Welcome to the first medical science liaison podcast. I'm Jane Chin and your host for the podcast.

This podcast is for current MSLs, MSL managers, and medical directors. I hope to update this podcast on a quarterly basis. How often we podcast depends on the feedback you send me, and whether we can get participation from the MSL community.

For this short program I’ll recap some major issues we’ve observed in 2005 and what MSLs may expect in 2006. Finally I'll share 3 notable practices I've heard from members of the MSL community.

What’s been happening in 2005?

First, the MSL job market is becoming more competitive. This increased competition is not from industry naïve MSLs looking to become MSLs, although we do see more life science professionals interested in the MSL career.

Increased job competition is coming from MSLs who entered the industry two years ago - or even one year ago. These MSLs generally have doctorate degrees and now also have industry and MSL experience. Because companies are beginning to require only doctorate degrees for MSL positions, this has created a lot of debate within the MSL community about whether MSLs should be required to have doctorates. We can even split hairs further by arguing which tyep of doctorate works better for the MSL position.

I’ve been on the fence about this requirement. I will probably stay on the fence because I don’t believe that the degree is a guarantee of effectiveness. Of course, having a doctorate can help when you have to absorb a lot of technical information in a very short time. But a doctorate degree does not automatically make you a good MSL. That would be a very one-sided view of the position.

The degree requirement is creating tension within the MSL community, particularly in those who have many years of healthcare and MSL experience but without a doctorate. But don’t get discouraged, whenever I poll hiring managers about degrees, most say they look at the individual and take their experience into consideration.

Next, MSLs seem to be earning more. This is because companies keep bloating MSL base salaries to lure the best and the brightest to their organizations. This can all look very good to MSLs but I think it’s a double edge sword. It’s a double edge sword because first, you don’t know what’s in the fine print. Sometimes you think the grass is greener on the other side and once you get there you find out it’s astroturf. Second, the more expensive you are, the faster you go when companies get into their cost-cutting rounds. Last month I heard from three people from 3 different companies who lost their jobs practically overnight. Things can change and when they do, you don’t always see it coming.

This means in today’s job market, MSLs can’t just have a plan B, you almost need a plan C and plan D. And there is no security, no matter what size company you are in.

Metrics has always been big since the inception of MSL programs, and this will not change in the next 5 years. However, it’s usually been the problem of managers and directors. I think MSLs need to become proactive about the right measurements. MSLs can’t keep a double standard about metrics. What I mean by this is that we expect high numbers in our salaries, but turn around and get offended when companies ask us what numbers we contribute back to them. I tell managers and directors not to struggle with the wrong question. The wrong question is whether we should have numbers in our metrics. Numbers will never go away so we’re wasting time and energy fighting that battle. The right question is which numbers we accept. Which numbers will be a truer reflection of MSL value? I hope for 2006 we will be one step closer to a consensus on appropriate metrics.

Of course we can’t talk about 2006 without acknowledging the implementation of Medicare Part D. This means it’s a good idea for MSLs to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the managed market, even if they may not be involved in managed care at their companies. To be an effective participant in contributing to healthcare progress, we have to understand both the scientific and economic sides of healthcare.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge 2 good MSL practices I've heard from members of the MSL community.

First came from Lisa, who is a MSL manager from a specialty pharma company. Lisa takes her MSLs out of their comfort zones by asking them to learn about areas that can be very foreign to them. So for example, Lisa asks a MSL with a basic science background to teach the group about managed care. In this job you don’t excel by staying comfortable all the time, but if you practice getting out of your comfort zone, you’ll get better at it.

Next came from Joe, who is a MSL manager from a large pharma company. When Joe interviews a potential new MSL candidate, he brings in the entire MSL team for a group interview. Some of you may think this is a very expensive way to interview a candidate, but Joe has the right idea about what is expensive and what is effective. If you bring someone into a team who does not work well with the group, the cost of managing conflict will end up being more expensive than getting the whole team involved in choosing their team members in the first place.

If you have a good MSL practice to share please email me at podcast@msliq.com .

To wrap up, I'll be traveling to Asia for the winter holidays. No, I did not line up for a Tamiflu shot, so Wish my immune system luck. if you need to reach me, email is the best way, though I may take a few days to respond.

I appreciate all the insight that MSLs and MSL executives have shared with me in 2005. I wish you an excellent 2006. Until next time!