Breaking into the MSL role is a challenging yet fulfilling journey. As such, an MSL’s unique place in the medical industry comes with a rich set of incomparable experiences and stories of personal growth. In this article, we look into the various insights of esteemed MSLs as they share with us their milestones, best practices, and challenges, and what career advice they would give for those in the MSL field.
1. What was your biggest challenge when trying to break into the MSL profession, and how did you overcome it?
Deepti Patel: My biggest challenge was building a network as physicians often do not invest in building a personalized brand and using networking platforms to connect. I initially focused my efforts on tailoring my LinkedIn profile to demonstrate that my skillset aligned with those necessary for the role. I joined Industry societies and groups, that organized or posted about courses and webinars, and through attending these I made meaningful connections with people in an authentic way.
Lille Tidwell, PhD: Establishing that my previous roles were directly related to a traditional MSL role. I had had job titles such as “Manager of Cell Science Education” or “Clinical Scientist” where I essentially did the same function as an MSL but some recruiters or companies wouldn’t see it that way initially.
Ruchit Parikh: Not having prior MSL/Industry experience. I interviewed for several MSL roles and received the same feedback, I did not have prior MSL/Industry experience for the position. So I asked hiring managers what I could do to obtain that experience and they advised me to start out by looking at Medical Information or Medical Communications roles within Biotech/Pharma. I was able to secure a Medical Communications Manager role where I created the materials that our field teams would use and this allowed me to interact with MSLs, understand the responsibilities, the tools they utilize, and how insights were reported back.
Daniel Kueh: Breaking the impostor syndrome. Developing confidence and natural intuition of the field and what the MSL profession is all about.
Rahul Bohra: Similar to how it is these days, the biggest challenge when I was trying to break in, was the lack of prior medical affairs (MA) experience. A big difference between then and now though was a dearth of guidance and resources specific to MA. There weren’t as many people working in medical affairs, and even fewer were open to providing guidance. Similarly, there were few open roles. The only, and valuable resource available to me, was Samuel’s book. Another major obstacle was the need for visa sponsorship. With these two blockers, I was not able to get much interest from the recruiters. My search from first knowing what medical affairs is and wanting to get in, to finally landing an offer, took almost two years. The major reason I was able to finally overcome the hurdles was my subject matter expertise matching the exact needs of the position that I had applied for. It took so long because the field of organ transplantation does not see much innovation compared to e.g. oncology.
Nabhan Islam: The biggest challenge for me was trying to secure callbacks from recruiters so I could even begin the interview process. I surmise this was because (1) I didn’t have any previous industry experience, and (2) my CV didn’t meet the expected industry standard. To address these issues, I joined the MSL Society, completed the live 3-day Communication & Presentation Skills Course for Aspiring MSLs, and attended the Annual Conference in Las Vegas, all in the same year. After completing these activities and reapplying with a much-revised CV, the number of callbacks increased dramatically and I was able to progress to the interview stage with multiple companies, eventually leading to my first MSL role.
Brian Berg: Understanding the terminology used in the field, and how to describe my skills/ experience in a way that would be familiar to and resonate with hiring managers. For me this was very important because I had experience working in industry as a pre-clinical scientist but never held the title of “Medical Science Liaison”. While I had developed many skills for KOL engagement through my work developing collaborative research projects, I didn’t have experience in medical affairs or formally being an MSL, but I knew this was a career path I wanted to pursue.
Kendra Pelz: My biggest challenge when trying to break into the MSL profession was getting a call back after applying. Since I have such a broad clinical background, I had to tailor my resume to meet the needs of the therapeutic area and highlight instances where I have been a conduit of information in that disease state. As a pharmacist, we have daily conversations with physicians, payers, and patients, so having a few stories that are transferable to the MSL role were invaluable to mention or include within my resume.
2. What resource in the MSL Society has been the most impactful in helping you break into the MSL Career and why?
Deepti Patel: I found the MSL guidelines resource helpful when I was researching what an MSL does, as it gave a great overview of the multi-faceted aspects of the role.
