While I am currently in a clinical role, I have been focusing on improving my skill set so I can one day make the transition to non-clinical roles, if I were to desire to.
Pharma has always been something in the back of my mind, so after extensive research into how to break into this industry, I decided to enroll in the Board Certification in Medical Affairs Specialist program (BCMAS).
Three years, before starting my current role as a medical director, I tried to enter into the pharmaceutical industry. It made perfect sense, I have an MD as my background and I live in an area with dozens of pharmaceutical companies. Not only that, I had several friends who were already in these companies who could do personal referrals for me.
I really thought that if I made the perfect resume, reached out to recruiters, and got personal referrals from friends at their companies, I’d be a shoe-in. On top of that, I took free online courses on every website I could find about “clinical research”, patching together information to create a baseline knowledge.
But, I didn’t know how difficult it would be to break into the role.
Not only that, I still actually had no idea what medical affairs actually entailed. Every recruiter I spoke to, asked me what experience in clinical research I had, and every job application asked for some type of clinical research experience.
No, research in the medical field did not count. It also did not matter that I had a medical background.
Things got so difficult, I even considered taking on an intern role to get the experience in the pharma industry. Even those roles were difficult to land and I was beaten out by undergraduates looking for internships in their last year of college.
Obviously, I did not know what I know now. That there is an accredited program to give you baseline gold standard knowledge in medical affairs.
I don’t know where it was when it popped up, probably when I started looking into non-clinical roles and searched “MSL and medical affairs”. After that, I read reviews about the program, listened to podcasts with people who had taken the course, and done a lot of research on the program.
I decided to take it for several reasons:
1) It is the ONLY program that is accredited, meaning it meets the highest quality and standard
2) 70% of the BCMAS graduates actually work in pharma right now
3) There’s mentorship and help with obtaining a role as an MSL after completion of the program
4) You become part of a database for pharma companies recruiters to reach out to you for open positions
5) You get CME
6) It is entirely online and self-paced so you can do it while you have your current job (perfect for me with my full-time job, while making my transition into non-clinical roles)
7) It’s affordable at 1,999 dollars (my annual conferences I go to are 1,000 for registration alone)
So my plan is to take this course, become board certified, fix up my resume, reach out to recruiters, and apply to pharma companies again.
I will take you along every step of the way.
I’m excited this time around because I know, I will actually be prepared and a better candidate with this program experience.
I’ll see you in the next post, when I start the first module!
Tonight, I went ahead and began my first module of the training. As an overview, there are a total of 20 modules and each module contains mini-modules. This first module contained 17 mini modules inside it.
The module was an overview of the pharmaceutical industry and process, including details on the pharmaceutical industry history, drug development phases, etc.
There are many diagrams and photos to help consolidate the information.
There was even a section on Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain technology in clinical trials, which I thought was pretty cool.
The entire module and quiz took me about an hour and a half to finish, so totally doable. The module started off with a quiz to assess your knowledge (or in my case, lack of knowledge). I got a whopping 30% on the pre-quiz. At the end of the module, you take the quiz again and must get 80% in order to pass.
Initially, I got a 50%, but on my second attempt I passed with 80%. I found the questions helped me interpret and recall the information I learned. I also went back to re-read a few sections as well to better understand the questions.
So far, so good!
I like how I pretty much did this entire training in my pajamas on my comfy sofa and got CME credit from it, while building up my knowledge in drug development.
Onto Module 2 tomorrow night.
I am halfway done with the program modules!
Here’s a breakdown of each module, each one containing between 2-14 mini-module lessons.
Initially, I was planning to do a blog post for each module, but after module 1 blog post, I realized I didn’t want to bore anyone with details of a training, so I’m doing reviews after major progress in the program and will be keeping the descriptions pretty brief.
Feel free to ask me any specific questions by sending a message in the “contact” form. I will personally email you back directly to go into more detail about anything you’d like to know more about.
Onto my reviews/experience so far (with a fun destination pic between each module so you won’t fall asleep)…
The Medical Device Industry
This is a nice one to start with because I had a little bit of an idea of what medical devices were about because my significant other works at an international medical device company. He works in the IT division, so did not actually know the intricate details and processes of the company overall, so I was able to shed some wisdom to him too.
The Diagnostics Industry
This module discussed different diagnostic tests and explained what the FDA requirements were for particular tests. I am glad there were not too many mini-modules for this module because it was a lot of information that was technical. The modules discussed the essentials.
Rules Governing Healthcare Providers and Pharmaceutical Companies
This module goes through what types of interactions are allowed and which are not between medical science liaisons (MSL), healthcare providers, and pharma companies. From these detailed interactions, I could really see how healthcare providers are quite the best fit for the MSL role naturally.
