MSL Development: Competition Breeds Excellence

What kind of a competitor are you in this broad spectrum of medical science liaison professionals? Do you compete primarily with MSLs on your team? MSLs within the company? MSLs in the therapeutic area?

If you don’t believe in “competition” at this level, you may be missing out an important component of your personal development as a medical science liaison.

Competition can be healthy. Competition can encourage you to grow in directions you may otherwise ignore or miss. Competition can breed excellence. Competition can elevate the development of the entire MSL profession.

When competitors come out of the woodwork every time you say something, you know you give good game.

I think many MSLs are extremely competitive, or they would not venture into this field. You don’t get to rest on the laurels of your scientific capacity as a MSL. You have to also demonstrate your capacity to translate your scientific knowledge into a business result, a contributing factor to your company’s competitive advantage. There are many MSLs who are incredibly astute scientifically, but struggle in front of a thought leader with a tough personality.

This is a structural problem of the industry: there aren’t levels of “MSL games” where we become exposed to the best MSLs out there in our respective therapeutic areas. We don’t have an objective criteria of competition either, unlike researchers who can use peer-reviewed publications as a metric, or clinicians who look at the number of patients they have treated with particular outcomes.

Another issue with competition is that we often compete with people within our immediate awareness: our MSL team mates. Since MSLs within a therapeutic area are isolated from each other, their immediate awareness of competition comes from within: MSLs at the same company or on the same team. Thus instead of cooperation, there is internal competition. Instead of information sharing, there is knowledge withholding.

This presents an incredible opportunity for MSL directors to “liaise” and facilitate the rules of competition within their own MSL team. MSL directors are exposed to many MSLs from their own companies and within the industry, especially those of you who have long tenures in this industry. You may have worked with the best, you may have been one of the “best” when you were a MSL.

MSL directors can bring the criteria of what it means to compete as a medical science liaison in the industry-at-large and set talent development at this bigger target. Elevate the competitive nature of your MSLs beyond internal competition where it is most convenient: set their sights on becoming known in the industry as the standard of excellence of medical science liaising.

Train and develop your MSLs into the kind of professionals where when they interact with their thought leaders, the competition’s MSLs begin to take notice and ask, “What are they doing right, and how do we catch up and overtake them?”

Jane Chin, Ph.D.