Lille Tidwell, PhD: The MSL Society Annual meeting. I had participated in a presentation skills workshop in 2015 where I met the MSLS leadership. I had access to the MSL salary survey as a member. I went to the annual meeting in 2019 where I met someone without any intention of outcome who was there just simply to attend the meeting. George was an experienced MSL in the allergy space. I didn’t have any experience in this field, but George was very willing to share with me his experience and the challenges faced in allergy. I sent him my resume, and within a month I received an invitation to interview and a job offer within 7 weeks of meeting George!
Ruchit Parikh: In addition to the book How to Break into Your First Role by Samuel Dyer, the webinars have been the most helpful.
Daniel Kueh: The workshop in Atlanta in 2016 on how to break into the role was immensely helpful. Listening and networking with MSLs and MSL directors helped address question #1
Rahul Bohra: Samuel’s book, the online portal, salary surveys, and Samuel himself have been part of the journey thus far in Medical Affairs. Even today as a US medical director, I myself have referred to the step-by-step points of the process in the book as the base, on which I build the case for my candidacy. For my first MSL role, Samuel served as one of the experts to better describe the match between my credentials and requirements of the MSL job to the Department of Labor! I was one of the pilot participants in becoming a board-certified MSL (MSL-BC) by MSLS. I have been fortunate to mentor many aspiring MSLs to and in their first roles, and I always recommend the comprehensive resource that is the online portal and the book.
Nabhan Islam: The most impactful resource for me was the live 3-day Communication & Presentation Skills Course for Aspiring MSLs. As we all know, no one graduates from university with a degree in Medical Affairs. Completing the course provided multiple benefits that directly affected my applications and progression through the hiring process: (1) having an official MSL credential on my CV that was noticed by recruiters & hiring managers, (2) being able to correctly and articulately answer FAQs during the various interview stages, (3) learning to create a concise PowerPoint presentation for the in-person interview and present the data as an MSL, and (4) receiving direct and continuous feedback from Samuel and my fellow MSL Society colleagues to improve my CV.
Brian Berg: For me, it was attending the annual MSLS conference. This allowed me to more deeply understand the key skills required to be a successful MSL and how those skills are communicated and demonstrated. I updated my CV and was actually able to get the first position I applied for after attending the conference.
Kendra Pelz: Thank you to Samuel and the Society for the endless resources made for aspiring MSLs. I think the most impactful and tangible tool that the MSLS has provided is Samuel’s book on how to break in. This was essential for my success in the aspiring stages. I used it as a training guide and blueprint to break in. I cannot recommend it enough to folks trying to land their first job or considering this career move.
3. What advice would you give to an aspiring MSL trying to break into the profession?
Deepti Patel: Don’t be disheartened by rejections as this is an absolutely normal part of the process. Sometimes it isn’t even about your capabilities. The manager may just have a very specific idea of the professional background/ experience that they want in an addition to their team. It is a tough role to break into, but perseverance and a genuine interest do pay off.
Lille Tidwell, PhD: Network, find a mentor, attend a workshop and the MSLS annual meeting!
Ruchit Parikh: Learn as much as you can about the role/ responsibilities either by connecting with MSLs on LinkedIn or meeting an MSL at an annual conference. Utilize the various resources provided by the MSL Society. Finally, don’t give up, learn from each interview from each person you speak with, and keep trying.
Daniel Kueh: Learn from those who are already in the field. Network and build relationships. Think long-term and don’t be so focused on getting their resumes out there.
Rahul Bohra: Have ambition, but be realistic and play to your strengths. For many, it does take time the first time around. Even if there is a minor inkling that there is something missing in your profile/personality, be it public speaking, interviewing or presentation skills, limitations in language/clarity of expression, etc. do not procrastinate. Start taking steps to address the shortcomings and audit yourself. While there are umpteen factors that decide which candidate gets the job, however, be accountable to yourself and analyze each missed opportunity to learn from it. Learn the karma principle, take ownership, but take care to be kind to yourself as well.
