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Five Ways to Make Medical Affairs a Strategic Partner by Abdul Rastagar, Veeva

As treatment complexity continues to grow, healthcare providers (HCPs) increasingly rely on medical affairs as a source of expertise and information. At the same time, HCP communication preferences are changing, increasing the demand to deliver a deeper level of scientific information across multiple digital channels. With the spotlight on medical affairs, here are five ways life sciences companies are empowering medical science liaisons (MSLs) to meet changing HCP expectations.

Expand Skillsets with Training 
Providing additional training, such as developing communication skills or better understanding patient experiences, ensures field medical teams are up-to-date and can confidently engage in scientific discussions. Internal certifications are used to confirm MSL field readiness. The move toward organizational credentialing also helps field medical gain more credibility with commercial colleagues, and develop deeper organizational understanding of medical’s core responsibilities.

Leverage Technology to Enable the “Real-time MSL”
More than half of physicians today are digital natives and modern technology can help meet their demands for instant answers. Life sciences companies are increasingly adopting digital technology to extend their reach into new channels, such as online meetings, virtual events, and web-based training. They complement this with a robust, granular, and centralized library of approved medical content. Many organizations are also moving beyond PowerPoint and enhancing engagement with dynamic content to drive knowledge retention.

Improve Collaboration Between Sales and Medical While Remaining Compliant
Coordinating activities around the HCP is a challenge for many organizations. Since medical affairs and commercial teams often engage the same stakeholder without communicating with each other, it leads to an uncoordinated and frustrating HCP experience. Prioritizing collaboration between teams, with the goal of developing a deep and accurate understanding of the medical expert, will help drive engagement success. Organizations that invest in cloud technology can compliantly align medical and commercial teams to deliver coordinated and tailored customer interactions.

Capture Data Insights
In today’s digital landscape, MSLs have the unique opportunity to monitor their impact in novel ways. Strategic insight, from disease state to outcomes to future advances, can inform where an individual or group of similar HCPs are on a scientific journey. Developing an accurate understanding of the HCP progression will inform new strategies to deepen relationships. Increasingly, the industry is moving to outcomes-based KPIs that aim to capture this engagement mindset shift. Relevant metrics can include measures related to investigator-initiated trials (IITs) submissions, KOL feedback on scientific evidence, and terminology gathered prior to a product launch.

Improve Engagement Planning
Successful engagement is driven by linking HCP needs to therapeutic area goals. Organizations can enable MSLs to present scientific information in a way that provides real value for HCPs, helping them improve outcomes and achieve professional goals. Successful MSLs build HCP preferences into their engagement planning and leverage technology to attain a better view of HCP goals, engagement preferences, and needs. Leading with fully personalized plans driven by scientific goals helps field medical engage with a full range of critical stakeholders across their preferred channel.

To hear what’s next for medical affairs, check out this white paper featuring perspectives from industry leaders like Alkermes, AstraZeneca, and Sanofi.


Dr. Stephany Silldorff Explains How can the Maternal Wall Affect a Woman in the MSL Profession?

Dr. Stephany Silldorff Explains How can the Maternal Wall Affect a Woman in the MSL Profession?

In your opinion, how can the maternal wall affect a woman in the MSL profession?

Women in the MSL profession are advanced educated professionals seen as scientific experts in the field of pharmaceuticals. The profession can be challenging at times with busy schedules, travel, meetings and multiple responsibilities. These challenges may make the idea of becoming a working mother seem overwhelming. The transition to motherhood can be one of the greatest joys in one’s life. With that joy may come additional feelings of uncertainty and concerns when returning to work or re-entering the workforce. Maternal stereotyping may trigger assumptions that women are less proficient, less valuable to the organization and not as committed to their role. The image of a mother with caregiving responsibilities may conflict with the image of an “ideal worker”. Gender stereotypes often portray men as strong, ambitious leaders while women are seen as warm and nurturing. When women act in ways that don’t match those biases they are often less accepted. The more we understand this bias and maternal wall, the better we can address and overcome it.


What are 2 ways to overcome the gender bias that exists towards women in the MSL arena?

Overcoming gender bias is multifaceted with deep historical roots. First, it is important to voice your commitment to your role and your career and to work closely with your manager to discuss short and long-term career goals. We also may need to adjust the way we communicate to reflect this commitment. Second, look to your mentors and senior female leaders within the company that have families, they can use their authority to encourage and demonstrate work-life balance. It is also important to see what resources your workplace offers. Many offer pro-parenting groups to foster a sense of community, provide information and support working parents.     


Why is this topic important to you and what changes do you hope to see in the future for women in the MSL profession?

