Like many of you, I believed that small territories meant less hectic travel, more nights at home, and, by extension, more time with the family. In my MSL career, I have been responsible for managing territories that ranged from a few counties in southern California to eight states on the US West Coast. Balancing my career with a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old kiddo, I realized the following.
- Small territory does not mean you will get to “be there every day.”
- Large territory does not necessarily mean you will “be gone all the time.”
- Both are manageable MSL territories for parents with kids.
I will leave “MSL as parents of infants and toddlers” for another time. For now, I will talk about my experience as an MSL with kids between 2 – 9 years of age, old enough to (probably) sleep through the night, but young enough to need a lot of hands-on parenting.
Customer preference plays a huge role
Working in my small territory, most of my customers (and cross-functional matrix partners) preferred their ‘local MSL’ to meet them in person, typically over breakfast/lunch (sometimes dinner). Between late meetings, unpredictable customer schedules, and crazy traffic, I missed more drop-offs, pick-ups, and bedtimes than I had expected. I found myself more exhausted and less engaged on the home front having driven ~40-60 miles/day, often facing office-hour traffic. My mileage reports and work calendars (in-person field days; see Table) capture that experience. On the upside, I was almost always home on weekends since I covered fewer large conferences.
|Small Territory (miles)a||950||850||1200||100||1500||1800||2100||1700||2050|
|Large Territory (miles)b||800||410||0||41||670||360||260||0||440|
|Small Territory (Field days) a||14||12||15||16||16||17||17||16||12|
|Large Territory (Field days) b||6||5||0||5||15||14||5||6||7|
aData collected between 2021-22, bData collected between 2022-23
In contrast, a large territory and smaller team meant many more medical conferences and, therefore, more weekend travel. While I also appreciated any downtime while traveling to catch up on sleep, exercise, and work, I knew this part was undoubtedly very taxing for my partner. What surprised me was that on average, I had fewer in-person field days with the larger territory (see table) even though my metrics were roughly similar. Perhaps it was the after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry or my KOLs didn’t necessarily want me to fly out ‘just’ to meet them, I found myself on more Zoom meetings. I loved getting more weekdays at home. I had the flexibility to protect the drop-off and pickup times and take on more of the household responsibilities in the evening.
Parental Hacks, Best Practices
As an MSL, we know that there is nothing ‘routine’ about our work; no two days or weeks look alike. Plan, organize, and be comfortable delegating responsibilities because it takes a village to raise kids! This was hard for us because as an immigrant family, our de facto village (our extended families) are on the other side of the world. If you are in a similar situation, please try to cultivate your local support system (babysitters, neighbors, friends), you will be glad you did it! Also, as MSLs and parents, the days are hard and long, but years fly by in the blink of an eye. Create opportunities to enjoy this special time with your kids. For me, this meant being picky about the projects and activities I said “yes” to at work. Finally, here are some best practices that I learned, sometimes the hard way, that subsequently helped me thrive in these two types of MSL roles.
- One “Office Day” per week – There isn’t much you can do when you are driving. Use the office day to catch up on all the documentation, projects, etc. if you don’t want to be working over the weekends.
- Better communication with your partner. Example: I have reminders set to communicate whether I would be able to make it in time for the kids’ pickup. I plan it so my partner gets ample time to wrap up his work to cover pickup for days when appointments start later or take longer, and/or the traffic is worse than expected. I avoided a lot of tears and late pickup fines with this small habit.
- Planning the evening – Chances are that you and the kids are tired and impatient by the time you are home. Strategize to have more time to engage with the kids before their bedtime. My biggest learning curve was minimizing my reliance on Doordash for dinner and Disney+ for parenting. Advanced meal preps and shorter/simpler recipes helped.
- Kids extracurriculars – I planned those on the weekends (i.e. my days home) and took help where I could (e.g. carpools). One word of caution; you don’t have much ‘fun time’ available with the kids during the week. For the sake of your collective sanity please don’t be the overambitious tiger parent (that was my mistake), and please make time to enjoy your kids.
- Create a backup team for your “days away” – These are people who can help with pickup/drop-offs or babysitting in a pinch. We were blessed to have very supportive friends and neighbors who often helped with this.
- Maximize time away – I had to plan out my trips well in advance to maximize customer meetings during and around conferences. Also, I try to complete much of the documentation and projects in the hotels or on the flights. This helped me get more quality time with the family when I was home.
- Pre-travel prep – This seems small, but I ensure grocery shopping and laundry are done before I leave. Think about things that can help simplify the daily routine for your partner in your absence.
- Partner’s time-off – If you have a partner who works from home or locally, encourage them to get some “me time”. A weekend getaway or simply time off from parenting (staycation at home), especially after a crazy conference season went a long way for my partner.
My last advice, remember to be gracious and kind to yourself, your partner, and your family because there will be days when things fall apart despite your collective best efforts. There is no such thing as a perfect balance all the time. In this role, you will have some days imbalanced in favor of work, and other days in favor of your family, and that’s okay! I wish you all the best as you pursue a fulfilling career and balanced family life.
Disclaimer – I am an employee of Axsome Therapeutics, Inc. However, the opinions and content presented herein are my own and are not intended to reflect the principles, policies, and practices of my current and past employers.
About the author:
Sucharita Somkuwar, PhD, BPharm
As long as I can remember, I have loved science and loved talking about science. I earned a Bachelor’s in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Varanasi, a part of the Banaras Hindu University in India. I earned a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Kentucky, USA. I further pursued postdoctoral research at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and then at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. My research focused on understanding long-term neurological adaptations linked to chronic exposure to drugs (medications, alcohol, drugs of abuse) and how that might influence vulnerability to maladaptive behaviors. As an MSL, I use my background in neuroscience to appreciate and articulate complex psychiatric concepts as they pertain to the therapeutic strategies that clinicians consider for optimal outcomes. I started my MSL career in 2019 and since then have worked in various roles supporting neurological agents. When I am not ‘MSLing’, I love spending time with my family.