Virtual Medical Conferences: How will Medical Affairs Adapt?

By Deborah Ebert Long
Senior Vice President Medical Affairs at Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Pre- and Post-Conference Activities: What Has Going Virtual Changed?

With large gatherings heavily restricted and COVID-19 cases still on the rise, there is no indication when medical conferences will resume regular in-person attendance. This makes it critical for medical science liaisons and other medical affairs professionals to adapt to the virtual conference environment.

Pre-Conference Prep

One of the challenges faced by medical science liaisons (MSLs) in the COVID-19 era is finding the appropriate time and channel to reach out to healthcare providers, many of whom are overwhelmed by the clinical challenges brought on by the pandemic. Connecting with Key Opinion Leaders/Key Thought Leaders (KOLs/KTLs) about an upcoming virtual conference is a great way to start a conversation that brings direct value to the KOL. Following up after the conference is equally important. Providing information in a well-organized, concise summary to those who were not able to attend is another way to bring value and open the lines of communication. (Be sure to check your company’s policies on providing information proactively to HCPs, and properly document any HCP requests to receive such information.)

Whether live or virtual, some of the necessary preparatory work for a medical congress remains the same. It is always important to research the competitive landscape in advance and see what data will be presented. It is also critical is to thoroughly familiarize yourself and your team with the conference schedule:

  • who will be speaking and when
  • poster presentations
  • networking breaks/receptions

Planning to Succeed

Assigning coverage of each session ensures nothing gets missed. Virtual conferences don’t require travel arrangements and hotel bookings. Instead, you should familiarize yourself ahead of time with the format and the platform that organizers will be using to host the conference to ensure your attendance goes smoothly.

You need a detailed plan for your in-conference activities. You need to know not only how you will be engaging your KOLs, but how will these interactions occur during the sessions? For example, will there be live Q&A and discussions? Having these logistics nailed down before the conference begins is very important. If you are running a virtual exhibit or booth for your company, look for ways to make it more interactive and to increase engagement. This takes some creativity, research, and out-of-the-box thinking to plan for the virtual environment.

At the Conference

One of the major advantages of virtual conferences is that HCPs who might not have been able to travel to attend are now able to be there virtually. This can potentially give you greater access to HCPs, especially since there are no mile-long halls to navigate through to find the person you are interested in talking to. Another advantage is that the sessions for some conferences are available on demand, allowing attendees to attend sessions that are held concurrently or access for HCPs who cannot attend the live session.

Influence Mapping and Social Media

Being able to see who is attending different virtual sessions can provide a wealth of insight. You gain a new roadmap for which topics particularly interests your KOLs. You also have an opportunity to understand which of their colleagues have common research interests. This can be particularly helpful if you are looking for up-and-comers in the thought leader community. Or when you need an introduction to a new KOL through an existing relationship.

Keep an eye on social media and follow important pertinent hashtags. Attending from home or the office means not having access to social cues in live settings, but social media can be a rich source of insight into how the medical community is reacting to the presented information. As always, be sure you continue to follow your company’s policies on social media engagement.

Post-Conference Activities

Many “on-demand” access options for talks you may have missed or want to listen to again are available only for a limited time, which makes it important to understand the plans for the conference content before the conference ends. Find out about the availability of any presentations your company made at the conference and obtain those links to be able to provide to any KOLs who request them.

“On-demand” platforms increase accessibility in theory by releasing HCPs from the requirement to attend at a specific time for a live presentation. However, the reality on the ground is that if presentations are available on demand, it’s easy for people to push the content to the mental back burner and then never quite get around to it. A conversation with the KOL and a follow up email with the link can remind the KOL of the value and newness of your company’s data.

Insights and Predictive Analytics

Just as you would with a live conference, you should still prepare a report of all of the key insights that you collected to present internally to your colleagues. If your company presented or had a booth, predictive analytics will be a major asset to produce medical insights. It will also enable you to see what worked and what needs improvement in your company’s utilization of a virtual platform.

Final Thoughts on the New World of Virtual Medical Conferences

Understanding the key differences between live and virtual medical conferences is critical since most large gatherings are expected to be virtual not only for 2020, but well into 2021. Properly navigating virtual conferences can result in significant value for a company if the data that your team has been collecting and analyzing for months, or even years, is optimally shared in this new, all-virtual environment.

Read this before your next MSL Interview

William A. Soliman, Phd, BCMAS
Founder, CEO

Surprised that people are still interviewing for Medical Science Liaison (MSL) positions in the midst of a global pandemic? There are still lots of positions out there and if you’re reading this article, you probably know how competitive it is to get that next MSL dream job.

