To what degree do you need them?

Robin Winter-Sperry highlights the challenges in recruiting the right candidate for a role in Medical Affairs.

When a company is considering filling a position in Medical Affairs, a department that is medically focused with a medical marketing component to it, it is not easy to find the right mix of talent. Therefore most, if not all of the positions within Medical Affairs require not simply a clinical understanding of the science related to the disease state and therapies, but also a fundamental understanding of the business as well.

There are many great scientists and clinicians with an extensive knowledge of medicine, but they are often not the best communicators especially when they work on teams and with various audiences, many of whom may not have a clinical background. It is also important that they possess the ability to work on the other end of the spectrum with Thought Leaders (TLs) who are critical to the business and the science. The TLs often look to members of a Medical Affairs department especially field-based medical teams (often known as Medical Science Liaisons), Medical Directors, Medical Information and the like, to serve as in-depth scientific resources regarding the company’s products and scientific endeavors.

It takes a certain type of personality that can deal with business people, scientists and Thought Leaders all in a day’s work. The ability to be flexible, and work in a very dynamic inconsistent environment is not always easy for people that are used to linear thinking and scientific rigor.

“…hiring someone into one of these positions requires more than depth of scientific knowledge and clinical expertise.”

A common misconception, especially in the pharmaceutical Industry is that if you have a doctoral level degree you can just enter a Medical Affairs role and be successful. After years of building and refining Medical Affairs and Medical Science Liaison (MSL) teams, hiring someone into one of these positions requires more than depth of scientific knowledge and clinical expertise.

There are many facets required for someone to be successful here and personality is an essential element, especially because they are expected to be able to toggle between business and science. I can’t tell you how many times people have remarked, “oh they are doctors, just give them the article and they will figure it out”. I have never doubted their ability to read the information, but will they understand the full intent of the article, especially in light of corporate strategy and objectives? The data is the data but there are often different ways of interpreting it.

It is also important that companies have a consistent approach across different functional areas as it relates to their products and compounds in development, especially from a clinical standpoint. What you don’t want to see is different areas within the company interpreting things differently when it comes to “medical messages” and approach to the general healthcare community and the patients that they treat.

“The data is the data but there are often different ways of interpreting it.”

In order to optimize Medical Affairs performance effectiveness, job satisfaction and retention, training plays a key role. The role and performance expectations should be well defined. A company cannot assume that a candidate’s prior success outside the pharmaceutical and device industry automatically translates to their ability to perform in a Medical Affairs position.

It is important to look at a candidate from many aspects and their resume is only part of the equation.

One of the most challenging points in finding the best talent is to make sure that they have the right personality that fits the corporate culture, functional needs of the position and also enjoys working both independently and part of a team. They need to embrace an ever changing environment. Is that easy to find when looking at candidates? The answer is “no” but certainly worth it when you do!


About the author:

Dr. Robin Winter-Sperry has been involved in over twenty-two product launches. Her unique background includes building MSL and Medical Affairs teams for both emerging and multinational companies. She created Novartis’s MSL Scientific Operations department and sanofi-synthelabo’s Medical Therapeutic Liaison team. She is a well-known authority, speaker and author on the subject.

She served on the global and local boards of the HBA, and is currently on the board of the Women’s Health & Counseling Center in Somerville, NJ. She holds Associate Professorships at Rutgers School of Pharmacy and Mt. Sinai’s Department of Dermatology. Among other awards, she was named by PharmaVoice in 2010 and again in 2013 as one of the top 100 people in the Pharmaceutical industry.

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What key attributes do you look for when recruiting for a role in Medical Affairs?