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by Karin Hawkinson

Your company is launching a new product next year and you’ve been tasked with managing the development of Medical Science Liaison (MSL) training materials. You’ve got a budget, the MSLs are hired, and you’re ready to send out the Request for Proposal to training vendors. But you realize you aren’t sure what you are looking for from your training vendors— what does good MSL training look like? The first thing to consider when developing any training materials is your audience. Pharma company MSLs are individuals who have advanced medical, science, or pharmacy degrees who provide scientific and educational support to healthcare professionals on a peer-to-peer basis. Their discussions with healthcare professionals often start long before a product reaches the market, are usually in-depth, and have a heavy scientific and clinical focus.

Translating this understanding of your audience into appropriate training materials can still be challenging. Here are a few tips to consider when developing MSL training.

Find out the background of your MSLs

Although you can assume that MSLs have a solid foundation in basic anatomy and physiology and overall disease areas, you can’t assume that they already know the details or nuances of every disease area. A good first step is a quick poll on what therapeutic areas your MSLs have worked in previous to this project. And remember, if this is a new product, the product data will be new to everyone.

Remember that MSLs are not sales representatives

You’ll need to take your understanding of what constitutes good representative training materials and re-evaluate these concepts from an MSL perspective.

First, MSL materials need to be written at the appropriate level. Although you may need to explain to representatives what a normal ECG shows, in MSL materials you can dive right into the intricacies of an abnormal ECG in a patient experiencing a heart attack.

Second, because MSLs are already comfortable with the medical vocabulary—indeed, it’s their everyday language—their materials need to match the clinical literature in tone and vocabulary.

Third, MSLs need to learn about additional topics. Most importantly, MSLs need to understand the issues, controversies, and unanswered questions regarding a disease, its treatment, and your product. In addition, MSLs usually need to understand the preclinical development of a drug, as well as more detailed information on how a clinical trial was conducted.

Print is not the only option

Just because MSL training materials are written at a more medical and scientific level doesn’t mean that these materials should be restricted to print. As with all adult learning, it’s important to vary the media that you use, which helps engage the interest of the learner. Let the content drive the medium. Your company may already have some data on what has worked well in the past with your MSLs. If not, soliciting feedback from the MSLs themselves on what they’ve liked in prior training is always a good practice.

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Think about your training strategies

Although MSLs may need to know a greater amount of information than representatives, providing it all in the training materials is not only impractical, it also does not address how these individuals like to learn. MSLs are accustomed to finding information out for themselves, researching an issue, and tracking down the answer to a question. It makes sense to present at least some of their training using similar strategies, by making use of guided learning. For example, you can guide learners by providing links to relevant articles accompanied by key questions. MSLs want to see the primary literature, and good MSL training helps them access and use it appropriately.

Provide materials that continue to help

Because of the volume of information that MSLs deal with, providing quick reference guides (especially about products and clinical trials) that review key facts in a succinct, easy-to-access format will be much appreciated by your audience.

In summary

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating effective MSL materials!

Quick Tips for MSL Training Materials

  • Find out the previous experience of your MSLs in the therapeutic area
  • Present information at the appropriate depth, match it to the clinical literature and discuss the topics they need to understand
  • Match the content with the appropriate medium—print may not be the only format
  • Include guided learning as a training strategy
  • Provide quick reference guides