I receive lots of messages daily on LinkedIn asking me for career advice in pharma so I thought I would share with you what we have seen actually works. I mean literally works. Based on actual data from my company, the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) has collected from hiring managers and MSLs. So rather than waste time & money on MSL conferences, read this article (it’s free) where I share secrets that most insiders don’t want you to know…but then apply it to the actual interview (otherwise it’s like planning to workout and then not actually exercising). I promise it will increase your chances of landing you the role.

5 Concrete Things you Should Absolutely do before Every MSL interview.


  1. Ask this question when you start (but not in a confrontational way). “I’m excited to be here. I’m curious what was it about my background that made you agree to bring me in for the interview?” Studies have shown that this question statistically significantly increases your chances of actually getting the job. I won’t get into the psychology behind it. If you really want to know, private message me and I can share the study.

  2. Practice the “Tell me about yourself” response out loud several times. This is probably the most important question for 2 reasons. One, it’s your first impression. Two, we know from data that people tend to make judgements about you in the first 7 seconds. This question is NOT intended for you to share your work history. It’s your chance to sell them on why they should pick YOU.

  3. Research the company. Yeah I know that you’re probably thinking, ‘duh’ of course. But I’m not talking about going to the company’s website and looking at the mission & vision statement. I’m talking deep research. Here’s what we know works. Again, based on data. Once you’re at the company’s site, click on the ‘investors tab.’ Usually, the company will have press releases and investor webcasts posted on their site; usually for equity research analysts, investors, etc.. Click on the webcasts and listen to them. Listen to what leadership focuses on, how they pronounce the drug’s name (yes I’m serious) and pay attention to what questions are asked of them at the end. Chances are that you can steal those questions and use them yourself in your own interview. Next, look at the company’s pipeline of course, then google publications associated with that drug. Once you’ve done that, look up the authors from those publications. Those will most likely be the key opinion leaders (KOLs) (Nowadays, pharma calls them External Experts (EEs) or Key thought Leaders (KTLs). Find them online, usually on YouTube or they may have authored guidelines for that particular therapeutic area. Read those guidelines, listen to what they have to say. Now you’ll know the issues for that product, the disease state better, and you’ll know who the KOLs are and you can then name drop during the interview. Hiring managers like that.

  4. Presentations. I would say 99% of MSL interviews require you to present (typically using ppt). You’ll either be asked to present a topic of your choice or you’ll be given a clinical paper they’ve published recently about the product and be asked to present it to the interviewers (usually in a group setting). If you did what I said in #3, you’ll be in great shape. Your ppt needs to be polished so look at how KOLs present. If you’re going to do it, go big or go home right? Use their style, template and sometimes you may get lucky and can even download the ppt itself and tweak it. Just be sure to practice out loud. You will be sure to wow them. Trust me it works. I’ve been told half a dozen times after I’ve presented that, “I was probably the most effective presenter they’ve seen interview.” Not bragging- just sharing it because I want people to say the same about you.

  5. Money. Don’t bring up money unless you’re asked. Don’t bring up vacations unless you’re asked. Don’t bring up work-life balance. Just keeping it real here. Hiring managers don’t want people that are overly concerned with vacations and work-life balance. They want motivated, hard workers, who are hungry to help the team succeed. It’s that simple.

There you have it. No need to buy books about breaking into the MSL role or attend MSL conferences. What about networking you ask? How do you even get the interview? Stay tuned for my next article(s).


About William Soliman, PhD, BCMAS


Dr. Soliman is considered a pharma futurist. He is regularly featured on Fox Business News, Al Jazeera, Forbes, and other media outlets on topics & issues related to the pharma/biotech industry. Dr. Soliman has 20+ years experience in the biopharmaceutical industry and is currently the Chairman, CEO of the ACMA.


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Acing the “Tell Me About Yourself”​ Question in MSL Job Interviews

A quick online search of ‘how to ace your next interview’ will give you a lot of great suggestions and strategies on how to increase your chances of landing your dream position in your medical science liaison (MSL) job interview. But for an MSL role, getting the job isn’t easy. Data from the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) has shown that for every MSL opening there are an average of 250 applicants. Becoming an MSL has grown increasingly competitive. So how do you ace your next MSL interview and stand out? 