Nabhan Islam: I would recommend that you enroll in the MSL Society and (1) take advantage of all the offered resources (e.g., webinars), (2) complete either the live 3-day course or 12-hour eLearning course for Aspiring MSLs, and (3) attend the Annual Conference. This plan of action will provide a solid understanding of the MSL role, what to anticipate and how to prepare for each stage of the interview process, and opportunities to network and learn best practices from hiring managers and current MSLs. Recruiters and hiring managers will notice the difference in caliber between you and other candidates who haven’t made a similar effort, and that’s how you get your foot in the door.
Brian Berg: Spend time reading about the role and understanding the skills needed to succeed. Evaluate your own skills, and where there are gaps seek out professional or on-the-job opportunities to help you develop/ refine those skills (which the MSLS has many resources for). Think about what is the most appealing aspect of being an MSL that drives you to become one, then as genuinely as possible convey that during your interviews. Also network, network, network! Connect with folks on LinkedIn currently in a role that you are very passionate about, then try to get a brief 30 min discussion with them. Learn about what they like about their job, what frustrates them, what do they think are the most important skills for that specific MSL role?
Kendra Pelz: The best advice I can give is to be prepared, take advantage of the call backs, and talk to other MSLs before these calls. I am so very thankful for my mentors who spent hours helping me prepare for the interviews. Listen to their advice, tell YOUR story, and follow directions.
4. What is your most significant achievement over the past year as an MSL?
Deepti Patel: I have only recently started as an MSL so I have to say it is becoming an MSL in the first place!
Lille Tidwell, PhD: This January I received an “exceeds expectations” performance review. For several years I had challenges in my position with a difficult employer, and it was rather frustrating as a professional. I felt like I would never succeed, and I even felt like I was being demeaned many times by certain employees. I am now with a company that values my contributions and sees my potential. I am part of the most fabulous MSL team and an amazing supervisor. We are truly a high-performing functioning team, and I am shining!
Ruchit Parikh: Having the opportunity to lead an advisory board specifically geared towards board-certified oncology pharmacists.
Daniel Kueh: Training new and existing MSLs on the disease state and associated investigational trials
Rahul Bohra: The past two years were quite interesting, and despite being an associate medical director, it came to be that I was a one-man medical team due to attrition and reorg. The national+regional MA and country responsibilities to global medical affairs lay with me. Many marketed products in multiple diseases and many pipeline products/diseases, working with all cross-functional colleagues on strategy and execution in a very challenging market for rare blood disorders. It was a tremendous growth opportunity, but very rigorous in nature, because missteps would mean patient lives being lost not only now, but in the future as well.
I grew up in the villages of northern India, where I witnessed my father (surgeon) serving rural communities tirelessly. I saw the difference he made, and the gratitude of the patients and their families. This has been my north star, and I am so very fortunate to have worked with a cross-functional team and leadership dedicated to the patients, such that despite the many difficult challenges, together we could actually realize “patients first”. Without going into details, together we had a direct impact in saving many patient lives as well as their quality of lives, gained true partnerships and programs with experts and large institutions across the country, while working towards the long-term business goals, but always keeping the patients first.
Nabhan Islam: Over the last several months I’ve formulated the 2022 Medical Strategy Plan entirely from scratch in anticipation of approval & launch of our lead pipeline candidate in Canada, incorporating best practices from my previous MSL role and insights collected during 2021. This includes raising awareness and partnering with key stakeholders, conference attendance and sponsorship, Medical support for government & market access committees, creation and distribution of HCP educational materials, and procuring the Medical, Legal, & Regulatory approvals to support these activities. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very gratifying to create and implement a Medical Strategy Plan for an entire country that will result in our lead pipeline candidate being available to as many patients as possible.
Brian Berg:Leveraging several of my KOL relationships to bring several new clinical trial investigators on board, a couple of which will be their first time as clinical trial investigators. It’s very rewarding to develop those KOLs to the point they can be recognized as true experts in an emerging area of medicine.
Kendra Pelz: I would say my most significant achievement over the past year as a MSL is the nomination for “Rookie of the Year”. That entire process from reaching out for letters of support to answering the self-assessment questions was truly incredible. When I reflect on the application, it motivates me to continue to challenge myself, look for ways to improve, and make meaningful connections internally and externally.
