At times, working as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) just might be one of the most ambiguous careers one will choose to embark upon. Known by many names (e.g. Regional Medical Scientist, Thought Leader Liaison, Regional Medical Director, etc), the primary role of an MSL is to build professional relationships with thought leaders and foster bi-directional scientific exchange on behalf of major corporations. MSLs are analogous to scientific diplomats and play a key role in helping to build trust and promote understanding of critical concepts among various stakeholders. MSLs also help to inform organizational decision-making by gathering critical insights from customers.
One of my earliest MSL memories that forever sticks out in my mind is covering my first scientific congress – circa 2007. I would describe the experience as adventurous, fast-paced, and fun. The meeting was held in California, and I vividly remember landing at the airport, full of excitement yet running on a bit of adrenaline because of the 3-hour time difference. Because I was the very first MSL hire for a newly created team, I had not yet received any formal training and learned on the go. Hundreds of people were in attendance at the congress, and I will always remember how diligently our entire medical team worked to report our findings from various data disclosures. Because this was pre-social media, artificial intelligence, etc, we often worked late into the evening and early morning to ensure information was received by various internal stakeholders in a timely manner. Although we were a small team, we were nimble and exceedingly efficient.
As I reflect on this specific experience and my career overall, there are many lessons learned. However, one of the most notable lessons that I have learned is to remain flexible during times of change and transition. Due to the inherent volatility of the pharma/biotech industries, adapting to change is an essential skill that MSLs must learn early on in their careers. Of course, this is often easier said than done, and I don’t think there is a cookie-cutter, standard prescription on HOW BEST to do this.
There are two specific techniques that have helped me tremendously as I have navigated change in both my professional and personal life. Maintaining flexibility while maneuvering through uncertainty is an ongoing endeavor, and I find myself consistently gravitating toward these two techniques:
- Take Inventory of Thoughts and Feelings: As someone who grew up in a military family, I was adapting to constant change long before I became an MSL. Over time, I have learned to assess WHAT I think about a given circumstance and HOW a situation may be making me feel. Journaling helps me do this; by writing out my thoughts and feelings, I am better able to stay in tune with how the change is impacting me overall and uncover ways to appropriately respond. This practice can also be especially effective when trying to uncover what you may need to ensure and sustain quality outcomes (e.g. training, time off, additional headcount, etc).
- Sleep Well: It may seem a bit odd to be discussing sleep in an MSL Journal; however, over the years, I have come to realize the importance of quality sleep and being well-rested while dealing with constant change. Ongoing change has the potential to increase stress levels; chronic stress over long periods of time can lead to decreased productivity, poor performance, and poor health outcomes. Maintaining a healthy sleep regimen is one simple technique that can be particularly useful when striving to maintain flexibility in the midst of change.
I would be remiss if I concluded this article without briefly commenting on the impact that technology has had on the MSL profession. While MSL teams have always been remote, the environment in which we operate historically has not; in-person, face-to-face meetings & interactions have typically been the “gold standard.” However, more and more workplace environments are adopting “virtual/remote/hybrid” working arrangements, prompting significant overall change. Building quality relationships in a post-pandemic, increasingly “technologically-charged” environment will certainly call upon MSL teams to better understand how to ensure their professional networks remain strong and trust is not compromised.
Within many pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers, MSLs play a pivotal role in the lifecycle development and overall commercialization of various therapies. Whether it’s navigating a scientific congress or evaluating how data is presented, CHANGE IS INEVITABLE — we probably all do well to learn to embrace it.
About the author:
Tanyanika Douglas Holland, MD, MPH
Tanyanika Douglas Holland has worked in medical affairs as a Medical Science Liaison for several leading pharmaceutical/biotechnology corporations. For nearly a decade, she managed and built professional relationships on behalf of corporations such as Bayer, Daiichi Sankyo, and AstraZeneca. During her tenure, she served as a trusted scientific advisor, a brand ambassador, a teacher, and a trainer, and sometimes she found herself simply being a friend who gave encouragement and provided a listening ear. In addition to her work within these leading health companies, she was also instrumental in spearheading several health education initiatives within the community. She holds a Doctorate of Medicine degree (MD) from Tulane University, a Masters Degree (MPH) from Emory Rollins School of Public Health, and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Xavier University of Louisiana. She resides in the United States of America.