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The MSLA Annual Conference 2023: ‘EXCELLENCE’

The recent MSLA Annual Conference held at The Birmingham Metropole hotel brought together a vibrant community of MSLs, aspiring MSLs, MSL managers/team leads and other medical affairs professionals for a day of learning, networking, and professional growth. With MSLs comprising 58% of the audience, the conference was tailored to address the unique challenges and career pathways of these professionals.

The conference kicked off with an engaging networking evening on the 13th of June, dedicated to exploring the career pathways for MSLs. Esteemed panel members: industry experts Sharon Hodgkiss, Mo Lewes, and Georgie Tilley, shared their valuable insights and expertise. This was followed by a buffet dinner that provided a relaxed atmosphere to connect and engage in meaningful networking discussions. The following day featured a captivating line-up of events, starting with a keynote address by Paul Simms, highlighting the increasing importance of MSLs in the pharmaceutical industry. Participants then attended an interactive code workshop, focusing on achieving MSL excellence compliantly, delivered by Rina Newton, an ABPI Code Expert. The afternoon offered a selection of workshops covering topics such as storytelling for MSLs, influencing skills, and the demonstration of value by a panel of industry experts. The conference concluded with a session for member feedback and closing remarks from Mark MacDonald, Chair of the MSLA.

In this blog post, we will provide an overview of Paul Simms' session, highlighting three key factors that underpin the rising importance of MSLs: macro storytelling, customer leadership, and agility. Paul Simms, the CEO of Impatient Health and a renowned figure in the pharmaceutical industry, delivered an enlightening session. Paul, often referred to as the 'pharma provocateur,' presented compelling arguments on why MSLs will become the most important individuals in the pharmaceutical field.

Macro Storytelling: Engaging the Human Element

The session commenced by emphasizing the power of macro storytelling in the healthcare industry. Drawing inspiration from iconic leaders such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Paul challenged the pharmaceutical sector to transcend the technical aspects of medicine and engage audiences on a deeper level. He stressed the importance of nurturing human connections and crafting relatable narratives. MSLs, armed with scientific expertise, need to adopt the art of storytelling to bridge the gap between complex data and its meaningful impact on patient care. By leveraging storytelling skills, MSLs can effectively communicate the value and potential of healthcare innovations to healthcare professionals and patients alike, creating a stronger engagement and understanding within the industry. Key lessons on macro storytelling included:

  • Recognizing the Chemistry between Humans: While the healthcare industry is focused on scientific advancements, there is a need to prioritize the chemistry between humans, understanding their needs and emotions.

  • More Sophistication = More Stories: The more complicated the data, the more storytelling skills are required to convey its meaning effectively.

  • Transparency Trumps Perfection: In a world where ‘perfect’ can be perceived as ‘fake’, transparency becomes more valuable than striving for absolute perfection. Current generations value authenticity and transparency in healthcare.

  • Speaking a New Language: With a significant number of healthcare professionals being millennials, it is essential to adapt communication strategies to their preferences. Understanding and meeting their needs through tailored messaging is crucial.

While MSLs possess credibility, patient insights, scientific expertise, real-world data analysis skills, and effective communication and storytelling abilities, they should take the lead in setting up the scientific narrative not only for products but for the entire organization, shaping the company's scientific future.

Customer Leadership: Shaping the Healthcare Landscape

MSLs should not merely react to customer demands but proactively propose new options and ideas. Customers often struggle to envision future needs until presented with innovative solutions. MSLs, positioned as experts in their field, possess the ability to guide healthcare conversations, offer bold propositions, and foster collaborations. Paul Simms encouraged MSLs to embrace their role as thought leaders and influencers, leading the way in shaping the scientific narrative not just for individual products but for their entire organizations. By assuming the role of customer leaders, MSLs can drive innovation and steer healthcare stakeholders toward improved patient outcomes.

Agility: Navigating Uncertainty and Embracing Learning

The ever-evolving pharmaceutical landscape requires agility. Traditional management approaches may hinder progress in the face of uncertainty. MSLs, however, are uniquely positioned to embody agility. Paul Simms introduced the concept of the Therapeutic Triangle, a framework that outlines the evolving roles of MSLs within organizations. He described how MSLs progress through various levels, starting as ‘scientific servants’ who provide reactive information and eventually becoming future navigators who shape the scientific direction and navigate regulatory changes. Simms emphasized the significance of ethical stewardship throughout this journey, highlighting the need for MSLs to act as moral compasses and guide their organizations with integrity. By climbing the Therapeutic Triangle, MSLs can expand their influence, develop leadership skills, and contribute to shaping the scientific narrative not only for individual products but also for their entire organizations.

To progress to higher levels of the pyramid:

  • Be in the right place: There is the need for a centralized platform akin to Skyscanner or Airbnb, where healthcare professionals can access comprehensive information. Recognizing the place of company websites, sales reps, and MSLs in the hierarchy of information sources is crucial to meet HCPs' needs effectively.

  • Be accountable: Paul contrasted traditional pharmaceutical companies with startups, emphasizing that smaller organizations can innovate more effectively due to their accountability-driven approach. By determining the right metrics and embracing accountability, organizations can foster a culture of innovation and agility.

MSLs are gaining greater importance in the pharmaceutical industry for various reasons beyond the obvious. To excel in their roles, MSLs should transcend product-centric approaches and become macro storytellers, using customer leadership to propose innovative solutions and embracing agility to navigate uncertainty. Climbing the therapeutic triangle, from scientific servants to strategic orchestrators and future navigators, while upholding ethical standards, is crucial for MSLs' professional growth. Being in the right place, prioritizing accountability through smart KPIs, and choosing the right company are key factors that contribute to MSL excellence. By embodying these principles, MSLs can make a significant impact and lead healthcare through the unknown with empathy, ethics, curiosity, and resilience.

In the words of Paul Simms: “Being a trusted scientific expert is just the beginning, especially when the doctor has increasing numbers of tools at their disposal. The power behind the MSL of tomorrow will be much more about the human stories they tell, the connections they build, and the futures they envision. Consider it the MSL's responsibility to provide provocative ideas to the HCP and to learn from their reaction - nobody else within the organisation can prioritise this. And we shouldn't underestimate the ability for the best MSLs to set the scientific narrative not just for a product but for a company, and consider themselves another type of key opinion leader - leading healthcare through the labyrinth of the unknown, with empathy, ethics, curiosity, and resilience.”

The MSLA Annual Conference 2023 served as a platform for MSLs to advance their professional development, network with industry leaders, and gain valuable insights into the evolving landscape of medical science liaison roles. As the demand for MSLs continues to grow, events like these play a crucial role in equipping these professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their careers. The conference undoubtedly left attendees inspired, motivated, and ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead, reinforcing the vital role of MSLs in bridging the gap between scientific innovation and healthcare practice. By fostering a collaborative environment and offering a diverse range of sessions, the MSLA Annual Conference 2023 empowered MSLs to excel in their roles and drive meaningful impact in the pharmaceutical industry. As these dedicated professionals return to their respective organizations armed with newfound knowledge and connections, the conference's ripple effects will extend far beyond the sunny day at Birmingham Metropole, shaping the future of MSL practice.

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