From community pharmacist to Medical Science Liaison

Sinead Monaghan, Medical Science Liaison, Sanofi

I graduated with a master’s degree in pharmacy from Queen’s University Belfast.I undertook my pre-registration year in a community pharmacy chain in Northern Ireland. I was employed as a pharmacist manager with the same company post pre-registration year. I spent a further four years as a community pharmacist.

I thoroughly enjoyed this role, especially being a pharmacist tutor. This very much sparked my interest in training others. I had always been curious about alternative pharmacist roles, but felt my knowledge of career paths was limited.

When I thought about industry I just pictured laboratory work and didn’t realise the vast career paths available to pharmacists. It was a family member that suggested venturing industry opportunities. This family member had worked in industry for many years and was aware of opportunities for pharmacists. I began researching medical roles and shortly came across the Medical science liaison (MSL) role.

I met with an MSL who lived and worked in Northern Ireland to gather information on the role. I soon realised that it would a great opportunity for development and sounded like something I would really enjoy and succeed in. After interviewing for a few roles, I was offered an MSL role in a large global pharmaceutical company. I was so excited.

As I was living in Belfast at the time, I had to relocate for my initial role in industry. I spent three wonderful years in Liverpool where I gained a lot of experience working across the English and Welsh healthcare systems. The MSL role allowed me to meet lots of healthcare professionals, learn about new medications and upcoming research, work with various departments in my company, upskill my clinical knowledge and most importantly allowed me to develop my career.

After three years in the role, I knew that industry was the career path for me. However,there was one thing I had always wanted to do before I settled in to the role long term. I took some time out to travel. When I returned eight months later, I was offered a maternity cover MSL role within the company I had left in a different therapy area. Once the maternity cover was finished I interviewed for a permanent role in yet another division within the company.

I was delighted as I was able to return home to Ireland and work there. To date, I have worked in three different therapy areas and across all of the health care systems in the UK and Ireland. This has given me broad clinical experience, broad knowledge of healthcare systems and allowed me to work with health care professionals across many disciplines.My day to day work is extremely rewarding. I am continually learning and meeting so many interesting people along the way. It has been an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a career change.

For more information on how to get a job in the pharmaceutical industry, visit our website

Professional Standards – committing to change and improvement

By Suzanne Scott-Thomas, Chair of RPS in Wales

Professional standards are central to improving practice, creating a more responsive service for our patients and increasing efficiencies.

Part two of this blog on the value of professional standards highlights another example of how using the RPS Hospital Pharmacy Standards has helped reshape a service, along with tips on creating change and improvement.

In my organisation we took a look at our patient discharge process realised it needed to change. The Hospital Standard: When care is transferred to another setting, patients are referred or signposted to appropriate follow-up or support, helped us improve the discharge process.

Outcomes included action being taken to implement ‘MTeD’, the electronic discharge advice letter system to electronically transfer information to GPs, as well as connect to the ‘Choose Pharmacy’ system in community pharmacies. This means that when patients are discharged, we can make certain that patients are appropriately receiving Discharge MURS. In this way, we’re handing over pharmaceutical care on discharge in a seamless way. MTeD is currently rolling out across all of the Health Boards in Wales, and we’re pleased to see the numbers of DMURs via the Choose Pharmacy system increasing.

Committing to change and improvement

As with anything in life, we get out what we put in. I would really recommend taking time to appreciate how you can get the best out of professional standards and how this can help you deliver and improve patient care. I would recommend you:

  • Engage – be a part of the process of developing the standards
  • Influence – what should the standards be? what would good look like in your organisation?
  • Own – we must think of them as our standards, not as being imposed on us by others
  • Understand – what do they mean for your service & your patients?
  • Use and apply them – in service re-design & service improvement, in business cases, in PDRs
  • Use them again – maintaining professional standards is a continuous process, with ever changing needs & expectations
  • Review – are the standards still fit for purpose, is there better practice out there, what might come next? Professional standards need to continue to stretch and challenge.

This all underpins continuous service improvement.

I would encourage all colleagues to commit to professional standards so we can deliver more for patients.

As a Chief Pharmacist in Wales, I have oversight and responsibility for pharmacy services provided in hospital, the community and primary care. Following the experience of putting the hospital standards into practice, I fully welcome the work the RPS is doing to create Professional Standards for Community Pharmacy. This gives us a great opportunity to reflect on the services we provide in the community, shape future services and deliver the high-quality care that patients deserve.

 Get involved

If you’d like to find out more, give your views, or get involved in the development of the important community pharmacy standards, have a look at the community pharmacy professional standards webpage.

Improving care with professional standards

by Suzanne Scott-Thomas, Chair of RPS in Wales

As pharmacists, we need to know that the services we provide are effective, safe, and efficient. This way we can make sure patients are getting the care they need and deserve. We also need to know that the services are continuing to meet the requirements of an ever-changing healthcare environment.

Meeting these challenges is part of our daily practice but it is no mean feat. So how do we continue to improve practice, increase efficiencies and create more responsive services for our patients?

In my experience, one answer is in creating and implementing professional standards.

Having professional standards provides us with a framework to test or assess our services against, which helps us to:

  • Know ourselves
  • Benchmark with others
  • Identify the gaps
  • Identify best practice
  • Identify how to deliver the best practice
  • Implement and then review

The Professional Standards framework will identify the way forward for you to improve your services.

