My journey as a Medical Science Liaison began about a year ago. To give you a little background of how I transitioned into this field, let me share with you my own personal story.
I want to begin by saying that I have a unique journey, and I always believe that every step we take in our life is meant to get us to wherever the next step will be. Sometimes it’s hard to see that when you’re in the middle of something that may not be so easy, but looking back I now understand why I was put in that place at that specific time. I say this because I know there are many others out there that likely have similar feelings that I share here.
Always remember that life is a journey–It’s not a sprint, but a marathon.
I majored in Biochemistry in college and was originally pre-med, but during my senior year I did a thesis and I fell in love with research. I loved the molecular detail and felt I could help patients at a different level this way than through my original pre-med plans. After graduation, I attended a Ph.D. program in Molecular Medicine at Wake Forest University. I spent 5 years working on research focused on cardiac regenerative medicine. During this journey, I met the most wonderful friends, colleagues, and mentors that I still keep in touch with today. I gained such valuable experience and knowledge at the molecular level of science and there were many parts of this journey that I loved.
However, there was still something missing. I always had this desire for taking care of patients, and I thought that this would fulfill that for me at the research level. During my post-doctoral fellowship, I started searching for something else that would give me that patient care interaction and I discovered the physician assistant career. It sounded like exactly what I wanted. I attended Wake Forest PA program and graduated with my Masters in Medical Science and became a Certified Physician Assistant! Two weeks after taking my certification exam, I had my first child.
For those of you who are career-driven working mothers, so much emotion develops once you have children. It’s extremely hard to balance the two and your perspectives change dramatically.
I have had a few jobs in the past 10 years as a PA. My first role out of PA school was in a leadership position. I was the Director of the Clinical Research Unit at Wake Forest Baptist. I led a team of nurses, lab technicians, nutritionists, clinical research coordinators that worked together to help run the clinical trials for the academic physicians. This job was quite fulfilling but about 10 months into this role, I received a phone call from a previous mentor about an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I had this incredible opportunity to open and run as a solo provider a family medicine practice in a small town, about 30 minutes away from any other healthcare. Within the first 2 years, we expanded exponentially. After 2 years, we hired an MD on site with me, and together we continued to take care of patients. I honestly loved my patients. I still keep in touch with many of them today.
Unfortunately, what I realized after several years as a family medicine PA was that it was wearing me down.
The 15-20 minute patient slots, SO many patients to see every day, the never-ending charting, the constant in-basket messages and so many emotions involved. I also had a second child during this time. Even though I truly loved taking care of my patients, I found that this job was taking a toll on every aspect of my life and I knew I had to make a change.
The last 2.5 years as a PA before I transitioned to this MSL position, I spent time as a PA in Cardiology. I had an amazing group I worked with. I took care of patients both in the clinic and the hospital. However, what I found is that even with this position in a specialty, although it was much more manageable than my previous family medicine position, it was still so hard as a full-time working mom. The 10-plus hour days, weekends, not really much flexibility, the charting, the stress of patient care, and a lack of advancement opportunities within the PA position.
To be honest, I have always wanted to be in medicine taking care of patients. I wanted to save lives. I wanted to be the person that takes care of everyone. It sounds cliche, but it is true. Healthcare, though, is not for the faint of heart. Before the pandemic, and even more so now, the healthcare industry is one of the toughest fields because there is so much emotion involved.
As I said in the beginning, I feel like every step in your life has a purpose to get you where you are supposed to be; to me my 10 years of Ph.D., research and 10 years of patient care and the people I met along the way led me to the MSL career.
My transition developed from several factors. During my Ph.D. I met one of my greatest friends, who started his career as an MSL years ago and now is one of the leaders in his company. For years, he consistently told me to consider this incredible career, but despite his recommendations, the thought of leaving medicine full time was somewhat terrifying. In addition, I’m part of a Facebook group called PA Moms where many other people express similar feelings looking for other non-clinical opportunities. I have met the most wonderful people through this group and connected with so many more on Linked In. I am extremely grateful to each person that took the time to share their personal story with me of how they made this transition to the MSL field.
Networking was key to my transition. Your network becomes your family.
This was how I met the most amazing manager, Leona Hamrick, DMSC, PA-C. She had just joined Biodesix and her role was to grow the Medical Affairs team. We had just connected informally a few weeks prior through LinkedIn when she messaged me about an opportunity on the East Coast. I went through the formal interview process, did the presentation in front of the company, and then she offered me the position!
My advice to those of you looking to make this transition from patient care to the MSL world is you have to go outside of your comfort zone. You have to build your network. Create that Linked-IN profile with the keywords. Set alerts for jobs. Get help with that resume and update it. Apply! Read Samuel Dyer’s book “How to Break Into Your First Role”. Attend the MSL society meeting. Join the MSL society. Read these journal articles. Listen to these MSL Talk Podcasts.
For those of you clinicians looking to be an MSL, definitely do not undervalue your experience as a clinician. You are an excellent candidate for these MSL positions! You have this ability to listen and understand the patient and the provider’s perspective. You can provide great value to this role as an MSL.
My last piece of advice for those clinicians wanting to transition to the MSL field is to be patient because when the time is right it will happen.
Dawn O’Reilly, PhD, PA-C
Dawn O’Reilly is a Medical Science Liaison with Biodesix. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, 3 children, and their spunky golden retriever. She is passionate about healthy living, playing outside with her kids, and she loves to travel.
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