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The MSL role: Past, Present & Future

A personal perspective. Helen Kane, CEO, One MSL

Ten years ago, I was a passionate MSL Manager and proud to have been involved in the launch of the MSLA together with a group of motivated colleagues from across the industry. Collectively we recognized the need for a common platform in the UK & Ireland and the value that such a platform would bring to both MSLs and the wider medical affairs team.

Between 2012-15 I was proud to serve as MSLA Chair, a role which enabled me to demonstrate my belief in the role of the MSL as the external face of medical and a key member of the wider cross-functional team. Through this role as Chair, I was able to gain a valuable cross-industry perspective and hear first-hand of individual company needs and challenges.

Throughout my professional career I have been driven by a desire to make a difference to individuals, teams and organizations and in 2016 I left corporate life to launch Pivot MSL with a mission to drive standards of MSL excellence. Would I succeed? I had no idea and to be honest it was a scary time, but I was trusting my instincts.

As part of our launch strategy, I asked 30 companies to share the words they associated with MSL Excellence – the responses were built into the attached word cloud with the most frequently used words in larger font. From these responses we built our MSL excellence framework.

Fast forward 5 years to 2021: Pivot MSL has evolved to become One MSL ( which is now recognized as an industry-leading authority on building best-in-class MSL and medical teams. To date we have partnered with and delivered field medical services to 30+ pharma/ biotech companies across the globe. With every client we listen and question so that we might learn and respond appropriately. We have observed first-hand how rapidly the MSL function is evolving.

At One MSL we aspire to learn something new each day and when invited to speak at the 2021 MSLA Conference on the subject of the ‘MSL role: Past, Present and Future’ I wanted to reflect on our learnings so that I could share with attendees.

Back in 2016:

o MSL role expectations not always clear

o The MSL role was predominantly reactive in nature

o Activities were mainly scientific presentations (1:1 or group)

o Engagement was more tactical than strategic

o There was a need for clarity on MSL ways of working guidance

o Upskilling was mainly around scientific knowledge

o And finally, MSL value was not always recognized within the organization

In 2021 we have identified that we need to adapt to the new normal in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact as an accelerator of change. Once again we invited the industry to share the words they associated with MSL Excellence and the second word cloud clearly shows a shift in thinking.

Over the last five years much has been written about the evolving MSL role from reactive support function to a valued strategic driver and trusted scientific partner but it is our belief that MSLs need to be provided with the building blocks of excellence in order to successfully make this transition.

  • Medical leaders to clearly define and communicate strategy

  • Onboarding needs to provide clarity on role expectations, scientific knowledge and essential skills. Onboarding should include assessment to ensure competence and confidence to fulfil organisational specific needs and role expectations

  • MSLs need to be clear on compliant ways of working to be effective in-role

  • Companies need to review their approach to operational excellence to streamline systems & processes

  • Upskilling should be linked to competency based assessment and identified specific training needs around knowledge and skills. This should be a continuous process throughout the MSL career

  • Ongoing coaching is essential to provide the MSL with regular feedback on performance and support the transfer of learning to the workplace

  • MSL Managers to provide local direction and support in achieving goals and communicating metrics which should be linked to strategic goals

Helen Kane is CEO of One MSL, a specialist global training consultancy.


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