decisions about patient care. Instead of waiting for an MSL to visit, HCPs will more proactively reach out to get information these days – and expect to receive the right answer, regardless of channel. 

Finally, the process of reporting back to the company with key field clinical insights and synthesizing these learning will continue to evolve. Integrating field medical-derived insights with data from clinical trials and real-world evidence promises to be very powerful, and will ultimately improve outcomes.

Developing a Strategic Mindset

In addition to a scientific knowledge foundation, the capabilities to look for in MSLs are soft skill focused, such strong business acumen and emotional intelligence, sound judgment, integrity, self-motivation, and learning agility. They must also possess an entrepreneurial spirit and leadership presence, and be able to tell a compelling story with scientific data. MSLs are essentially managing their own territory like a mini-business so need to be able to think creatively, while strictly adhering to compliance guidelines and internal policies.


Within life sciences, strategic development and commercialization cannot fail to account for the value and insight medical affairs delivers. In my next post, I’ll explore how one can design a change management plan, and progress toward a vision of a fully empowered medical affairs function.

To learn how medical teams can leverage scientific insights for better HCP engagement, check out this white paper.


[1] “8 Reasons MSL Opportunities will Grow in 2017,” MSL Society.

What to expect throughout your MSL career?

What to expect throughout your MSL career?

Have you ever wondered what one should expect throughout their MSL career or what steps to take to ensure you are prepared for this field? Well below is a brief interview with Cherie Hyder – Head of Medical Affairs at Alimera Sciences. She gives us a glimpse of the MSL career through her eyes.

How does MSL role change with the product lifecycle needs?

A product lifecycle may be defined by 3 main stages: 

Development through Pre-launch: 

MSLs are involved in many aspects including defining KOLs, disease state and therapeutic training, learning clinical data as it becomes available, potentially assisting with study design or additional assessments that will add value as the product prepares to launch, examining the competitive landscape and learning that data, patient perspectives, planning for launch, formulary presentations, and other things.  This is a hopeful and exciting time for a new product on the horizon and everyone waits with intense anticipation for the regulatory approval to allow the next stage to begin! 

Launch through Peri-launch:

The excitement mounts as a new product approval brings launch plans imminently!  MSLs will be laying out plans to support the launch meeting, educating the organization on disease and key data, how products should be used and approved label, plans for KOL engagement, and potentially hiring more MSLs to build out the team and assure adequate coverage. MSLs often assist with formulary presentations to increase access to a new product, educate KOLs / HCPs on the new product, label, and differentiation from competitors, answering many medical questions, attending medical conferences, and assisting with sales training, speaker training…..a flurry of activity!  Bring your running shoes! 

Post Launch / Mature Product through Patent expiry:

At this point, MSLs are a well-oiled machine with a ready answer to nearly any question about the product, label, and disease being treated; MSLs may be more active in further research with ISTs and sponsor trials, brand planning, competitor landscape monitoring and education internally, continued KOL development and partnership, looking for new ways to keep a mature product fresh and useful in clinicians’ armamentarium of treatments.  MSLs will need to be strategic and opportunistic to breathe new life into mature products and have something new to engage with their KOLs.  As patent expiry nears, MSLs may be transitioning to other products, teams or disease areas for the next chapter in a career. 

How does one prepare for a successful MSL interview?

Key Steps to Consider when Interviewing for an MSL position:

  • Read the job description carefully; MSL roles vary by company and product lifecycle stage
  • Consider tailoring your resume / CV to ideally match the job description with actual experience you have (don’t try to fake experience because you may or likely will be asked about it in interviews and lack of experience will show in the response; I have seen this happen when interviewing MSL candidates); get MSL / MSL leader in your network to review your resume / CV to offer advice
  • Listen carefully to the hiring manager/recruiter when they tell you how the interview process will happen, what you need to do to prepare and tips for success. 
  • Prepare fully for the interview in advance; read about the company, talk to colleagues at the company if you know them, try to do a field shadow day with MSL if you are new to the MSL profession and want to get a clear first-hand perspective of what MSLs do.  If you are asked to do a presentation during the interview, again listen carefully to what is asked of you; research your topic well, cite your references on each slide at bottom, bring a folder of key references with you in case someone asks about a particular reference you cite, understand the disease/condition, patient perspectives, treatment options and be prepared to answer questions.  If you don’t know an answer, have a professional way of responding and offer to look up the information with quick follow up to show you can handle this situation in a real MSL role. 
  • Before you go to the interview, look at MSL capabilities such as teamwork, leadership, decision making, strategic thinking, innovation, compliance (not a complete listing here) and develop a STAR format example or 2 for each of these capabilities where you explain a Situation or Task you faced as an MSL or in prior position, the Actions you took and Results you achieved. These are situational/behavioral based questions you are likely to encounter in an interview.  If you do this ahead of time, it’s easy to recall your examples and concisely reply to questions.   If asked a negative example, be sure to end on a positive note about what you learned or would do differently to achieve a positive result.  Also, know your personal strengths and weaknesses; have examples for both in case asked; for weakness, try to turn it into a strength such as being very detail oriented or wanting to be on time always. 
  • Make good eye contact, listen well, don’t talk over others, be well rested and professionally dressed, give a firm handshake and smile!  These are obvious things to do, but it’s surprising how often they are overlooked!
  • Enjoy your interview day and make the most of the time together as you are also interviewing the prospective company!  Come with a few questions you want to ask such as what MSL training and onboarding is offered, what development/mentorship is provided, ask about any special projects MSLs have been involved in, ask about current MSL goals and how many home office days vs field days per week are expected, how big is region, etc.  Don’t let the opportunity to ask a few questions pass by saying you have no questions.  Ask each interviewer for a business card. 
  • After the interview, send an email thanking the primary contacts you met with and stating your interest in joining the MSL team and citing something unique you learned in that particular discussion. 
  • Then wait….be patient….have faith that your strong skills will be needed and recognized by those who met with you and keep interviewing.  Don’t limit yourself to just 1 or 2 potential positions if you are sure the MSL role is where you want to be! 


