Updated: May 28
Dr. Jackie the PA
If you have never read a blog of mine or know anything about me, I will try to keep this part brief. For the sake of formalities, here is my background. I have worked in healthcare for over 20 years, starting as a certified nursing assistant, then as a Registered Nurse. After five years of working as a nurse, I earned my Master's Degree in Physician Assistant Studies. I worked as PA for the past 11 years, earning my Doctorate of Medical Science degree in 2021. In March of 2022, I resigned from my clinical position, and in April 2022, I started my new role as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL).
After 20 years in medicine, it was time for a professional change. I loved my patient interactions, co-workers, and colleagues, but it was time to change. I was so fortunate to land the coveted MSL role after successfully networking with a hiring manager, undergoing several interviews, and conducting a scientific presentation in front of the most important people in the company. I had no prior MSL experience, and while I had a general idea of what to expect, there was (and still is) a lot to learn.
I have been in my current role for almost six weeks and feel this is the perfect time to share what I have learned so far. Keep in mind that I am super new and am learning new things every day. I hope my list will help aspiring MSLs feel prepared when they step into the MSL role.
Tip #1 - Be adaptable & flexible.
When I was an aspiring MSL, I remember asking another MSL what was their typical day like. Their response was "there is no typical day." Coming from working in the ER and urgent care, I'm used to things changing at a moment's notice. You can go from not having much on your calendar in a given week to being in a different city in the middle of the same week. If you need a consistent, predictable, schedule, this may not be the best position for you.
Tip #2 - Unlearn.
This is not the clinic. The most challenging thing I've had to learn is that this is not the clinic. This is a totally different area and it requires a different way of thinking. The workflow is not the same. Your previous medical knowledge will be helpful, but you will be exercising an entirely different brain muscle while doing this job.
Tip #3 - Be organized.
Confession: I am not naturally or traditionally organized. By that, I mean I used a calendar some of the time and had my own way of being organized. My desk would be messy, and even if someone else couldn't find something, I knew exactly where things were in the mess. The MSL role has forced me to become better organized. I actually use my calendar now! If it is not on the calendar, it may not happen. It is easy to feel overwhelmed if things are not in order. You will also miss important tasks by being disorganized. Go on YouTube, Google, or read books on organization. One thing I did is ask a friend who worked from home for a couple of years for tips.
Tip #4 - Ask questions, then ask some more.
Your MSL manager does not know what you do not share. You must ask questions if things are not clear or if you do not understand what is needed from you. Speak up and do not be afraid of having questions. Being inquisitive, do not feel ashamed for not knowing everything because no one comes into this role knowing everything.
Tip #5 - Brush up on any skills you lack.
Whether it is scientific acumen, emotional intelligence, presentation skills, networking, or anywhere you realize you can improve, put in the effort to be better. You are capable of learning whatever skill you do not have if you really want it.
Tip #6 - Turn it off.
Turn off work. Do not take work to bed. Take advantage of your off-time. I am speaking from experience. I remember maybe my second or third week and I was sitting in my bed around 10pm completing onboarding tasks. My husband stood in the doorway and asked me was I doing work. I looked up with guilt and said yes. He immediately told me to turn it off. He reminded me that I need to set an end time for work. Then I heard the same message from my manager. Your time is valuable. You can set yourself up to never stop working with the abundance of information available to you.
Tip #7 - Show yourself grace.
It is easy to be too hard on yourself. I remember feeling like I did not learn everything fast enough. At four weeks, I felt I should know more. It is an adjustment coming from a place of comfort to a brand new area where I don't know everything right away. The truth is, I still do not know everything, and may not know it all for a while, and that is ok. I have always been my own worst critic. I have intentionally given myself grace as I learn the things I need in order to be successful in my role.
Tip #8 - Make it fun!
One of the coolest things about the MSL Rol is that you are able to share and show your personality. Of course, we're professional, but we are also personable! I love being able to connect with others and sharing fun facts about myself, like being 2021 International Mrs. USA or being featured on Good Morning America in 2021. You also get to travel a lot, so make the most of those places when you are there. Schedule a fun dinner, see a landmark, or take a walk.
Tip #9 - Network.
Network, network, network, and network some more. Build meaningful, reciprocal relationships. Learn about people's interests, what is going on in their lives, what are their hopes, and what fuels them. Many times, your next professional level or opportunity will be based on who you know in addition to what you know. Put yourself out there! The Medical Science Liaison Society is a great place for aspiring MSLs to start looking for more information and networking opportunities.
I hope you found this information valuable. Remember I am a novice and still have many things to learn. I feel like I am in an environment that pushes me out of my comfort zone, and allows me to meet so many smart people working for the greater good. I have no regrets about my transition into the MSL role. I promise to keep y'all updated.
Dr. Jackie the PA