In anticipation of the 9th Annual MSL Society Conference being held in Las Vegas, December 12-14th and this year’s MSL of The Year Awards, we asked a few of the 2020 award winners how winning the award impacted their careers, what they have been able to achieve during the pandemic, and what best practice they would share with other MSL professionals.
How has winning the MSL Society award impacted your career/role?
Kim Wiid: Winning the MSL Award has given me increased visibility amongst my peers, managers, and aspiring MSLs. The increased visibility has allowed me to advocate for the role of medical affairs in the local organization. I have also been afforded increased opportunities to demonstrate this value to numerous transversal departments. The social media outreach has been overwhelming. KOLs, colleagues and even strangers have all extended congratulations. The biggest impact of winning the award has to be the huge response from aspiring MSLs. Numerous candidates have reached out to me for advice. I am a firm believer in helping talented and enthusiastic prospective MSLs along their journey – even if I just lend an ear.
Sarah Rodriguez: Winning MSL of the Year in the US in 2020 has been incredibly validating, both personally and professionally. Coming from a background of oncology pharmacy practice, my main focus is always driving towards innovations for the care of cancer patients. While winning was amazing, it’s hard not to feel an incredible sense of accomplishment in reading the application letter from my KOL about how I directly had impacted his ability to provide excellent care. I am so incredibly proud to continue to serve patients, even if not as directly these days. Winning has also boosted my presence in professional networks and provided more opportunities for mentoring others trying to find their way into the profession. I truly believe that this is the best job in the world and I love having the opportunity to talk about it.
Laura Benthale: Around the time of the MSL Society awards last year, the company I was currently with was taken over and reorganized. I did not end up staying with the new organization, and I truly believe that winning the MSL Manager Rookie of the Year award helped me secure an amazing new opportunity as a Global MSL Director at another company.
Kerstin Pohl: It really meant the world to me to be recognized by my peers and to receive support from my colleagues during the nomination. Winning the award has had a huge impact on my career. It helped to raise my profile and to expand my professional network. I’m now connected with MSLs and aspiring MSLs from all over the world and can pay it forward, by helping new candidates break into the role. It makes me so happy to see new MSLs excel in their new roles. Connecting with more MSLs has also expanded my knowledge of career opportunities for MSLs, both within and outside of Medical Affairs. I recently moved into a Business Development role within my company. So from focusing on a specific therapeutic area, I’m now working with experts in multiple disease states to support personalized drug development.
What is your most significant achievement over the past year during the pandemic?
Kim Wiid: My most significant achievement is the strong relationships that I have managed to build both internally and externally over the past year. I am proud of how agile I have been in adapting to the “new normal” and how I have found new ways of truly connecting with KOLs and colleagues – all while providing high-value scientific content.
Sarah Rodriguez: It sounds cliché, but honestly just hanging on for the ride and continuing to succeed in my MSL role. It has been one of the most challenging years in every facet of my life as I know it has been for many. I have moved, remote schooled twins with one having special needs, been on lockdown, been removed from my family support system, been through a company reorganization, and somehow managed to keep going. I am proud of all of us for making it through and hope for better days ahead. I hope that this collective experience will have made all of our relationships even stronger.
Laura Benthale: Being hired to lead an MSL team at a small start-up biotech company preparing to launch their first product in pediatric rare disease. The experience thus far has been both very exciting and extremely challenging at the same time. Working for an organization that is building from scratch is already a tremendous undertaking, but doing so during a pandemic where in-person engagements (both internal and external) are not possible, has been a learning experience in a multitude of ways.