Unique projects MSLs can get involved with to add value to their organization

The list can be quite long, but here are a few to consider:

If you love writing, ask to help write new SRLs (standard response letters), FAQs, abstracts, manuscripts, protocols, etc!

If you enjoy numbers, ask to participate in budget forecasting exercises, data analysis, managed markets/reimbursement projects to determine costs/value

MSLs also enjoy workgroups/task force committees internally where topics can range from competitor landscape to brand planning!

Updating slide decks and keeping slides fresh with new data is another great project! 

Actionable clinical insights from KOL meetings may evolve into new project opportunities


What would inspire you to hire someone as an MSL manager?

This person must have passion, high energy, and dedication to disease state, sense of purpose for why they want to be an MSL, skill sets that are transferable to MSL role such as clinical research, teaching, communication skills (written and verbal), and High EQ / Social skills. They also must be willing to go the extra mile to get a task completed, flexibility to adapt to changes, service-oriented, responsive to seek answers and info for follow up, detail oriented and organized,  and a self-driver! 


What have you done to achieve work-life balance in this profession?

Work will always be there. We have a duty to our organization to give all our effort each day.  Yet, it is critical to remember that the MSL role is a “marathon”, not a “race”.  Anyone can sprint for a while and then you need to settle into a pace for the long run.   Balance entails knowing you are human; you need reasonable rest, time to eat, be with family and friends and still fulfill your work duties.  Work takes up the majority of the time we are awake each day and we need to feel a sense of purpose with all we are doing, but, remember to disconnect outside of an emergency need to respond quickly.  Take time to enjoy the day.  Many MSLs are type A personalities, driven to succeed at all costs, but don’t let that trait cost you your health, family or friendships.  The MSL role offers unique flexibility with home office days where one can adjust family needs while getting work projects completed.  We are the ultimate multi-taskers!  For me, as an MSL with more than 15 years in the role, I learned to work smarter, not harder….meaning aim for the big wins….the high visibility, high impact activities that align with business needs rather than trying to run circles around yourself doing more and more, often repetitively doing little things that will never add up like the big ones!   Help your family understand the demands of a travel job; set up routine skype meetings with kids/spouse/friends and stay connected.  Find ways to make your travel time efficient by bundling KOL visits in a city or near each other.  Set goals for your next week in advance and allow extra time for the unexpected requests that always come!   Set up meetings with yourself to block calendar time to do reports and follow up work after KOL meetings.  Balance is ultimately about organizing yourself, aligning goals to maximize impact, orchestrating your field work and getting into a healthy rhythm.  Each person faces unique needs and situations regarding work-life balance.  Talk to fellow MSLs to get their advice and stop working too many long days, sacrificing valuable rest and relaxation time.  It’s okay to say NO or not now; if you delay fulfilling a non-urgent request, the may need to go away on its own!  


Copyright 2018 The Medical Science Liaison Society. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authorization. The MSL Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization dedicated to advancing the global MSL career.

MSL Hiring Manager discusses MSL networking, competitiveness, and KOL engagement

MSL Hiring Manager discusses MSL networking, competitiveness, and KOL engagement

The MSL Society recently interviewed Elizabeth Kupferer, Director of Medical Science at Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Elizabeth gives us a brief overview of competitiveness, helpful tips when engaging with a KOL, and the benefits of networking in the MSL profession. Take a look at her responses below!

A sense of competitiveness is integral to success overall, but what are some ways in which competitiveness can negatively impact a collaborative team effort?

 Competitiveness is common among a highly educated and ambitious team.  It is important to provide a sense of teamwork and have that competition be about the group, not the individual. The team should focus on being a productive and a well-appreciated MSL group.   Ways in which competitiveness within an MSL team is a negative is where the group actively competes against each other and avoiding sharing of best practices that essentially hinder the team as a whole.   

