Leaving academia for a position in industry was an enormous culture shock for me and now having had time to reflect on my experience, I feel confident enough in my role to discuss my view of the yearlong acclimation process. Having two decades of clinical experience in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging did not prepare me for my first MSL job. Despite extensive experience in oncology and the fact that molecular imaging is the basis for the technology that my role supports, it just wasn’t enough to teach me what was required of me as an MSL and the value that I bring to thought leaders. Every role may be different from the next and perhaps with years of experience come distinct needs, but these are some of the things that I feel are essential for the a new MSL:
Introduction to the company
Having a good Human Resources person to walk you through the company basics, benefits, and the full onboarding process, including all technology requirements is critical. The MSL role has become even more reliant on modern technology since the start of the pandemic and making sure we have the technology aspect of our jobs running smoothly is essential to success. Additionally, there are company-specific minutiae for employment in biotech and pharmaceutical industries that can be challenging to navigate without the help of HR. My recommendation is to have key contacts on hand: HR, Payroll, Benefits, and the I.T. Helpdesk.
A formal educational program to guide you through the science of your new role including any applicable data and publications is vital. I had many years of working in oncologic imaging under my belt, but the knowledge I gained of various malignancies was superficial at best. Even when I would scratch the surface from diagnosis to treatment, it still was not to the same extent of the fundamental comprehension required in the disease state of the oncology world that I had just entered. Being a new MSL, joining a brand new MSL team was not without challenges. I, however, was fortunate enough to have a strong MSL Team lead who had extensive experience building productive teams and another MSL colleague with a strong education background who developed a 6-week internal training program focused on disease state science and existing data. This was invaluable for me because you do not know what you do not know, which makes it hard to know where to start. Having a formal training program that built a foundation of knowledge from basic to advanced was essential for me to feel comfortable jumping into my position and to conduct KOL interactions with confidence.
One of the things I believe was critical was to have a partner or mentor that you can pair with to help navigate the MSL role, the expectations, and the challenges. I was paired with a member on my team which was fantastic for me because I had the opportunity to sit in on KOL meetings, watch the engagement between MSL and KOL, and observe the thought-provoking interactions that occurred from both ends of the conversation. While it is important to have someone on your team, I have also heard that MSLs are paired up with other MSLs in the same company in a separate care area. I did not have that experience, but I can certainly see the benefit in having a mentor in another area who may be in a completely different life cycle for their product. Understanding the unique needs or practices one has in other areas is highly beneficial for growth. Additionally, I recently learned of the mentorship program offered through the MSL Society, and I look forward to taking advantage of this member benefit. Members can sign up to be a mentor or a mentee and will be paired with another MSL outside of their company. Mentors need to have at least 5 years of experience and mentees less than 3 years as an MSL.
Finally, I attended the 3-day MSL communication and presentation course which really gave me a solid understanding of my role and the value I bring to KOLs. As a professional who has been extremely active within my academic professional societies and has held high leadership roles that required me to speak in front of hundreds of people, I still left the MSL training with a completely unique perspective on presenting and speaking. This was one of the best investments I could have made in my career as an MSL and I would highly recommend it to all MSLs regardless of their years of experience.
I am happy to have gotten involved with the MSL Society and look forward to collaborating with them more in the future.
Tina M. Buehner, PhD
Tina M. Buehner, PhD, CNMT, FSNMMI-TS is an MSL in breast oncology supporting the investigational and scientific use of diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals in breast cancer imaging. Prior to entering medical affairs, she worked at large academic centers for over 24 years in several roles within nuclear medicine and molecular imaging in the Chicago area including Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Loyola University Medical Center, and Rush Medical Center. She is board-certified in nuclear medicine technology, computed tomography, and radiation safety. Throughout her career she has been extremely active in leadership of several organizations supporting nuclear medicine and in 2014, she received fellowship from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI-TS), an international medical and scientific professional organization with over 17,000 where she also served as the President from 2020-2021. She resides in Chicago and her MSL territory covers several midwestern states.