A “seasoned” MSL can be described as one who has changed companies several times due to professional or personal reasons, who has at least 7 years of MSL experience, who is very familiar with the art of being an MSL, who has a solid knowledge of the therapeutic area or disease state they support, and is looking for new challenges. However, the first question we ask ourselves is: Is the MSL position a transition role into another position within the Medical Affairs (or another department) or is it a career itself, where one can develop and stay long term, acquiring the appropriate skills to become an MSL leader? This question was evaluated by the Medical Science Liaison Society during a webinar in August 2019 entitled “Enhancing the Value of the MSL through Technology in the Field and the Power of Personal Branding for Field Medical Professionals” in which 234 MSL professionals from 34 countries participated. A survey was immediately conducted prior to the webinar to gain insights into various aspects of the MSL career.
One of the questions in the survey was: “Do you plan to retire as an MSL / MSL leader?”
Figure 1, reveals interesting results. 65% of MSLs who participated in this survey plan to retire as an MSL, while only 35% believe that their career plan is directed towards other positions.
MSL Society. Global Survey. August, 2019.
So what are the drivers that motivate an MSL to become an MSL Leader? Will there be new strategies and areas of opportunities that help improve motivation?
The survey conducted by the MSL Society found that the 23% (56 participants) had more than 7 years of experience as an MSL, allowing us to understand more deeply the motivations and opportunity areas of MSLs that we do not know despite having extensive experience in this position.
One of the key questions was: “If you could give advice to your MSL manager to improve MSL retention, what would it be?” “We understand MSL Retention as those incentives that will keep our MSLs engaged, loyal and struggling with first day motivation”.
This question certainly gave us a deeper understanding of the drivers that motivate MSLs and, more importantly, what they expect from their line manager to feel comfortable and motivated.
MSL Society. Global Survey. August, 2019.
In Figure number 2 the results reveal that the three most important drivers are:
- Be a Role Model
- Clear Career Path
- Appreciation / Recognition / Value
But, what does “Clear Career Path and Appreciation / Recognition / Value” include?
From Clear Career Plan we could expect the following: create development opportunities in your team, create different levels (MSL, Senior MSL, etc.) and thoroughly understand personal expectations. In regards to Appreciation / Recognition / Value we could expect: an increase in the sense of belonging, a good understanding of virtual work environments, recognize talent and reward it and advocate the value of MSL within and outside the company.
Undoubtedly, from our point of view the high responses to “Clear Career Path” and “Appreciation / Recognition / Value” are expected.
But, why did “Be a role model” get the highest response?
Being a role model is an extremely important component in medical affairs as it can empower your team to conduct themselves and cooperate synergistically with colleagues and stakeholders. No less important, it could be a form of persuasion to obtain more knowledge, empathetic behavior, collaboration, admiration and to increase the professional skills of seasoned MSLs that need a greater challenge in their day to day working life. Therefore, medical departments that have effective managers will be able to retain and rediscover their MSL team in a synergistic and constant way. In addition, being a role model also includes:
- Guiding your team
- Providing recourse and tools for success
- Using creative thinking
- Never micromanaging
- Conducting more field base work with the team than administrative tasks
- Good MSL selection and onboarding
- Understanding the MSL Role
- Not letting sales encroach on our roles
It would be interesting in another survey to be able to segment the participants based on their years of experience and correlate them with their motivational drivers.
Would there be other strategies and opportunity areas to improve your motivation based on years of experience?
Would being a role model be the most important driver for junior MSLs?
It would certainly give us information on how this strategic role has taken on relevance and, above all, a leadership role within medical affairs. Evidence suggests if you admire a leader, eventually you will develop your hard and soft skills in order to be like that leader. That seems to be the trend in this new era of empowerment and leadership that MSLs are experiencing. This can be evidenced by the answers obtained in one survey question “what advice would you give someone who was just been hired as an MSL for the first time?”.
In this survey, 47 MSL professionals believe that getting a good mentor is key to their successful professional development, followed by 28 people who think that the most valuable advice is to be an Expert in the disease and 27 people think that the most assertive option is Stay Curious and
Motivated (the 3 most frequent alternatives). It seems that everything is summarized in the statement “Leaders never go alone”.
But, what about MSL Managers? One question in the survey asked “What do you find most satisfying or rewarding about being an MSL or an MSL leader?” This question was evaluated only for MSL Managers, finding that of the 55 responses analyzed, almost 35% responded “developing others” followed by 30% that responded “HCPs interactions & Insights”.
In this article we have tried to describe and discuss the characteristics of MSL retention, and discover new strategies and opportunities to improve the motivation of “seasoned” MSLs. Differentiation and value strategies have been one of the most useful for maintaining motivation in “seasoned” MSLs. The differentiation rule states that there must be unique responsibilities, knowledge requirements, capabilities, and performance measures for unique roles. The value rule adds that this differentiation must provide incrementally greater value to your customers and / or the organization in order to earn sustained company investments in the role. These drivers are definitely natural catalysts for leading MSLs to engage and retain seasoned MSLs. Lastly, “Be a role model” and establish a clear definition of the “Career Path” are the two important considerations for MSL Managers to consider in order to improve the retention of MSLs. In the near future we will need to continue to define the areas for improvement and opportunities for experienced MSLs to continue building and overcoming all the barriers that prevent effective engagement and retention.
Recognizing and rewarding talent, advocating the value of MSLs inside and outside the company are drivers that will undoubtedly enhance the retention of MSLs and give them the motivational energy to seek the path to leadership.
It is important to remember that “As you grow, you make so much space for everyone else”.
Alvaro Herrera has recently worked as an MSL Manager & Regional Market Access at the British company EUSA Pharma (Spain). Prior to this role, he was a consultant and co-founder of a platform for the generation of evidence (RWE) based on Artificial Intelligence. He founded a medical affairs consulting company for the Latin American market. Dr. Alvaro holds a degree in Biological Science, a PhD in Biological Science specializing in neuromuscular diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and is a MBA candidate at EAE Business School. Dr. Alvaro is passionate about personal growth, leadership, and innovation.
Victor Sastre has over 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical & biotech industry, Medical Affairs and R&D. He serves as a professor in several Masters and Pharma MBA positions. Passionate and the industry and a widely published author on MSLs and the industry, he is currently a Senior MSL with Amgen in the Bone Metabolism, Neuroscience, Inflammation and Biosimilars division. In 2018, he received the MSL Award of the Year (Outside USA) from the MSL Society.