Health Economics Outcomes Research (HEOR)
This module discusses HEOR in terms of does the drug actually work, does it reduce symptoms, mortality, morbidity, etc? The module also explains pharmacoeconomics, which is the analysis of the costs of drug therapy to healthcare systems and society. I’ve always found HEOR very interesting as a topic, but difficult to understand and follow. This module does a good job of keeping it at an understandable level and not going into too much nitty gritty detail.
Evidence Based Medicine (EBM)
I have to admit, when I saw this title, I had flashbacks to my medical school EBM course. I won’t say that this course made me suddenly fall in love and passionate about EBM as a learning topic, but it did help reinforce what the important and relevant concepts in EBM are.
Clinical Trials Design
This module is probably the one I was most familiar with. It goes through different types of studies, such as cohort study, case-control studies, etc. The examples were especially good though to reinforce the concepts.
Presentation and Communication Skills
The information in this module was directly applicable to my current work as a healthcare provider. I often have to give presentations to my staff and, honestly, no one ever taught me how to give a good presentation or go over exactly what the elements of good communication skills are. This helps a lot. MSLs give many presentations, so this skill is crucial to have. No wonder my staff always fell asleep during my presentations…
This module went over the different filings for medical device and pharmaceuticals. A lot of terms were thrown out that I had never heard of before. I am considering making flashcards for the board exam, because a lot of these terms are piling up!
This module was on the several tiers of quality systems related to medical devices and drugs. There were a LOT of technical terms that I was not familiar with, so I went through it several times. This module makes me realize how important understanding regulations well is.
Conclusion (Pros and Cons, so far):
I am not sure if it is too early to determine the pros and cons, but let’s do it anyway, as a check-in. It will be helpful to compare at the end of the program, when I’ve completed it in its entirety.
-Pro 1: Lessons are digestible and totally doable
Because they are broken up into mini-modules, each one a few minutes to go through, I could conveniently fit them into the free spaces throughout my day. I didn’t realize I had so many moments when I could have been doing something.
I did mini-modules while waiting for my dinner to be finished cooking, waiting at the pharmacy, in between work meetings and phone calls.
-Pro 2: The lessons start you off at basic level and slowly increase in their complexity
This was very important because I started with NO baseline knowledge of pharmaceutical industry, medical affairs, etc. While I have taken free online content on clinical trials, the content was always all over the place.
This program has structure and is based on real life experience of experienced people in the industry, guiding you through the learning process.
-Pro 3: The information is totally applicable at whatever stage you are at in your career transition
Right now I am making preparations to begin my transition into medical affairs, so I am very early in the process. However, I am still finding benefits and learning things I’ve never known before. This knowledge helps me see how I fit into this whole big picture of pharma, medical affairs, etc. Seeing where you fit into the big picture is very crucial to figuring out where in the big picture you really belong and want to be.
-Pro 4: Fits with any learning style
There are modules, mini-modules, lots of diagrams, audio, questions bank, and case scenarios to nail down the information. It works with any kind of learning style that you have. I have not gotten to the question bank and case scenarios yet, though.
-Pro 5: 24/7 support available
I haven’t had to use support for any reason, but it’s nice to know that someone is there for me at 3am if I can’t load a module!
-Con 1: The quiz questions can be challenging
I didn’t know if this was a con or not because things that don’t challenge you don’t help you grow, right? Some of the questions get tricky, so be advised that you cannot do it while being actively involved in another activity. I am a huge multi-tasker, so this was challenging for me to focus on one task at hand, but at the same time, I started considering it “me time” as me doing something for the advancement of my own career and development.
-Con 2: There are a lot of technical terms and information presented
I’ve started making flashcards, once I noticed there were many terms I was not familiar with or were hard to remember. I wonder if working in pharma means I need to know this much technical information off hand?
While there is a lot of information being presented here (in my perspective, which is someone who hasn’t really been in the pharma industry), it is presented in bite-size chunks and is not like a big overwhelming textbook.
Well, that’s my honest review so far!
Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying this program and am really happy I started on it.
I feel very positive that when I apply for pharma jobs this time around, I will be more knowledgable and therefore, successful.
I will see you at the next check-in.
Onto the second half of the modules. After the first half of the program, I felt a little bit overwhelmed with the materials, but usually my style of studying, is I like to go through all the materials, get a good idea of my landscape and then do review questions and go over the modules again through each question.
Honestly, I learned so much from the just first half of the program, but it was a lot of technical, nitty gritty information.
Fingers crossed this second half will help put it all together and I can apply it clinically.
Abstract and Medical Writing
This module was on medical writing and was extremely helpful. The ability to write scientific documents is critical to a role as a medical director, healthcare, and in pharma.
I’m ashamed to admit, I have never had a formal class on how to write abstracts, despite having published several scientific papers myself.