“Tell me about yourself”

Perhaps the most important question you will get asked is “Tell me about yourself.” The hiring manager isn’t looking for a historical breakdown of your career. This is the mistake that many MSL candidates make. In reality, it’s an opportunity to sell yourself upfront and demonstrate your ability to articulate yourself effectively. After all, great MSLs are great communicators. They can tell a story, they can build relationships and they can breakdown complex ideas. So, how do you answer this question? We have provided two examples below based on experience (no experience vs. experienced MSL candidate).

Sample Response – “Tell Me about yourself” in an MSL Job Interview

MSL Candidate- No Experience

“First, I want to thank you for having me, it’s an exciting time at (Company X). I recently saw (Company X’s) press release on new data presented at (recent major medical meeting) and it looks promising. I am a (insert degree–PhD, MD, PharmD, NP, etc.) by training and have been in clinical research for the last x# years focused on (insert what you’ve focused on) and I’ve been able to build strong relationships within this community. 

I believe many of the skills I acquired as a clinical researcher have given me a strong foundation for this particular MSL role. Namely, building a strong network within the medical community, being able to convey complex ideas to a wide variety of audiences, and building strong business acumen, as I follow industry trends routinely.

I’ve also recently completed a (insert any additional credentials you completed such as a certification like BCMAS or additional coursework or seminars). I am excited to be here and learn more about the role.”

MSL Candidate – With Experience

Thanks again for having me, it’s an exciting time at (Company X), I recently saw (Company X’s) press release on new data presented at (a recent major medical meeting) and the data was trending in the right direction (you can also focus on another aspect, such as a recent launch, expansion, change in executive leadership, etc.-Do your research beforehand). So, by training, I’m a (insert degree), with x# years of MSL experience primarily focused in the (insert disease state, ie., oncology, cardiology, neurology, etc.) space. 

I’ve built a strong relationship network with many of the leading External Experts (EE) (most may still call them key opinion leaders (KOLs) in (that particular therapeutic area). For example, I saw that (insert KOL name) was on a recent article published in JAMA where your compound was studied, I know (him/her) very well and we recently met at (insert particular medical meeting/conference, etc..). 

I’ve been fortunate enough to use my relationship building skills over the years and have a strong network of KOLs in (insert particular therapeutic area). I would be able to hit the ground running fairly quickly. I have excellent presentation skills and am passionate about this particular therapeutic area and believe that (insert product/compound) has tremendous potential based on the recent data I’ve seen. I’m excited to be here and look forward to hearing more about the role.”

There are 3 primary point you want to get across in your MSL job interview.

1.    You can build relationships.

2.    You’ve done your research about the company/product(s).

3.    You have the skills needed (communication/presentation, gone above and beyond, for example, become a BCMAS, etc).

Like these articles? Stay up to date with the latest trends in the pharma industry & MSL world by subscribing to the ACMA newsletter. Click here to register.

Medical Affairs CRM Platform: Time for a change?

Deb Mathews is a senior medical affairs executive with over 20 years experience leading medical affairs teams. She has managed medical affairs CRM tools and systems for field-based and headquarters teams.

Deb Mathews, medical affairs CRM expertThe medical science liaison (MSL), a critical field-based function in Medical Affairs, has evolved tremendously over the last 10 years. A recent study by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) shows that there has been a 300% increase in the number of MSLs in the industry over the last 15 years. The study also projects 47% growth in the next five years. However, technology systems, insight gathering platforms, and methods for comprehensive communication and engagement have not kept pace with the specialized needs of these MSL teams.  

Most Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems in use by medical affairs teams today were originally built for Pharmaceutical Sales Reps. As such, they are focused on commercial value ONLY.  But there is a significant difference in the type of value that MSLs bring to organizations.  Additionally, other in-house medical affairs professionals are interacting with external experts (EEs) or key opinion leaders (KOLs) more often.  Better coordination between these connected teams is key.

The growing importance of actionable insights in medical affairs cannot be overstated. Today’s medical affairs organizations need to have the inside scoop on what is happening in the medical community. Moreover, they need to be able to pivot their strategy as needed to drive results and value.  Both human and artificial intelligence are critical to generating and understanding the information gathered by MSLs and other medical affairs professionals.  This is why an effective CRM built specifically for medical affairs organizations from its inception is important.

ACMA Engage

ACMA Engage™ is the only CRM platform built from the ground up for medical affairs professionals in the life sciences industry. Engage captures the breadth and depth of MSL activities with built-in capabilities that reflect the full range of what MSLs do.  For example, the system is designed to facilitate flexible scientific presentations, on-the-spot responses to requests for medical information, clinical trial support and a range of other medical-specific activities. But commercially focused CRM systems support none of these without major customization.

