Transitioning to Industry

Hilary Mandler

Hilary Mandler

Medical Affairs Executive

Pharmacists that transition from academia to industry are often said to have moved to “the dark side,” insinuating that they have abandoned patient care or have become too “sales-y”.  Pharmacists in industry do play an important role and should not be perceived as someone who has “sold out” their career.  I recently transitioned from academia to industry and want to provide guidance to anyone considering this move. 

Despite spending my entire career in academia, I was very familiar with the different roles for pharmacists in industry. After careful consideration, I decided to pursue a field medical role as a medical science liaison (MSL) because the job appeared to match my skillset and clinical interests. In this role, I’d still be an educator focused on therapeutics and disease, but substituting KOLs in lieu of pharmacy students.    

Although I felt prepared for the challenge, I was very surprised at how difficult the transition was for me.  Learning the long list of industry acronyms, such as ‘SOP, ‘KOL and ‘SRD’ and new concepts such as ‘business acumen’ and ‘strategic plans’ was daunting. Who knew that healthcare compliance training would make feel so unprepared? 

I wish I had taken advantage of the many resources that help pharmacists’ transition to industry. Organizations such the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) and Drug Information Association (DIA), provide valuable resources and on-demand training that provides foundational knowledge of the industry and the various roles for pharmacists. For example, the ACMA’s Medical Affairs Competency Certificate Program (MACC) is a medical affairs training program offered to students in pharmacy school that provides industry knowledge that can be leveraged into an industry position. For industry professionals, the Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist Program (BCMAS) is a comprehensive training program that is considered to be the standard in medical affairs.  In addition, seek guidance from industry pharmacists through LinkedIn, pharmacy school alumni, and work colleagues.  The better prepared you are, the easier the transition will be.  

A medical device professional discusses the value of BCMAS

Prem Sundivakkam, PhD., MBA., BCMAS

Prem Sundivakkam, PhD., MBA., BCMAS

Medical Affairs Manager

     Despite many promising breakthroughs in the health care sector, there remains a growing demand for the lifesaving therapeutics. I often ask myself, “Why does the industry appear to be so challenged? What are the setbacks in transforming the innovation to market? Is this an R&D productivity challenge, difficulty in understanding the market needs, overall risk-averse regulatory environment or the challenges in stakeholder management? It is clear that the ability to understand the market needs, to deliver the medical value across the product life cycle, and to best manage that myriad of strategic and transactional partners position scientific and medical experts to drive the organizations. However, many leaders in science are not ready to take this role. 

     Organizations need leaders with a profound understanding not only of science, but also to effectively communicate the complex and the highly valuable medical information with an increasing array of stakeholders. They need leaders who can play a far more crucial role in annulling the doubt amongst the customers on the industries’ ability to present unbiased medical information. 

     Organizations are constantly re-evaluating their training methods and strategies for the development in an employee’s skills and business growth. While the in-house trainings and practical experience cannot be substituted, they seldom provide the medical affairs’ organizations an opportunity to be taken out of the comfort zone to learn the art of engagement along with the functionalities of the various channels. 

     Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) is the only internationally-recognized organization that had established the standard of excellence in medical affairs. The modules provided by ACMA and the BCMAS examination covers all the skills necessary to increase the understanding of the ecosystem a medical affairs’ professional will be exposed to in an organization. It also helps in determining the capabilities that exist to understand the patient experience, access and influence a broad array of external health care stakeholders, and act as a liaison between the external medical community and the internal research organization.

     Obtaining the certification had influenced my career by shifting the focus from thinking defensively about what medical affairs can’t do to acting proactively on the things that medical affairs can do. It also helps me partake in discussions with more confidence, capture and integrate strategic information across the array of both internal and external stakeholders, and certainly had improved the level of my engagement to identify extended opportunities. 

     Given the significant changes happening in the life science industries, this is an appropriate time to reassess and redefine the goals of medical affairs function. Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) certification will certainly develop the skills needed to enable medical affairs’ professionals to meet the emerging demands and tackle them effectively. After all, the goal of balancing science and business is not to simply fit decisions into the larger picture, but to help paint that picture.

5 Common Mistakes Seasoned Medical Science Liaisons Make

Marianne Kenny, PharmD

Marianne Kenny, PharmD

Former VP Global Medical Communications Allergan

Think you’re too experienced for more training? Or say to yourself, “I’ve been an MSL for 10 years, what could I possibly learn?” If that’s you… keep reading. 

Studies in the MSL space have shown that within about 2 years, MSLs begin to intellectually ‘fatigue’ and typically plateau when it comes to their knowledge level of the disease state and functional areas. They start getting into certain habits that rendering them less effective because although industry market dynamics change, they don’t.

