Your First 30 Days as a Medical Science Liaison

These tips are written for new medical liaisons (to the profession itself, but also helpful for those new to a company/therapeutic area). While these tips were gleaned from my personal experience when I was a MSL, please keep in mind that field-based programs differ from company to company, and the size of the program determines your allocated geography. This in turn affects your strategies for territory management.

Tip # 1: Don’t study in a vacuum

Usually the first few weeks are study weeks, complete with caseloads of text books, reference materials, and articles. The danger of slipping into a vacuum as you study is real, so make an effort to stay connected with colleagues who are starting out as you are, and those who are seasoned veterans. Make a point to review materials with your peers; the interactivity will help you retain and comprehend information. You will also gain insight from the experience of your peers. Unless your company has a structured study schedule, you should give yourself a deadline to get out and “learn on the job”.

Tip # 2: Write a brief list of what you want to accomplish in the next 30 days

Not counting the study time you are allotted, what do you want to accomplish 30 days from now? Meet the majority of your thought leaders face-to-face at least once? Attend medical meetings? Facilitate a research or educational objective? Write this list down as a compass to position yourself for success early on. As you formulate this list, keep in mind the next tip.

Tip # 3: You can’t be everything to everybody

Unless your company has a formidably sized field-based medical program that affords you three or four colleagues in the same area, you will probably receive an abundance of requests from various field-based personnel (sales, managed care) who may need your clinical support. It is important to focus on your objectives early on so that you can proactively manage different types of appointments including thought leader interactions. Be realistic about what you can do within a span of time.

Tip # 4: Learn the system early on

You will probably be given contact protocols for various processes during training. If not, find out Who to call, what to do, what is due when and how. Don’t wait until you are already in a process of facilitating a task; it will save you time and stress under the confinements of a deadline.

Tip # 5: Keep a realistic perspective on thought leader development

As you contact and meet with your thought leaders, assess which thought leaders you can establish a productive working relationship immediately (likely the ones who have had positive collaborative experiences with the company already) and which thought leaders you will have to keep in touch for the long haul (likely the ones who may have experienced challenges with the company before). You may then determine what you would realistically like to accomplish with each thought leader.

Tip # 6: Make a list of travel essentials

If you are not used to traveling in your previous job, you are likely going to travel at least 50% of the time for a medical liaison position (more if you have a larger geography, less if you have a smaller geography or many overlapping colleagues). If you are new to the road warrior lifestyle, you may want to consider making a list of travel essentials that you can check off when you pack. You minimize the risk of not packing something important if you were ever on a “whirlwind travel tour” and in a rush. Far Side (Gary Larson) fans will know what I mean: don’t be the one who came without a duck.

Tip # 7: Make a commitment to exercise while traveling

This is especially true if you travel days at a time or participate in week-long business meetings where you may not even “see the light of day”. Ample supply of starch-heavy foods and easy access to decadent desserts aren’t much help either. Hotels often provide exercise equipment for guests. I have run up and down flights of stairs for half an hour as exercise when there were no formal exercise facilities. Go for a jog. Take the stairs instead of an elevator. Avoid getting the sedentary sluggishness during long indoor meetings by maintain regular physical activity. I have found that this helps me feel less physically and mentally fatigued during trips.

Tip # 8: Don’t wait until the year-end review to collect your accomplishments

The time to start documenting that you have done something right and are on the right track is now. Create folders (online and off-line) where you can store letters and notes of appreciation and recommendation. Got a glowing voicemail? Pass it on to your manager and make a note of it in a logbook. Your conscientious documentation keeps you motivated and takes the stress out of remembering all your accomplishments for a year-end report/review.