Many of the functions that in-house and field medical affairs professionals are engaged in are long-term endeavors and their results are a combination of both quantitative and qualitative metrics.  ACMA Engage™ enables Artificial Intelligence (AI) Insights, powered by enhanced analytics. The system captures activities such as:

  • phase IV trial management
  • a 360-degree view of HCP interactions
  • thought leader identification and segmentation
  • territory planning
  • virtual KOL interactions
  • outcomes-based educational activities

The new CRM platform is provided as Software as a Service (SaaS), which produces less administrative burden and lower operating costs. The SaaS system is designed for interoperability and can integrate with most widely used CRM systems. This adds greater autonomy for medical affairs as well as flexibility to open up additional features.

ACMA Engage is the first CRM platform which incorporates training and certification for MSLs into the CRM itself.  MSL progress can then be tagged in the CRM system enabling medical affairs leaders to analyze the impact of training and certification for their MSLs long term by looking at key metrics.   

Value of Accreditation

ACMA Engage is also the first Medical CRM platform delivered by an accredited organization. The life sciences industry is a heavily regulated sector.  Because of this, mitigating risk and liability is paramount to any pharmaceutical company.  With ACMA Engage, companies have greater peace of mind knowing that the ACMA is accredited, which means that the ACMA has to adhere to higher standards of excellence than traditional vendors. 

The new CRM system builds on PubMed’s tag system to standardize and build patterns from the free text sections of the MSL’s data entry. The system gives administrators peace of mind by organizing and directing useful data structures in real-time as MSLs record their interactions. Finally, the ACMA Engage platform has two-factor authentication and is HIPAA-compliant for significantly better security than other CRMs. This provides better safeguards to prevent security breaches.

Looking Ahead – The New Era in Medical Affairs

Today’s effective medical affairs professional needs to go beyond a comprehensive understanding of their therapeutic area(s). They must also bring differentiated insights and adapt to changing market dynamics.  If successful, MSLs will be able to distinguish themselves and stand out to their KOLs and thereby raise the credibility of their organization.  One key trend emerging to improve MSL reputations with their KOLs is medical affairs board certification. The only accredited certification for MSLs and other medical affairs professionals is the Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) program.  

Companies need to evolve beyond their traditional documentation processes for KOL interactions. When they take a macroscale view of KOL relationship strategy, they can more effectively engage multiple medical affairs stakeholders. This in turn will provide valuable insights that truly drive business and inform clinical strategy. ACMA Engage™ offers new tools and strategies that will help medical affairs organizations become more responsive and better equipped to meet the needs of the rapidly changing healthcare ecosystem.

How COVID-19 is changing the MSL Role

COVID-19 has ushered in unprecedented times that none of us planned for. With travel restrictions prohibiting medical science liaisons (MSLs) from visiting healthcare providers (HCPs) and access to HCPs being drastically limited,  MSLs have had to make major changes to how they operate.

I have spoken to MSLs who once thought the concept of “virtual MSLs” was years away suddenly finding themselves becoming virtual MSLs overnight. Many clinical trials have halted, launches are delayed, and the New Drug Application (NDA)/Biologic License Agreement (BLA) review process has slowed down. These disruptions have forced MSLs to find new and innovative ways to engage external experts. 

Unfortunately, companies are laying off whole teams because they cannot justify having a “field medical team” when the “field” is completely off limits. I have recently spoken with medical affairs leaders who have had to reallocate resources and now have their MSLs working on projects that support medical information, clinical development, and other “in-house” responsibilities to save their MSLs’ positions from being cut. (kudos to those leaders for their dedication to their team and trying to protect their positions).


The New Challenge for MSLs

The immediate challenge is that many MSLs have never worked in other medical affairs functions and trying to learn overnight how to best bring value can be a problem.  As is the case in most situations, those who can pivot and adapt will thrive and those who don’t will be left behind, and in this case potentially without a job. The time to focus on continued professional development and on how to broaden your skillset is now.

The Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) program is the first and only accredited board certification for MSLs in the world.  It provides 20 comprehensive preparatory modules that cover every facet of medical affairs. They are used to prep for a board exam that helps medical affairs professionals demonstrate their competence and proficiency, not just as an MSL, but as a well-rounded medical affairs professional that is ready to take on any challenge or curveball thrown their way. The preparatory modules are an excellent professional development tool that will quickly bring benefit to the professional and the organization as a whole.  Studies have shown that board certified MSLs via BCMAS are 10x more competent and 4x more motivated.  A survey of over 1,000 KOLs showed that 87% would value board certified MSLs over those without a ‘BCMAS’ credential. Furthermore, they would see them as more credible, competent and trustworthy. 