Kerstin Pohl: It is still crazy to think that we moved from 90% travel to 0% overnight and overall it is a great achievement that this shift has not significantly impacted our interactions with KOLs or our Medical Affairs initiatives. We were still able to continue and even launch clinical studies and ISTs aiming to improve cancer care, and presented and published new data to guide physicians and patients. I know it sounds corny, but “cancer can’t wait” is absolutely true and we have seen decreased cancer screening rates during the height of the pandemic that will, unfortunately, impact patient survival for years to come. My company is able to provide clinical testing for patients from the comfort of their home and in combination with telemedicine, it is an adaptation to the pandemic that is hopefully here to stay since travel to cancer centers is a significant hurdle for patients trying to access care. Personally, one of my highlights of the past year was being able to do a bit more than “doing my part” by staying home. Since the technology for cancer mutation testing can be utilized to test for SARS-CoV2, my company started offering testing to help our local community, the hospitals, schools, and universities in Colorado. When I was visiting in August, I was able to support a mass testing event for students returning back to campus at Colorado State University. To ensure a rapid turnaround time for these thousands of tests, it was all hands on deck and we worked in shifts around the clock to process all samples. In addition, we implemented a surveillance testing program for college sports across the country practically overnight. Working with the nurses, staff, and students during this intense time to ensure they can play sports safely, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget.
What is a best practice you want to share with other MSLs / leaders?
Kim Wiid: Medical is the bridge between external and internal stakeholders – not just between KOLs and “commercial”. Developing medical education content that satisfies KOLs and other external stakeholders can be effective in ensuring that a key strategic driver is delivered to all stakeholders. Recently, I conducted a webinar with the primary objective of delivering medical education to KOLs and HCPs. However, once I really thought about it, the topic would also provide valuable information for select patient association group members and decision-makers at key local funders. The result was that one single medical activity satisfied numerous business needs and managed to tie multiple loose ends together.
Sarah Rodriguez: Be willing to tell people you don’t know. Those who gravitate towards the MSL profession are naturally overachievers and like to know the answer to every question but we’re also human. People you interact with, both within and outside of your company, will respect you more if you admit the limitations in your knowledge and don’t try to improvise. I had the “trial by fire” entry into the industry and it was humbling to admit how little I knew at first, but I was willing to. Saying you don’t know but you’ll find out (and actually following up) does a lot to build relationships, especially when you’re new.
Laura Benthale: Keep a running list (can be as simple as a document on your computer desktop) of your/your team’s activities and accomplishments, and of ideas for future strategies and tactics. You never know when senior leadership is going to want to be briefed on what you have been working on, and having this real-time updated information on hand can be a lifesaver!
Kerstin Pohl: There are a lot of best practices that the great MSLs and leaders that I know are already utilizing. Perhaps one of my favorite practices is to learn from each other. An MSL is in a unique position between external and internal stakeholders and is a scientific resource for both. By observing how your KOLs and also your internal colleagues work effectively, can provide countless learning opportunities on the job. While we all know the science and how to reach our metrics, I think it is important to continuously improve how we connect and interact with people. I really enjoy learning from my colleagues and KOLs. We all come from different backgrounds, have different personalities and experiences, and approach the unique situations we face as MSLs differently. So in addition to active listening to the needs of our internal and external stakeholders, active observing and learning from them will make us better, more rounded, and versatile liaisons.
What advice can you offer other MSL/MSL Leaders to elevate their profession?
Kim Wiid: Focus on projects and initiatives that bring VALUE. The pandemic has brought with it an enormous amount of pressure and we cannot afford to do “busy work”. Medical Affairs needs to ensure that we focus our attention on projects that will facilitate progress and ultimately improve patient’s lives.
Sarah Rodriguez: The things that have pushed me furthest in my career so far were really uncomfortable and required big leaps of faith. Be willing to say yes and try it on, even if you’re scared.
Laura Benthale: Fostering positive, high-trust relationships–with your team, your leadership, and internal and external stakeholders–is critical in the MSL field. In doing so, be yourself– the best version of yourself, ideally. If you try to do things “someone else’s way,” it will seem disingenuous. Also: listen more than you talk.
Kerstin Pohl: There are a lot of opportunities to elevate the MSL profession. Participating in the MSL Society is a great way to learn more about these: from providing industry insights with the annual reports, to focused training for candidates and new MSLs, to organizing mentorship programs and even the certification, the MSL Society is an integral part of our community and I would not be where I am today without the support from this amazing community.
To elevate the profession means to share best practices by paying it forward and nurturing the next MSLs to “raise” them right.
2021 MSL of The Year Awards
The 2021 awards and nominations will be open soon! Check here for updates: https://themsls.org/annual-conference/msl-of-the-year-awards/
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.