Here are 5 common mistakes, seasoned MSLs make:

1. Think they know it all

Ever meet that MSL that’s been in the industry for 10+ years and thinks they have it all figured out. You would think that they’re going to be the most effective, most engaged. Unfortunately, oftentimes they are just the opposite. It isn’t because they don’t have the chops for the role. It’s that they’ve either grown apathetic or simply grow content with their current knowledge levels.

If that’s you.. Think about ways to reinvent yourself and stay up to date and fresh with industry standards.

2. Stop Growing in their Profession

Have you been to a training session and the person next to you rolls their eyes as if to say, “what a waste of time.” Oftentimes, seasoned professionals have this idea that they won’t benefit from any additional training or professional development. One of the things the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) hears all the time from seasoned MSL pros is how much they found out they didn’t know when they become Board Certified in Medical Affairs (BCMAS).

3. Get Stuck in their Habits

We are all creatures of habit and get stuck in bad ruts. The key is to not make one big change at once but rather small changes. I’ve talked with some MSLs who tell me that they wait till the end of the week to report all of their KOL interactions because they just don’t’ have the time during the week. The problem with this approach is you end up relying on your memory and may forget important details and insights about the interaction that your company might want to know about.

4. Go back to the Same KOL/KTL ‘Well’

Once when I was heading up an MSL team, I did a little exercise to see who our MSLs were engaging and found something quite remarkable. Most of the lower performing MSLs were meeting with a small number of KOLs with a disproportionally higher frequency versus their counterparts who met with a broader pool of KOLs.  When I dug further, I discovered that the primary reasons for this was (1) comfortability with those particular KOLs and (2) access was easier. The result was that the company wasn’t effectively engaging the right people. With digital technology and innovation in medical affairs, new tools and analytics for KOL profiling make it easier to identify the right KOLs to engage. I personally like H1 Insights which I believe have the most reliable data with an easy to use interface.

5. Assume other People Grasp Your Previous Experience

You walk into a new role after you’ve been with your previous company for 10 years and they still treat you like a ‘newbie.’ It’s a common story we hear at the ACMA. Don’t assume anything. Unfortunately, when you start at a new company, you have to rebuild your reputation and those relationships. 

There are a few ways to overcome these common mistakes:

  1. Invest in Yourself 
  2. Prove Your Worth Early On
  3. Reinvent Yourself
  4. Keep an Open Mindset
  5. Look at Future Trends

If you’re a seasoned pharmaceutical, biotech, diagnostics, or devices MSL, enroll in the Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist Program (BCMAS).  Reinvent Yourself.

The Future of Medical Affairs is Here. 

6 Must Have Qualities of a Strong Medical Director in Medical Affairs

William Soliman

William Soliman

President and CEO of Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs
Senior Level Life Sciences & Pharmaceutical Industry Expert

What Do You Look for in a Strong Medical Director in Medical Affairs?

Many have compared the medical director role in a pharma/biotech company to a maestro in an orchestra. The medical director is the center of the wheel in many cases guiding, directing and orchestrating several cross functional areas like clinical development, marketing, regulatory affairs and patient advocacy.

If you’ve worked with a strong medical director, there are some common characteristics they all have. We asked the experts and came up with 6 that all agreed were MUST HAVE QUALITIES:

1. Knows the Disease

Any medical director needs to not only be an expert in the product’s data but an expert on the disease state itself. This includes the pathophysiology, epidemiology, and the clinical data across several treatment options.

2. Strong Business Acumen

An exceptional medical director doesn’t forget that they work for a business and always keeps on eye on changing market dynamics, key thought leader (KTL/KOL) politics and anything else that can impact the business side of the science. 

3. Excellent Relationship Building Skills

A masterful medical director knows that he/she needs to build skills not only with KTLs/KOLs but with internal stakeholders as well. They need to gain their trust and confidence so that they see them as the company’s true subject matter expert. 

4. Broad Understanding of what Medical Affairs Does

A solid medical director understands all areas and functions within medical affairs. They get what MSLs do and can help ensure they are integrated into internal medical affairs activities where it makes sense. They appreciate drug safety, HEOR and med info and have the know how to jump in where needed. 

5. Exhibits Confidence with External Stakeholders

As the saying goes, “You only get 1 chance to make a first impression.” Good medical directors aren’t afraid of big name KOLs and they’r e willing to challenge them with confidence on the data or science. They do so with ease and confidence thus building a strong rapport and bringing long-term value. 

6. Superb Communicator

One of my favorite quotes on communication says, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” Many medical affairs/MSL professionals suffer from “data vomit.” Where they have a compelling sense to spew out data in an incoherent manner. But a fluid and sophisticated medical director can make their point by interweaving stories and adding color to the data so that it has clinical meaning and content. They know when enough is enough
Of course there are more than 6 qualities.
Can you think of some more? If so, share your thoughts with us!

