Long before I became a MSL, I was a primary care pharmaceutical sales representative. As I reflect on the time when I worked in sales, many words come to mind describing that time: rewarding, challenging, inspiring, frustrating, front-line, multi-faceted, and demanding. The time I spent working in sales afforded me the opportunity to learn much about the industry and healthcare.
One of the most important things that I learned was about a job titled Medical Science Liaison. Learning this one fact changed my career path and set me on the road to transition from the commercial side to the medical side of the pharmaceutical industry.
Due to my experience as a practicing pharmacist, stepping into my sales role enhanced my understanding of the demands on prescribers, their nurses, and staff. It also deepened my sense that prescribers and clinic staff have a true need for a reliable and unbiased source of in-depth medical information. Having practiced pharmacy for several years before entering into pharma sales, I was accustomed to having detailed conversations with prescribers and nurses about medications, disease states, and even specific patient cases.
My relationships with prescribers in the clinic where my pharmacy was located, deepened as I became viewed as a trusted resource for evidence-based information. As a sales representative, I found my conversations were extremely short due to access issues and demands on prescribers’ time. My brief calls were being driven by product messaging and the conversations and relationships did not evolve organically.
As time passed, I realized that I missed having in-depth conversations that had an impact on patient care, and I missed being challenged with questions from my prescribers and their clinical staff. However, I enjoyed being a part of the pharmaceutical industry and did not wish to leave this sector. One fateful day when I had no idea what an MSL was or what those three letters represented, I met the MSL for my commercial team at a team breakfast. The wealth of knowledge that this individual possessed, and the ease with which he shared it with my team was remarkable. In this moment, I knew my future career direction.
Today, having attained a MSL role with a small global company, I realize that it is my time on the commercial side that has aided in my transition to the medical team. The lessons learned as a sales representative serve me well in the MSL role. Regardless of being a part of the commercial team or the medical team, relationships are important. It is not just the relationships with the prescribers that matter. Everyone in a clinic is important, and a simple smile or “how are you today?” goes a long way in setting myself apart from others. Simple kindness has aided in gaining access and opening doors that otherwise may have been difficult or impossible to open on my own.
Another lesson that translates into the MSL role is that once my foot is in the door, I must bring value to continue going through the door. Preparation is important for any visit regardless of duration or purpose. After all, the planning required for a 2-minute sales call with a key prescriber is much less intense than preparing for a medical meeting with a KOL. In sales, the purpose of the call was driven by company messaging as well as which product from my assortment had I not mentioned in the previous weekly calls. There was no time to dive into understanding the prescriber’s practice, patient base, or challenges the prescriber was facing. As a MSL, I now answer and ask questions. I have the opportunity to understand what is important to each prescriber and determine how I may best assist in addressing the prescriber needs and ultimately impact patient care.
Planning for a meeting with a KOL is much more in-depth, individualized, and focused. The planning helps me bring value to each interaction. In both commercial and medical roles, having the trust of prescribers and clinic staff is imperative. Being trustworthy contributes to the value of the role, and it is not possible to have value without trust.
Territory management is another commonality shared by the sales and medical roles. The fundamental skills that I learned in time and resource management while working my small multi-city sales territory have been applied on a much larger scale for my multi-state medical territory.
Finally, compliance is a crucial element in the pharmaceutical industry. Having sales experience, I had a solid understanding and appreciation for the importance of always working compliantly. From sales, I know that when in doubt, it is best to ask first rather than act first.
Integral to my transition from practicing pharmacist to pharmaceutical sales representative to MSL have been managers who believed in me. They were willing to give me a chance to grow as a person and as a professional with teammates who shared their knowledge and expertise gained the hard way to make my transition and work much easier.
Although the roles of commercial representative and MSL are vastly different in purpose and intent, the underlying principles are not. I was very fortunate to have been introduced into the industry with my sales role and I am very appreciative of the lessons learned that apply to my MSL role. Those same words to describe sales – rewarding, challenging, inspiring, frustrating, front-line, multi-faceted, and demanding – also describe working on the medical team. Relationships, knowledge, respect, value, compliance, teamwork, and resource management are also integral words for both sides of the pharmaceutical industry.
Angela Valadez, PharmD, MBA is the Medical Science Liaison for the Central States Region with Alimera Sciences. Angela has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas and a Master of Business Administration from Baker University. With previous pharmaceutical sales experience, Angela has worked with prescribers and their staff to identify the appropriate treatment options for patients. In her current role as a MSL, she continues to promote optimal care for patients with retina conditions related to diabetes. She is passionate about the treatment of diabetes.