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.