Looking to strengthen your medical director chops? 
Become a true pro. Become Board Certified in Medical Affairs (BCMAS).
The #1 Board Certification in Medical Affairs in the world. 

Resume Writing and Editing Tips for Pharma Professionals

Tom Caravela

Tom Caravela

Expert Medical Affairs and MSL Recruiter

As a Professional Pharmaceutical Recruiter, I read and evaluate resumes (as well as CVs), every day. While I am not a professional resume writer, I have a very strong understanding of what a good resume or CV looks like and what should be included. More importantly, I keep track of what is most effective and elicits the best response from potential employers. I am happy to share some essential resume writing and editing tips that may be helpful to prepare for your next job search.

Brand Yourself

First, your resume should reflect your brand or specific focus. Be clear about your image and what you want to portray. Make sure that all of the information you include on your resume will work towards a unified and consistent image. Showcase your brand through clear and descriptive content and titles that justify your fit for the role or roles you seek.

Templates and Formatting

Style, formatting and appearance are key to the overall impression of your resume. Start by choosing a professional template that will work well for your background and industry. It is a good idea to ask a friend, colleague or coworker if they are willing to share their resume with you to review. Ultimately, make sure you are comfortable with the template you use to work from and be sure it offers the impression you want. Make sure that your fonts are big enough. Do not go smaller than an 11-point font, and opt for 12-point if possible. Times New Roman, Arial and Garamond are all good font choices. Do not overuse capital letters or underlines. Titles should be bolded, and there should be white space to show clarity, enhance the visual/aesthetic appeal and make content flow. 

Professional Summary

Include a “Professional Summary” at the top of your CV that tells the reader who you are and what you are looking to do. This is basically a more formal and professionally documented elevator pitch. Your professional summary will be the first impression for the reader, so make sure it is precisely written. 


A performance-driven Medical Affairs professional with over fifteen years of combined experience in healthcare, clinical research, and medical industry, developing in-depth and productive relationships with key professionals in academic, clinical, and payor organizations to optimize business opportunities. Acknowledged for strong presentation, communication, and organizational skills to successfully direct complex projects among many levels of internal and external customers in multiple therapeutic areas, including Cardiovascular, Metabolic and Nephrology. Currently seeking a field-based Medical Affairs role with a growing company.



Be sure that you write the summary in third person, and do not write in first person – it reads as less professional.

The Header and Contact Information

It is important to have your contact information displayed prominently. Use the header option and make your name bold with a larger font than the rest of the text. Add your credentials after your name so that they are highlighted prominently, such as Jane Doe, PharmD, BCMAS or John Doe, MD, PhD.  Make sure that your contact details are clearly listed. If you prefer not to list an address, leave it off. But you should at least list a base city so that potential employers know where you are commuting from. Or if you are field-based, such as a Medical Science Liaison, an employer will want to know what territory you are a potential fit for. 



Review job descriptions and similar job postings to see which common keywords are being used by prospective employers.

Use “Keywords”

As you edit your resume, think about which keywords a recruiter might use to find someone with your specific background. The digital age of recruiting is upon us, which means that all applicant tracking systems and recruitment websites have “search” functionality and even artificial intelligence capabilities. As a result, corporate recruiters will run search queries based on specific keywords. If your resume does not have the required keywords relating to the job you are applying for, your information might never be found. Keywords can be job titles and descriptive words that relate to your job function.

Resume Length

Many professional resume writers and career coaches will insist that your resume is no longer than 2 pages. In my opinion, years of experience will dictate the appropriate length of a resume. While the one- to two-page resume is most common for entry- to mid-level job seekers, the executive resume will warrant more pages (depending on job function). We recommend including publications, presentations, abstracts, journal articles, editorial tasks and reviews, awards, grant support, etc. All should be added at the end, letting the reader decide how much information needs to be reviewed. As a result, it is very important to make sure your first 2 to 3 pages capture the most relevant highlights of your career and experience.

Highlight Tenure

If you have worked a long time for the same company (8-10 years or more), highlight this tenure clearly to show how long you worked for that employer. It is smart to then list all the different positions and roles separately that you had during this time at that employer. This may result in having several sets of time frames listed for each title. But remember to first list the overall time frame which shows your total years at that company.

Avoid “I” and “Me”

Your resume should not contain the pronouns “I” or “Me.” That is part of our normal sentence structure, but since your resume is a document about your person, using the pronouns ‘I” and “Me” is redundant.

Do Not Include

Do NOT include irrelevant information such as political affiliation, religion, age, hobbies and sexual preference. It is not a good idea to include a color background, colorful fonts or sections, a photo, or special graphics, such as a large monogram, logo or initial. Additionally, it is not necessary to mention comments like “Available to Interview” or “Can Start Immediately.” Although it is very common, the statement “References Available Upon Request” can be left off as well. Employers will ask for references at the proper time regardless of whether they are offered via the resume.

