The covid 19 pandemic may seem like it began ages ago, yet it was just about 16 months since the pandemic began to shut down MSL travel and led us to sequester in our homes until we could find a way to get through this contagion period. As we now move toward re-opening of businesses, face-to-face meetings, and get back to regular field travel, we are again in a critical time of transition.
MSLs were home for about a year or more without regular field travel and there have been some silver linings to this with more time for family, ability to balance home needs better while working remotely and multi-tasking as we are all well equipped to do!
CH: It has not been an easy year however we have finally started meeting in person again and this happened for me in early May once I was fully vaccinated and met our company requirement to meet at a field leadership gathering cross country! Everyone wondered what this meeting would be like. We were told to wear masks at all times for the indoor meetings, although this changed last minute once we were at the hotel conference center and were allowed to remove masks in our meetings given that everyone was fully vaccinated. There were colored bracelets to let each person indicate their personal level of preference for contact: green for hugs welcome; yellow for giving some distance and maybe an elbow bump at best; red for keeping a distance and avoiding physical contact. By and large, most everyone was green and it was clear we were excited to be back together in person. The energy was high and we picked up where we left off at the last company meeting where we launched a product first week of March 2020 just as everything shut down!
JS: For those like myself that have started their new MSL role during the pandemic and solely engaged with new KOLs (as well as coworkers!) in an exclusively virtual environment, although not without its challenges there are positive impacts on relationship building. Virtual has allowed opportunities from to get-go to be able to know the KOL in a more personal light. Perhaps during the course of your meeting, the conversation has turned toward their beer wall at home or you’ve waved hello to spouses or kids passing by in the Zoom background. As we transition or have transitioned to our first live meeting many months later, you’ll be starting from an elevated relationship baseline, a head start that can only have more positive impacts on the relationship moving forward.
CH: The past year has seen us leverage zoom and virtual technology more fully, MSLs were engaged in more internal projects in lieu of time spent traveling and fewer KOL meetings and we settled into this routine over the year.
JS: Speaking of internal projects, with more allocated project time due to less travel, many MSL teams have had a chance to build up MSL resources or increase advisory seeking opportunities, and cover more congresses than we can humanly imagine! How we transition back into the travel circuit and proportionally shift to a heavier live meeting workflow still remains to be seen as not every aspect of the territory including large major congresses will be transitioning at the same pace. For my geography, a handful of regional congresses (which many MSLs rely on for face-to-face meetings) will still remain virtual throughout the remainder of this year. Although the status of 1:1 meetings will increasingly grow, traces of virtual engagement will continue to exist and even be the preferred method for a meeting.
CH: As May approached we knew it was time to return to travel for most of us; we had a pending new launch in early June and the changes were going to be quite palpable! From the early May leadership meeting, we were back into full-field travel with KOL engagement and have not stopped! Many HCPs were eager to meet in person with masks and a few HCPs have let their masks down if both of us were vaccinated. We are easing back into our former MSL roles with travel and in-person engagement although there are still some clinics and academic institutions where access is not yet open.
JS: And realizing that not all of our academic sites are currently open or opening at the same rate, an easy way to transition back is to focus on the areas that are open while continuing to meet virtually for areas still closed. For those that live in metropolitan areas (where offices are generally slower to open), as silly as this seems, this could mean keeping your car parked and instead of traveling (flying) to meet the KOLs that are located in more remote pockets of your territory where offices are open. In the areas where offices are still closed, I’ve leveraged 1:1 lunch meetings more than ever to get back to meeting live.
It remains to be seen what this transition will be like for all of us as we work to open doors again and continue our mission to educate clinicians and support patient needs! Transition is not a point in time and the coming months will help us regain our field footing. That said, our families and friends are also adjusting to having us gone each week and missing that time we had together over the past year. Nothing will be exactly as it was in the past and we must set our sights on a new normal. I think we all agree that virtual meetings will continue to be used more often in our regular engagement and more so than pre-pandemic. Our MSL goals will likely reflect the changing field environment, as well.
As we all move ahead with this transition back to field engagement in person, there are a few tips I would like to share:
- Give yourself time to adjust and know this transition will happen over a few months. Be kind to yourself!
- Communicate with your leadership and family about what these changes mean to you and to them as you work through this time.
- Give yourself permission to balance work and family / personal needs. Don’t stop taking care of yourself and taking time to be home.
- Ease back into field travel; don’t go full steam ahead from no travel to 4-5 days per week travel unless this works for you and your family!
- Find your “marathon pace” again – the pace you can sustain long-term!
Cherie Hyder, PharmD
Cherie Hyder is Senior Director, US Head of Medical Affairs, with more than 15 years of MSL experience in the field. She has been involved in research for more than 30 years, starting as a bench researcher in Genetics. She completed Bachelor of Science degrees in Molecular Biology and Chemistry at Iowa State University where she led Genetics research projects for over 5 years. Her education continued at the University of Missouri where she received a Doctor of Pharmacy degree with the intention to devote her career fully to clinical research. She has multiple adjunct faculty appointments and enjoys teaching opportunities. She worked for the FDA for 5 years, focusing on a review of the safety and effectiveness of novel medications. Her experience in regulatory compliance brought her to Eli Lilly as a Regulatory Scientist and led her to attend law school; she has a business development and in-licensing background as well as experience balancing portfolios for major PhRMA companies; she has been employed by Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Novartis, Regeneron, Solvay, and Avanir in Regulatory and Medical roles supporting new product development. In August 2016, she joined Alimera Sciences, leading the US MSL team, building compliant internal processes, and developing Medical Affairs infrastructure.
Jein Song, PharmD
Jein Song completed a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and the Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship in Medical Communications. She subsequently transitioned into various roles of increasing responsibilities to support a wide range of therapeutic areas in both headquarters- and field-based medical affairs settings. She is passionate about quality-driven initiatives and optimizing field medical capabilities through strategic partnerships, mentorship, and enabling resources. Her background includes close to 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry spanning both small and large size companies.