This module goes over the publication planning process, the purpose of publications, and Good Publications Practice guidelines.
I found the area on “what substantiates authorship” to be especially interesting.
Drug Development Process
This module went over the steps from discovery of a drug to it hitting the marketplace. I learned that there were different types of applications for a drug and what needs to be included in the applications.
Overview of Medical Information
This module helped me understand the role of medical information and its position within medical affairs within the larger pharmaceutical organization. Medical information goes by many names, one of which I didn’t know, was “Medical Services”. This related back to how the earlier modules, like compliance affects medical information.
I finally understood what medical affairs was (the bridge between commercial and clinical). This module started to put together the puzzle pieces for me. At the end of the first ten modules, I felt like I still was not sure about medical affairs, but this module pieced it together for me.
Medical Science Liaisons and Field Based Medical Teams
Ohhh, it’s all fitting together now! This module went into detail the core competencies, roles, and responsibilities of a medical science liaison. There are specific guidelines that affect MSLs and you go on to understand where MSLs fit into medical affairs and the pharmaceutical industry overall.
Grant and Investigator-Initiated Study Funding and Process
As an MSL, you will be involved in the grant process and investigator-initiated studies in some way. This module goes over the types of grants, the process of grant approval, and the different aspects of investigator studies.
This module goes over the role of advisory boards, which members to be included, and regulations and compliance governing advisory boards.
Phase IV/Post-Marketing Studies
Post-marketing studies/phase IV studies is part of “pharmacovigilance”. They deal with what happens after the drug is on the market.
Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS)
REMS deals with evaluating drug benefit versus risk. I always see the packet input with medications, but I honestly didn’t know the regulations that go into them. This was very educational.
Medication Safety and Pharmacovigilance
This module goes over adverse events with a drug. It was interesting and great to know there’s quite a process that drug manufacturers have to go through to ensure safety of their drugs on market. I also understood more about roles in pharmacovigilance.
I have to admit, I enjoyed this second half of the modules a lot more than the first half, but the first half was very necessary in order to understand the second half.
I finally understand what medical affairs, MSL, pharmacovigilance, and other similar terms really meant and how everything fits into the big picture.
It was still very convenient and easy to fit into my busy day.
-The way these modules are set up makes a lot of sense and helps create a bigger picture, especially for someone like me with no experience or knowledge in pharma AT ALL.
Perfect program for starting on the ground floor.
-I would have liked to have seen an example of a standard day in the life of an MSL or something to show me how an MSL puts all this knowledge together to carry out their daily functions.
-There is a ton of knowledge presented in all the modules, and I love to review material in my free time.
I would have personally loved to be able to print out the modules and bind them into a notebook to carry around. But hey, I save a lot of trees by not doing that.
Overall, I am extremely happy I enrolled in the program because I know 1000x more than I knew two weeks ago. I honestly feel that I am already a better candidate for pharma roles than a lot of candidates without this knowledge.
I’m really excited about where to go after this (and kind of scared because it’s the board exam, lol). I know I can only build upon my foundation!
I admit, I’ve gotten pretty busy. Spring time is the busiest time of the year for me, in terms of work flow and conferences. So I’ve been slacking, but luckily for me, it’s easy to pick up in the program where I’ve left off.
Time to prep for the board exam!
Here’s some basic information on the exam in general:
The board examination will be proctored by ProctorU, a company that utilizes your webcam with their program to ensure that you are taking the one taking the board examination and not cheating.
The board examination costs is included with the program.
The board examination is stated to take around three hours and you have four attempts to take it. If you fail it the fourth time, you will need to wait a year before retaking the exam and, you will need to pay for it out of pocket (it is listed as 250.00 USD).
Now, I am a little nervous because I have not prepared for an examination nor taken one in a really long time. Not to mention, this material is entirely new to me, so learning many new technical terms in an industry I am totally unfamiliar with is challenging.
There is a question bank to help you prepare.
It looks like the questions are the same questions used at the end of the modules.
There are also no explanations of why each answer choice is right or wrong (I find it helpful to know if I picked the right answer for the right reason). This was not entirely a bad thing though as it did get me to go through the modules, figuring out why I kept getting the question wrong.
The question bank does not have a feature to create your own test from the questions though (the way USMLE World did, remember?).
Because I am not applying to pharma jobs asap and really using this program as a way to gain exposure to the pharma industry, I have the luxury of taking my time with the program.
I have read that some pharma companies require their MSLs to take the program and then must pass the board examination, so I am glad I do not have that urgency and expectation.
My game-plan is to go through all the board exam questions multiple times.
The first pass is to gauge my knowledge. I will then review questions I miss and go over the modules that go with them, then I will do the questions again, and repeat the process until I can get over 90% of the board exam questions correct.
Off to study…