For a medical science liaison (MSL), being “in the field” isn’t what it used to be. Over the years, quite a lot has changed—and the past few months have certainly placed us all in a strange, new world. Historically, we’ve relied heavily on in-person engagements to build meaningful relationships with thought leaders.
So what do we do now that everything’s changed?
What expertise of the past can we call upon to help shape our success for the future?
Lately, I have given some thought to these questions, as well as to what it means to be a great MSL—regardless of the methods by which we’re able to communicate. My experience and collective industry knowledge have shaped my belief that an MSL must possess three core qualities and skills:
3. Great communication skills. Being a great communicator is an art that requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. More than being a good presenter, MSLs need to be able to read and feel the person they’re speaking with and adjust their communication style accordingly. Moreover, MSLs have to be in tune with the thought leaders’ interests to ensure information is delivered in a way that is meaningful to them. Also, MSLs have to listen for insights. Being a great communicator is truly the way to build trust and credibility in a relationship with an HCP and to uncover important insights for the company.
So in these unprecedented times, how do we shift from a system that was so heavily based on face-to-face interactions to a now-forced virtual environment—particularly within an industry that has historically given the most credence to in-person scientific exchange over anything else?
First, we have to let go of our expectations from the past and shift the way we approach new interactions. We need to be flexible and up our game through virtual alternatives. Going completely virtual requires a total change in the dynamics, the culture and the mindset around scientific interaction for MSLs. However, there’s no reason we can’t continue to demonstrate scientific aptitude, remain business savvy and still communicate effectively and compliantly through the use of various virtual tools—it will just take some getting used to.
Next, we need to creatively harness the in-field expertise we’ve built over the years with building, educating and managing field-based teams. Remember, although our HCP interactions have been primarily conducted in person, MSL-to-MSL engagement has relied heavily on virtual relationships due to distance and the field-based nature of the position. For years, we’ve had to build relationships with our colleagues and teams remotely, without the benefit of meeting in person. We’re accustomed to virtual one-on-one and team meetings, so it really shouldn’t be such a stretch to build on best practices and apply our learnings to HCP engagements. The basic principles here have always been common sense. We just have to build on them.