Hybrid communication is here to stay. In person meetings as well as virtual meetings are now part of MSL interactions. This is for good reason, as it allows for the use of the best channel fit depending upon
- time available,
- physician preference
- content of what is to be discussed.
We need the agility and flexibility to adjust to physician preferences while taking into consideration available communication channels provided by our companies (think multi-/omnichannel).
Why is that important?
As of 2020, 70% of HCPs (data from EU) are already digital natives (mainly Gen Y). There is no hiding from digital channels – no matter what generation we were born in! Despite the fact that MSLs mainly deal with very experienced physicians, not all of them are digital natives or digital savvy just yet. The same applies to MSLs themselves and to the people who mentor, coach, manage, and train them. The need to increase comfort levels and skills with digital is not going to go away and will only increase.
We know the most successful MSLs of the future will be those who can perform in any environment (digital or in person) to the same high level. So how can we set ourselves and others up for success?
We are all coming from different places in relation to digital savviness, but also in relation to in-person communication skills. Those of us who were born before mobile phones were even developed need to be open and flexible enough to apply what we have learned in the real world to the digital world – and no, this is not a 1:1 translation. We need to better embrace and adapt to newer ways of communicating. Taking on the opportunities that digital communication provides, such as the ability to be able to respond more quickly to HCP requests or questions, but via video so the discussion continues to grow the relationship.
For those who were practically born with a mobile device in hand, please be open enough to
a) learn from experienced colleagues how to (physically) gain access to a clinic physician if they are well-guarded by assistants and/or when HCPs don’t reply to your email
b) share and exchange with your colleagues on how new digital devices, platforms, and online opportunities can best be utilized for HCP communication.
The three main pillars of personal development are training, mentoring, and coaching. If done in a skillful way, we can use all three to make development easy and fun.
Picture of 3 pillars saying each and a roof saying development
But what are the differences of those three development methods?
- A trainer provides you with methodology and structured exercises
- A mentor shares their personal experience for the mentee to apply to their specific situation
- A coach, on the other hand, guides with questions so the coachee develops the answers themselves
While both mentoring and training depend on the (industry) expertise and knowledge of the topic in question, the coach, in contrast, needs to be an expert for the coaching process as such but no specific content-related experience is required*.
Let’s say you have to develop a process. As an example, we can look at defining a way to set up a virtual meeting and share company content. You have options that match each pillar:
1) Someone shares an example of something they have done that is similar to that process and the way they approached it, giving advice on how another could best tackle this. This is Mentoring.
2) Take the approach of Coaching and ask guiding questions. In our example, it could be along the lines of
- How does the HCP prefer to communicate with you?
- What do you think is important for the HCP when communicating with you/?
- How can you provide the best experience for the HCP?
- What technical setup is required?
- What will you need to acquire in order to show up as a professional in this setting?
Here, the MSL will develop a thorough understanding of the HCPs needs and wants and this helps to understand why and how they need to develop (e.g., learn to set up virtual meetings and share content). They find the answer themselves.
3) Set up a Training session. Have an external trainer/internal expert come in and give detailed instructions on how to set up and execute a virtual meeting, followed by practice sessions to have a pull-through on implementation.
In case of time pressure, you might need to adjust your style. In this case, managing is productive. In our example that would mean you tell or show the MSL exactly how to set up and run the virtual meeting without a full explanation or understanding. Maybe the MSL will remember for next time, maybe not.
Each of these methods of development has strengths and weaknesses and using the right method for the right topic at the right time is just as important as we discussed about channel selection for HCPs at the start of this article. Make sure you choose the best one for your circumstances to get the results that you want!
About the author:
Maja Beilmann-Schramm, PhD
Maja holds a PhD in Biology. She has been working successfully in the pharmaceutical industry for 20 years now, in a variety of positions with extensive experience in Marketing and Sales, Medical and Medical Science Liaison. For more than 10 years she has dedicated her work exclusively to the role of Medical Science Liaison with personal experience as MSL, MSL team lead at country and international level as well as driving MSL excellence on a global corporate level. She is currently holding the position of Global Director of Field Medical & HCP Exchange at Merck/EMD. Maja is the founder and owner of MSL-Excellence.de, where she provides mentoring and consultancy to aspiring MSL, MSLs, and MSL Leaders. As a result, she follows the development of the MSL role from a wide variety of perspectives.
Jill Fenwick, PhD
Currently Head of Medical Learning Oncology at EMD Serono (part of Merck KGAa). Prior to that was in Global Field Medical Excellence, having moved to the USA in 2019 to Lead North America Medical Training for Oncology. Joined Merck UK&I in Jan 2015 as an MSL and then Oncology MSL manager.
Having a PhD in oncology and over 25 years of experience in pharma, starting in sales and moving into Field Medical and management, means being able to take into account the Country end-user perspective in 2 key countries (USA and UK). This allows for the creation of engaging and interactive trainings that are strategic and actually relevant and useful for the intended audience. The ethos is training is fun!