The evolution of the role of the medical science liaison (MSL) has been in tandem with the shift in the pharmaceutical market. Expansion of key stakeholders, digitization providing more insights and the increasing complexity of therapeutics and precision medicine require a specific and unique skill set. Competencies that match the needs of the changing role to drive the delivery of value should be the basis of enhancing an MSL’s performance. In a recent paper published in The MSL Journal, we discussed establishing methods to evaluate an MSL. We also detail the results of the interactive workshop “Evaluating MSL Performance and Advocating for a Promotion” we hosted at the MSL Society 2022 annual conference, where attendees were asked to identify which competency areas are most vital in today’s MSL field medical role.
The top three competencies for MSLs were:
- Presentation skills
- Strategic focus
Due to their “soft skill” nature and subjectivity, measuring these areas poses a challenge for field team leaders. Recognizing this, a competency framework with definitions, stratified levels, and integration of competencies to guide the evaluation of MSL performance is highly useful. This is critical because field medical teams are involved in a variety of activities across their regions in support of external KOLs and internal stakeholders, making metrics and comparison of performance problematic (Fig. 1). Beyond the quality of “what” is accomplished is “how” the goals are achieved in the context of the MSL’S experience level.
The MSL Competency Index
The MSL Competency Index developed by the MSL Society can help overcome the challenges (Fig. 1) that come with the high variability of the MSL role. The competency framework has three primary sections that can help assess the soft skills identified as those in highest demand based on our survey: scientific expertise, collaboration, and business acumen, which are stratified across three MSL levels. Having this framework for a role that is increasing in complexity is a crucial tool that can assist managers develop the highest-impact, value-generating team. It will help team leaders determine promotion readiness and coach for development and mitigates against surprises during the performance reviews. Field teams can work towards their goals with greater clarity and transparency into how and on what they will be evaluated in their performance. This helps level the playing field for managers and MSLs so that expectations and definitions are calibrated to ensure consistency across the team.
How to Use the MSL Competency Index
Having clear goals and defined metrics for performance based on the index is the first step. Putting the framework into practice is the next. Team leaders should conduct periodic check-ins in the field to assess progress, along with consistent coaching and feedback will emphasize the goals and expectations of the role. Conducted effectively, the MSL will feel supported, encouraged, and inspired to take on more challenging goals that bring value to the organization. Because the MSL touches many aspects of the business, the manager will want to glean feedback from internal stakeholders and other field team members, partnerships within the team and across the organization where the MSL may lend support. These could include speaker training, leading conferences, supporting ad boards and many other ways MSLs are involved with medical and strategic needs.
Useful Tools for Coaching the MSL
An additional, useful tool available with the performance assessment is the Field Coaching Report (FCR). It is designed to provide cross-departmental documentation for ongoing feedback and help inform the annual review processes. The FCRs ensure a seamless review process where staff understand the areas they need to focus on for growth. They also clarify for the MSL how to build capabilities to higher levels. A digital FCR combined with online coaching can connect performance with evaluation data and dashboards. Combining FCR results with an online coaching companion tool ties the coaching to competencies with real world actionable steps. The role of the MSL continues to evolve and grow in strategic importance and it’s increasingly clear that competencies that land in the ‘soft skill’ category are associated with the greatest success. Having a clear and methodical means to calibrate the evaluation of these important areas will build in context, variability and effectiveness while supporting the MSL’s career growth and performance.
Larry Dollar, PharmD, MS, MSL-BC, Vice President, Medical Affairs, Syneos Health
Cherie Hyder, PharmD, MSL-BC, Field Director, Syneos Health
Celeste Mosby, Vice President, Learning Solutions, Syneos Health
Arshi Gupta, Managing Director, Consulting, Syneos Health