 How does networking benefit an MSL?

 Networking is essential to advancing your career as an MSL.  Networking opens you up to other’s best practices and additional insights that may go beyond your current company culture.  

What are 3 helpful tips when engaging with a KOL? 

 1) It is essential to preplan for KOL visits.  You should know and understand your KOL background, interests and current projects, publications, trial involvement, etc. MSLs should be prepared and respectful of the KOLs time and expertise. 

2) An MSL should ensure that the relationship is reciprocal and that you are also bringing value to the relationship. Knowing your KOL well will help you to do this. 

3) Don’t go into a meeting just to meet. Prepare a plan for engagement and always have an agenda to start with, then adapt as the meeting flows.


Copyright 2018 The Medical Science Liaison Society. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authorization. The MSL Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization dedicated to advancing the global MSL career.

Dr. Suzi Westfall & Dr. Yuni Cha-Cardinale Explain How to Define KOL Needs

How do you define “KOL” needs?

Defining KOL needs may seem initially and superficially that it may be simple. However, it is multifactorial and more involved than one would initially assume. A facet can be that KOL needs are aspects of their practicing medicine that require them to feel connected to a resource of free flowing, timely and accurate information that helps them gain a deeper understanding or clarification of the product, treatment paradigm is or therapeutic area being addressed, to the end that the HCP can stay on the forefront of medicine and remain well-informed.

How do you ensure strong KOL relationships?

As with any relationship, this needs to be continually developed and can many times be strung on a thin cobweb and be unpredictable. Thus some main qualities surrounding strong KOL relationships can be ensured by always acting as an ethical, comprehensive and timely resource. The MSL should never over or under state importance of data, impinge unnecessarily on a KOLs time or provide false or misleading information.

How do the needs of the KOL needs change according to the leader you are engaging with?

KOL needs, depending on how it is defined for that particular KOL , can be quite fluid. At times, the needs of the KOL can change depending on the institution or practice setting they are operating within (i.e., academic, private practice, or trial site) or the reason the MSL is providing resources to the KOL (i.e., speaker programs, clinical trials, independent research projects or patient counseling).

What skills are required for understanding your KOL?

Overall, the MSL must have a comprehensive understanding of the therapeutic area in which they are interacting to interpret and anticipate the needs of their KOL. In general, the MSL must listen to understand and be receptive to alternative viewpoints. In this regard, the MSL should try to avoid entering into KOL dialogue with a pre-defined agenda.

Copyright 2013-2018 The Medical Science Liaison Society. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authorization. The MSL Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization dedicated to advancing the global MSL career.


Dr. Jihad Rizkallah Shares Best Practices for MSLs to Develop Strong KOL Relationships

Dr. Jihad Rizkallah Shares Best Practices for MSLs to Develop Strong KOL Relationships

How as a busy MSL can you prioritize your responsibilities to ensure successful project execution?

It is very important to have a balance between your responsibilities as a field MSL and deadlines to execute projects assigned to you. We all are involved in many projects and pulled in different directions to provide input, share insights and be part of company work streams, but it is crucial to remember that our main priority is field time and KOL interactions. You need to leverage and align some of these projects with your responsibilities in the field as in many instances, it may involve your KOLs among other things. Also, you can work closely with your team members to coordinate priorities and to rely on them for execution while you are busy in the field. Sometimes it is ok to say ‘no’ to a project when you already have multiple priorities or getting input from others, including your manager, on how to best prioritize your workload and projects.

Please share some best practices for developing strong KOL relationships.

Leveraging your KOLs expertise, needs and wants with your organization’s needs in a genuine manner can lead to stronger relationships. KOLs strive for growth and development and be ahead of the curve in comparison to their peers. They also want to be respected, valued and engaged. One best practice I can share is utilizing a KOL by bringing him/her in, internally to present to your colleagues and educate them on a disease state. Giving the KOL an opportunity to meet with Medical Affairs leadership and your MSL colleagues to participate in a discussion and share their views/experiences ensures their perspectives are being heard and valued. Another best practice is to leverage your KOLs with opportunities and projects that they are very passionate about ( community education days, therapeutic updates at conventions, foundation involvement)

How should organizations utilize the resources that are generated from KOL relationships and interactions? 

KOLs insights on market trends, treatment guidelines, and real-world clinical experiences are important for organizations to guide current and future strategic plans. KOLs provide insights and understanding regarding treatment and support programs that are of most benefit to patients. Their insights also contribute at any point in the product life-cycle, from research and development to commercial and marketing programs and can guide the organization in understanding habits and motivations for clinical decision-making.

Copyright 2013-2018 The Medical Science Liaison Society. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authorization. The MSL Society is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization dedicated to advancing the global MSL career.