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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.