This topic is important to me as a woman and as a working mom. I grew up with a hard-working, single mother who worked while pursuing her degree. She was the first person in my family to attend college. She inspired me to follow my dreams and not to let my gender or anything hold me back. I hope to educate other women about  their important value to an organization whether they are a mother or not and to encourage them to be advocates for themselves and the MSL profession. “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

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.


Donna Holder Explains Why it is Important to Become the Complete Package

Donna Holder Explains Why it is Important to Become the Complete Package

Why is developing a personal story important to an individual’s MSL Career?

Developing a personal story is a powerful tool on both a personal and professional level. A well-crafted personal story grounds an individual in what’s important, and can serve as a source of reflection and inspiration.  A personal story also helps an MSL align their career path with their values and goals.

In your opinion, what are 3 ways an individual can demonstrate the complete package ?

An individual can demonstrate the complete package through self-awareness, self-confidence and authenticity. Individuals who understand how their actions and behaviors affect are respected and trusted. Additionally, having self-confidence exudes leadership and an executive presence. Finally, an individual who displays authenticity is real and genuine.

How can becoming the complete package affect women in the MSL career?

Becoming the complete package is a continual process that takes practice and feedback. Through this process women should learn and grow from their experiences to become their best selves.

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.


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.

Dr. Lisa Farnett Speaks on How Women Can be Influential in the MSL Role

Dr. Lisa Farnett Speaks on How Women Can be Influential in the MSL Role

How do women communicate differently than men and what challenges does this create?

Women are culturally conditioned to communicate differently than men, and this can create challenges of perceived competence in the business setting. However, if women simply copy the communication style of men, the communication can be misperceived as harsh or aggressive. In the business environment, women can learn to communicate in a way that conveys leadership presence without undermining the perception of competence.

What are the most common pitfalls that you have seen women experience in the MSL profession? How can female MSLs overcome them?

As an MSL manager, I have seen women undermine their communication in choice of words and vocal presence. Female also MSLs seem to have significant difficulty in communicating accomplishments. Through techniques used in the workshop, female MSLs will learn how to communicate effectively with KOLs as well as internally with managers and senior executives.

How can women influence the different stakeholders they work with?

Influence and understanding are the goals of many written and verbal communication opportunities. Female MSLs can recognize obstacles to effective communication such as qualifiers like “just” and “I think” and others, controlling vocal presence, and small changes in body language that will make a large impression.

How does improved communication skills lead to better performance and productivity?

Effective and impactful communication is essential to KOL engagement and MSL performance indicators.

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. Judi Vensak Gives Advice to MSLs and MSL Managers Who Want to Advance in Leadership

Dr. Judi Vensak Gives Advice to MSLs and MSL Managers Who Want to Advance in Leadership

Please describe your career and journey into MSL Leadership.

Looking back, I can say with certainty that my journey to the MSL role and MSL leadership was not one by design! A long tenure in clinical medicine at an academic center put me in the company of many brilliant clinicians, challenging patients, and cutting edge researchers each day. A drug development partnership and the chance to do something completely different in life led me to my first MSL position 13 years ago.

How have your diverse experiences contributed to your success?

For me, career success is defined by really loving and finding purpose in my work after all, it is an area of life where we devote a majority of waking hours! Fortunately I was insightful enough to seek and seize opportunities to learn, contribute, lead, and network. It seemed like there was a wise and willing mentor at every pivotal point along the way. Every patient, position, colleague, and especially my successes and failures (alike) paved the path and equipped me with skills and experiences I use and draw on every single day.

How do you create and manage a positive culture in a fast growing MSL team?

Creating a positive culture begins at the interview and with every decision to offer an MSL the opportunity to join our team. We believe members must not only be intellectually competent and skilled to do the work but that they’re self leaders and demonstrate the ability to contribute to a positive and productive teamwork environment. My Leaders and I are keenly aware that we must model actions that we expect from our teams and members. Our leadership styles may be different but our basic philosophy to support activities and reward behaviors that develop individuals, build trust and cohesion, and promote collaboration (a core company value!) is aligned.

What advice can you give to MSLs and MSL managers who are looking to advance and leadership?

  • Be clear in your definition of success;life’s way too short to spend time pursuing any position or a position in a company that’s not in alignment with your true self and values.
  • Practice self leadership principles whether you hold positional power at work (yet!) or not.
  • Create a written plan of specific short and long term career goals and identify resources, people, and opportunities you’ll seek for the knowledge and experience needed to achieve them.
  • Create a separate but similar written plan for leadership skills development.
  • Network and find trusting others (colleague, manager, or mentor) to help you implement both plans and access opportunities for advancement.

I look forward to seeing you at the Women’s Summit where we can discuss your path to leadership!

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.