HR “Getting” Medical Science Liaisons

Recently an experienced MSL was interviewing for a job, and was infuriated when a HR (human resources) staff asked what seemed to the candidate to be an outrageous question: how would the candidate approach doctors to educate them about the company’s drug? Since the drug is still investigational and therefore in “peri-label” status, the candidate viewed this as an affront to the most basic tenet of MSL compliance: no promoting drugs off-label including non-label-related off-label. The candidate expressed this concern to the hiring manager, who offered reassurance that the company intends on properly deploying the MSL function.

Human resources catch a lot of flak and bear the brunt of criticism with MSL hiring. I understand how it can be frustrating both to MSL directors and to MSLs themselves when HR can’t seem to “get” that field-science aren’t the same as field-sales. But seriously, those of us who work in this field can’t even agree most of the time how and when MSLs “should” be used, and we continually debate over “how gray is too gray”. We can’t expect HR to always “get” what many of us are still trying to get.

We can help HR with the basics though, including how we want questions phrased. In the prior example, perhaps the question may be framed with the premise that the MSL is already in an interaction with the physician based on a legitimate and documented need. I suspect the intent behind the original question relates to the communication style of the candidate and how the candidate may adapt to a specific situation.

You may even want to help your HR staff by letting them know which words may trigger hyper-vigilant responses in MSL candidates. Some MSLs don’t like such phrases as “increase physician access” or “help out sales colleagues”; make sure your HR staff knows not to use these terms unless these are actual company directives.

So construct the specificity of the situation – was the physician concerned about a specific side effect of the product? Did the physician want to propose a study idea to the company? Was the physician unhappy with the outcome of a recent study proposal to the company? Any of these situations allows the candidate to demonstrate aptitude in managing a thought leader relationship without getting caught up in an unintended compliance issue that detracts the candidate from the actual question and injects concern into the candidate’s mind about whether the company is using the MSL function inappropriately.

Companies are big on crossfunctional team work; let’s include HR as one of those team functions we work well with!