5. What MSL Society member resource is the most valuable to you at the current point of your MSL career and why?
Deepti Patel: The recorded webinars and conference presentations are a really wonderful resource as you can access them at a time convenient for your busy schedule. Hearing from seasoned professionals discussing pertinent topics and giving advice on improving yourself as an MSL is invaluable.
Lille Tidwell, PhD: The Insight Gathering workshop
Ruchit Parikh: The webinars have been very valuable (when we went into lockdown) to understand how to effectively engage KOLs in a virtual environment. Also, the MSL Salary Survey has been very valuable to know where MSL salaries should be based on years of experience and therapeutic area.
Daniel Kueh: The educational resources and webinars by MSLs from other companies on best practices
Rahul Bohra: While I am no longer an MSL, the MSLS resources continue to be very useful, especially the meetings and the surveys. These tools give me access to the pulse of MA and where things are headed.
Nabhan Islam: Now that I’m about to start my 3rd year as an MSL, I’m still very much interested in professional development as well as extending myself to other avenues of Medical Affairs. To that end, I really look forward to each year’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas. It’s invaluable to hear and discuss what my colleagues are doing with their respective companies, what challenges and opportunities they’ve encountered, and what they see in the future for MSLs and Medical Affairs in general. I love the breadth of available workshops (although sometimes I wish I could be in two places at once) and especially the synergy that spontaneously develops as we bounce best practices off each other. The annual conference is also an amazing opportunity to network (it’s where I met my current manager and national director), catch up with old friends, and blow off some steam, Vegas-style!
Brian Berg: Again, the MSLS Annual Conference continues to be the most valuable resource for me. I was able to gain so many great perspectives on the current and future state of the MSL role, gain very valuable career progression advice from recruiters, identify new technology applications for my company to consider, and was able to reconnect with one of my mentors from the mentoring program a couple years ago.
Kendra Pelz: The conference is essential for networking as a MSL. I learned so much, but found the most benefit from chatting with veterans and novice MSLs alike-So many fun people and so much to learn- especially as a new MSL.
Dr. Samuel Dyer
CEO and Chairman of the Board
Dr. Samuel Dyer has over 21 years of experience within the International MSL community while working for a number of top global companies. During his career, he has led MSL / Medical Teams in multiple TA’s in over 60 countries throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Australia, and Asia.
His management experience includes small (2+) to large (240+) MSL teams across multiple TA’s. Throughout his career, Dr. Dyer has worked on MSL and Medical Affairs strategy and has extensive experience in creating strategic MSL utilization and medical communication plans. He has designed and created global MSL training programs that have included: onboarding programs, KOL Medical communication plans, strategic assessments, planning, and execution in geographical locations with diverse cultures /languages. Dr. Dyer has successfully launched both pharmaceutical and medical device MSL teams both in the U.S. and internationally.
Dr. Dyer has also written extensively on the Medical Science Liaison role, including numerous published articles, benchmark studies, and reports. Dr. Dyer is well recognized within the global MSL community and has developed an extensive international network within the Pharmaceutical, CRO, Medical Device, and Biotechnology industries. He is the owner of the largest group on LinkedIn for MSLs and Medical Affairs with over 25,000 members. He has spoken and moderated several international conferences on various MSL topics including KOL management, creating MSL teams, MSL training, international MSL teams, and the value of the MSL role and Medical Affairs. Dr. Dyer is consistently sought out as a resource and consultant for MSL projects that have included diverse companies such as McKinsey Consulting, Bain and Co., and Philips Healthcare.
Dr. Dyer has a Ph.D. in Health Sciences and did medical training in Chicago. He has a Master’s Degree in Tropical Biology (where he studied in the Amazon) and has a B.S. in Biology. Dr. Dyer also completed a certificate program for Executive Leadership and Strategy in Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology at the Harvard Business School.
Dr. Dyer is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller “The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break into Your First Role” (www.themslbook.com) which is the first book published on how to break into the MSL role.