Basically, my desire to become an MSL was sparked by an encounter with another MSL during my time as an intern at a hospital. This individual had come to deliver a speech but ended up inspiring a profound aspiration within me. Pursuing this dream turned out to be far more challenging than I initially anticipated. I vividly recall my very first interview, where an interviewer from the pharmaceutical industry shattered my confidence by remarking, “You’re a doctor, what do you know about the pharmaceutical field?” They went on to say that my knowledge was limited to understanding how the human body functions, without grasping how drugs affect it.
However, my determination knew no bounds. In the initial three years following my MBBS, I embarked on an unstoppable quest to acquire every skill necessary for a successful MSL career. Through various workshops, I honed essential abilities, including public speaking, storytelling prowess, and computer proficiency. Upon completing my MPH, I eagerly sought opportunities with different pharmaceutical companies, undergoing interviews at eight of them, both local and multinational. Unfortunately, each attempt ended in disappointment, as none of them were willing to take a chance on me. The recurring feedback from interviewers centred on two common misconceptions: first, the notion that my medical background rendered me ill-suited for the corporate world, and second, the misconception that being a woman would hinder my ability to undertake frequent out-of-town visits.
As Walt Disney wisely said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” These words held true for me, even after enduring numerous setbacks. Finally, I achieved my goal of becoming an MSL with a multinational pharmaceutical company, embarking on the journey of my dreams. What I truly appreciated about my first pharmaceutical employer was their commitment to equipping me with the essential skills required for excelling in my MSL role. I underwent extensive refresher training programs that fortified my foundation. I am profoundly grateful to all my mentors who believed in me and played an integral part in turning my dream into a reality.
Working as an MSL in a developing country like Bangladesh presented a multitude of challenges, despite my abilities. One significant hurdle was the reluctance of many to accept a female colleague in the field. Being an MSL entails more than just delivering speeches at events; it requires extensive relationship-building, both with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and sales colleagues. Regrettably, many were uncomfortable dealing with me, no matter how hard I tried to bridge the gap. They hesitated to share internal matters with me, matters they readily discussed with male MSLs.
Even the KOLs, while not directly expressing their reservations, maintained a palpable distance. One of my managers never permitted me to undertake out-of-town field visits, citing safety concerns. Despite my earnest assurances of my willingness and comfort with such visits, my pleas went unanswered. In closed-room conversations, my manager’s discomfort was apparent, fuelled by baseless rumours.
My colleagues often embarked on various excursions without even extending an invitation. Loneliness and a sense of deprivation crept in, leaving me yearning for another female colleague who could empathize with my experiences. I distinctly recall an incident during our annual conference, where I overheard a colleague remarking, “Don’t inform her; we’re going outside. Girls are an extra burden.” Even when I attempted to excel and contribute above and beyond, they questioned my dedication, asking, “We don’t think you have a family. Why do you stay at the office so late?” At times, I found myself contemplating how different things might have been if I were male.
However, it’s essential to note that not every moment was marred by difficulties. There were instances where my dedication and hard work rewarded me with cherished memories and moments of fulfilment. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job was being there for doctors when they faced challenging study articles. We worked together, and I connected them with experts in the field. It was incredibly fulfilling to know that I played a role in improving the patient’s outcome.
Education is a passion of mine, and I organized regular training sessions for both healthcare professionals (HCPs) and sales colleagues. These sessions were not just informative but also enjoyable. I used real-life case studies and encouraged interactive discussions, making it a great learning experience.
My career as an MSL has been full of diverse projects. One memorable project involved collaborating with a renowned cardiologist on a clinical trial. I contributed by analysing data and liaising with investigators. Our teamwork yielded valuable insights for the cardiology community, and it was incredibly satisfying to be a part of such impactful work.
Being an MSL allowed me to interact with healthcare professionals from all over the world. Attending international conferences was a highlight of my career. I cherished the opportunity to exchange ideas and insights with leading experts in the field. These experiences not only expanded my knowledge but also gave me a global perspective on the exciting developments in cardiology and diabetes.
So, here are some recommendations based on my real-life experiences, tailored for someone new to the MSL field:
Embrace Computer Literacy: Invest time in becoming computer-savvy. Proficiency with various Microsoft software applications is crucial for effective communication. Navigating these tools will significantly streamline your work.
Hone Communication Skills: Communication is key, not only for simplifying complex medical concepts for fellow doctors but also for conveying information to the general public. Overcome any fear of public speaking, as it’s an essential skill in this role.
Master Networking: Cultivate your networking skills. Building and maintaining relationships with peers, colleagues, and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) is pivotal to success in this field.
Scientific Expertise: Possessing in-depth scientific knowledge in your area of specialization is immensely valuable. Aim to have a level of expertise that surpasses that of your KOLs, as this will make you an invaluable resource to them.
Enhance Social Intuition and Emotional Intelligence: MSLs often encounter individuals with contrasting personalities. It’s essential to navigate these diverse interactions with grace and professionalism. Stay composed and adaptable, even when faced with unexpected challenges. Remember, not everything will unfold as planned, but maintaining your composure and motivation is vital for your career’s success.
Best of luck on your MSL adventure – may it be a rewarding one!
About the author:
Dr Syeda Umme Sadia, MBBS, MPH, MBA
Syeda Umme Sadia is a dynamic healthcare professional with a passion for making a meaningful impact in the pharmaceutical sector. Hailing from the vibrant country of Bangladesh, she has embarked on a remarkable journey that has taken her to new horizons, currently calling Malaysia her home while pursuing her post-graduation.
Throughout her career, she has consistently demonstrated her commitment to healthcare and medical science. Before embarking on her pharmaceutical career, she gained valuable experience in various hospital settings, honing her medical skills and deepening her understanding of patient care. Her passion for healthcare led her to venture into the pharmaceutical industry as an MSL, where she forged invaluable relationships with medical specialists and healthcare professionals. Her expertise in therapeutic areas made her an asset to pharmaceutical industries, where she provided critical medical education and scientific support to healthcare professionals and researchers.
She is committed to continuous learning and growth. She is currently pursuing an MBA in Healthcare Management, leveraging her vast experience to become a future leader in healthcare administration.