Be Truthful

You should only document what you can genuinely support. Even the slightest information that cannot be supported could potentially ruin your chances for employment. It is acceptable to have several versions of your resume for different employers and/or roles, especially if you are looking for career transition. Just be sure you can support all the claims you make and resist the urge to stretch the truth, since you may be “fact-checked” in an interview setting.

Multiple Versions

It is a smart practice to customize your resume for each employer and/or role you are applying for. When actively applying, it can be a good idea to have multiple versions of your resume prepared so that you can highlight your background and skills for that specific role. However, it is not smart to tailor your resume to “be” someone else. Employers will pick up on what you can truly support and what you are fabricating. Just keep track of which version you use for which opportunity.

Spell Check and Proofread

Be sure your resume is completely free of all errors and typos. Using spell check tools and thoroughly proofreading your document is mandatory. It is a good idea to share your resume with at least 3 trusted colleagues or family members that can proofread on your behalf. This seems like a no-brainer and should go without saying; however, I am often surprised at how many spelling errors and typos we find.

LinkedIn Profile

Once your resume is complete and you are fully comfortable with the final version, be sure to update your LinkedIn Profile so that it is a mirror image of your resume. Keep in mind that most recruiters and employers will cross reference your LinkedIn Profile once they have possession of your resume, so it is critical that both are a match. Your LinkedIn Profile is your digital brand and career image, so it is very important that you are consistent and 100% comfortable with the final version. Take the time to add a professional and recent photo. A casual, recreational or outdated photo is never perceived well; a lack of picture is not appropriate either.  Lastly, consider adding your LinkedIn Profile link to the contact area of your resume.

E-Mail Cover

It is very likely that you will be emailing your resume to many companies or recruiters for consideration. Instead of having a cover letter as an attachment, consider incorporating a strong email intro to act as a brief cover letter and resume highlights. This will mean your e-mail will only have one attachment (your resume) which will ensure the reader will not have to open more than one document. To be safe, you can also include the full resume in the body of your email (under the intro) in case the attachment is blocked by a spam filter.

Bi-Annual Updates

It is a very good practice to revisit your resume and LinkedIn Profile every 6 months, or at least once per year, to make sure you are staying up to date. It becomes very challenging to make the proper and most relevant updates after many years. Revisions and updates should include new responsibilities, achievements, training, promotions, special projects or milestones, including publications, presentations, abstracts, journal articles, editorial tasks and reviews, awards, etc. 

About the Author:

Tom Caravela has 27 years of pharmaceutical industry experience and is the Founder and Managing Partner of The Carolan Group, LLC, based in Northern New Jersey. Founded in 2002, The Carolan Group is a leading pharmaceutical and biotech search firm specializing in Medical Affairs and Medical Science Liaison recruitment. Tom is responsible for leading a team of expert recruiters and account managers in client expansions for various levels of field-based and in house Medical Affairs professionals including Medical Science Liaisons, MSL Leaders, Managed Care/HEOR Liaisons, Medical Directors as well as various other medical and clinical affairs roles. With almost 3 decades of pharmaceutical industry experience, Tom is a frequent speaker and Medical Affairs Consultant for clients, advisory boards and industry meetings. His strategic interests focus on hiring, retention and career development for the field based MSL role.

5 Ways to Build Your Pharma Career

William Soliman, PhD, BCMAS

William Soliman, PhD, BCMAS

President, Chief Executive Officer
Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs

1. Solutions Not Problems

Don’t have enough experience? Feel like your career path is limited? Think about how you’re going to solve the problem versus the problem itself. Don’t dwell on the issue. Take action.

2. Do What it Takes to Be Successful

Not everyone is willing to put in the time & effort to become successful in their professional life. Are you willing to go the extra mile? To demonstrate that you’re a hard worker who is committed to excellence in their profession? If so, you are already at an advantage. And others will notice.

3. Figure Out What Matters to You

Each of us are motivated by different things. For some, it’s money, for others it’s appreciation and recognition and for others it’s work-life balance. Determine what matters to you and go after it.

4. Don't Get Distracted

In today’s world, it’s easy to get distracted by ‘noise.’ To achieve your goals, you need to stay focused. Think of the best athletes in the world. They are laser focused during the game. They know what their objective is and they stay focused and consistent in their efforts.

5. Become a Subject Matter Expert

In pharma, becoming a subject matter expert in particular therapeutic areas can pay off in dividends. Are you an expert in pharmacoeconomics or clinical trial design? If not, become one! This can really help to distinguish you when applying for new roles or being considered for that next promotion.