Looking Ahead

Let’s face it, we live in a new reality.  Even if a COVID-19 vaccine is discovered, most companies are already pivoting the way they do business in the future.  And with talks about a second (and potentially third) wave of COVID-19 cases, the industry will need to look for more effective ways to distinguish their MSL teams.  Indeed, we are now caught in the middle of a very long round of “medical affairs musical chairs” and the person left standing not carrying their weight in their organization will fall.

As advocates for the medical affairs/MSL profession, the ACMA works tirelessly every day to make sure that medical affairs professionals are valued and acknowledged for the important role they play and the immense dedication and effort they put in to make sure that HCPs have the most accurate information to help make informed decisions on what is best for their patients by providing the best possible treatments. In everything that we do, medical affairs is at the core. The ACMA wants to help everyone who is as passionate about medical affairs as we are, have a seat when the music stops.

5 Reasons BCMAS Professionals Make Excellent Medical Science Liaisons

By Casey Sanner, Scientific Field Director at Janssen

1. Great MSLs Have a Growth Mindset

The moment one thinks they ‘know it all’ is the moment they stop growing. Great MSLs must always be:

  • Open to continuous professional development and learning.
  • Looking for ways to grow so that they can better serve their stakeholders is key.
  • Embarking on new challenges rather than turning away from them.

No one knows everything and there is always room to learn more. Understanding this is what separates a good MSL or Medical Affairs Professional from a great one. BCMAS training gives professionals the tools to really think outside of the box and understand all of the different contributions an MSL can make. As a result, they are more confident tackling challenges head on rather than avoiding them.

2. MSLs Need to be Detail Oriented

Casey Sanner, Scientific Field Director at JanssenThe BCMAS program is a comprehensive professional development program that addresses most areas that a medical science liaison may encounter in their careers. Mastering these broad competencies equips them to focus on the finer details of their role. Just as powerfully, excellent MSLs can understand the intricacies of cross-functional roles and thereby contribute in more ways to the wider team’s success.

A detail-oriented person doesn’t just do something because it is the status quo or because “it has always been done that way.” They want to understand “why” things are done that way in order to identify areas of improvement and incorporate ethical and appropriate ways to increase efficiency and productivity.

The BCMAS provides that understanding of the thought process, as well as the regulatory and compliance standards, that require certain things to be done a specific way. Even the most seasoned medical affairs professional can widen their understanding of internal processes. This also empowers them to make stronger arguments for potential changes.

3. They Need to Make On-the-Spot Decisions

Excellent MSLs can make decisions quickly that will result in the best possible outcomes for both internal and external stakeholders. The BCMAS training and certification equips professionals with the skillset that they need to make these decisions rationally and ethically. The BCMAS training includes interactive role-playing to test participants’ practical understanding of how to apply what they’re learning in real-world situations.

4. MSLs Have a Significant Ethical Responsibility

MSLs are the primary conduit for conveying important clinical data to HCPs and bringing insights back to their companies. Such a responsibility makes it critical that MSLs act ethically and meet strict industry standards for scientific communication. Therefore, MDs and PharmDs who serve in medical science liaison roles have to leave behind their “practitioner” roles. Instead they must adapt to working in a highly regulated industry where there are limitations on what can be said or done by company representatives.

BCMAS certification takes the most conservative approach when addressing regulations. The training provides examples of how guidelines can be applied in not so “black or white situations” where the answer or approach is not obvious. This helps mitigate risk for companies because they know their MSLs have been thoroughly trained on the prudent approaches they should take in their roles.

5. Good MSLs are Persistent

Persistent MSLs make great MSLs. They keep moving forward to achieve their goals without becoming easily discouraged by setbacks. In order to beat the odds of not succeeding, a field medical professional has to be confident in what they are doing.

BCMAS professionals are more confident in their full understanding of their roles and those of their cross-functional colleagues. This leads to better preparedness for meeting all the needs of their KOLs. This in turn ensures persistent MSLs stay motivated. BCMAS is a widely recognized badge of achievement that demonstrates the value of what medical science liaisons (and medical affairs as a whole) do. That’s a powerful inspiration to stay on course for success.