Putting standards into practice

In my organisation, we use the RPS Professional Standards for Hospital Services collaboratively, but also individually, with all of us making a self-assessment against each of the standards. This process has allowed us to identify standards that we were not achieving or partially achieving and to implement improvement strategies to reshape services.

We successfully took action to meet the standard of: The views of patients and carers are actively sought to inform the development and delivery of pharmacy services enabling patients to have direct input into the services that they receive.

Implementing and responding to post discharge questionnaires we took action to:

  • Implement a standard uniform for all pharmacy staff in the managed sector in Wales– the green tunic with the pharmacy cross.
  • Issue pharmacy staff with name badges.
  • Developed and updated procedures and training to support medicines counselling by pharmacy staff.

We were really pleased to see that more patients were able to recognise pharmacy staff on the ward if they wanted to talk about their medicines. We continue to survey and respond to patient feedback on an annual basis to continue to improve.

Part two of this blog, to be published next Thursday, will combine another example of how the Standards helped us improve with handy recommendations to help you commit to change and improvement in your sector and practice.

How Sarah became a Medical Science Liaison

Dr. Sarah Anne Goffin, Medical Science Liaison at Sanofi

I come from a family of healthcare professionals and have always been passionate about science, so pharmacy seemed to be a perfect fit for me. 

I undertook my undergraduate at the University of East Anglia between 2006 and 2010 and completed my pre-registration year in 2011. As I worked part-time as a counter assistant in community during my degree I wanted to take the opportunity to increase my experience in hospital pharmacy. 

At the end of my pre-registration year I reached a dichotomy: I loved the healthcare and clinical aspects but was starting to miss the core science that I covered during my undergraduate. I therefore decided to pursue a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry entitled ‘Targeting the p53/MDM2 protein-protein interaction’ at the University of East Anglia. 

During my PhD I was fortunate to present my research both at National and International Congress as well as publish two papers on my areas of research. The PhD was incredibly tough but really enabled me to hone my research skills and independent thinking, as well as critical appraisal and presentation skills. I had, however, realised that bench-side research was not the career for me long-term, as I missed the patient focus and a more structured lifestyle. 

I graduated from my PhD in 2016 and decided to locum in community pharmacy/private hospital pharmacy for some time, which gave me the fantastic opportunities to travel and volunteer overseas. Whilst this served me well for some time, I found myself once again missing the core science and the scientific discussions that I had during my PhD. 

Finally, it was by some stroke of luck that I discovered the MSL role: I was well aware of pharmaceutical representatives, but had never come across this role, which I initially interpreted as field-based medicines information (but have subsequently learned and experienced that there is so much more to it!).  

I have now been an MSL for about 2.5 years and for me it really has been the best job that I have had: I work an area, have a fair degree of autonomy in my work, I am still heavily involved in the science of our products and able to have conversations with key opinion leaders within my therapeutic field. 

Parallels between sectors

Communication skills are VITAL in this role: whilst the nature of the interactions that are had with healthcare professionals differ from what one would do in clinical roles (I am not working in the capacity of a healthcare professional here), being able to communicate scientific concepts, as well as empathise and help to problem-solve challenges that customers may have are absolutely key points of the role. 

A core understanding is also very useful in terms of internal discussions relating to adverse events or pharmacokinetics of products: my knowledge of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics has been able to permit me to engage in internal discussions relating to theoretical interactions or risks that could require mitigation. I also feel that this is strongly supported by research experience too! 

Transferable skills 

To be an MSL, it is vital to be able to critically appraise and present data, have an understanding of pharmaceutical calculations and be able to translate high-level science into training for the commercial teams as well as the clinical potentials. 

The pharmaceutical industry is also tightly regulated and has its own code of practice. Pharmacists are well-equipped to understand the professional decision making and behaviours of this code, which do have some overlap with the GPhC guidance 

If you work in community or hospital and want to get into industry, where do you start? 

For an MSL role, whilst a PhD is not always required many job adverts will request it. The discipline is less important, but in the minds of the recruiters shows that you will have had a strong experience in research, which as mentioned previously is very important for MSLs. 

Being able to demonstrate a background in the therapeutic area that you are applying for is useful. I used the fact that I had done a rotation in my current discipline when applying for my current role, which served in my favour.

Whilst I am an MSL and I truly love my role, there are many different career opportunities in pharma for pharmacists. These range from compliance to health outcomes, medical information to pharmacovigilance, to name but a few.

The longer that I am in post I would definitely say that knowledge of the NHS structure and challenges is becoming ever more important, particularly in terms of identifying customer needs and investigating if the pharmaceutical industry can support them in any way.  

Development opportunities 

There is a great opportunity to develop your skills and career both within your function (e.g. medical) and outside. Due to the wide variety of roles in pharma, training and development tends to encompass wider areas such as:

  • Presentation skills 
  • Pharmaceutical calculations 
  • ABPI code of practice upskilling 
  • Project management 
  • Critical appraisal 
  • Stakeholder engagement 
  • Coaching 

What I like about the pharmaceutical industry is that there are numerous opportunities to develop and upskill depending on what you would like to achieve. I have had a great deal of support from my colleagues and mentors regarding development. 

Much of the training is web-based and you are expected to complete in your own time, however there are also face-to-face trainings that are usually organised around company congresses. As part of my continuing professional development, revalidation and faculty portfolios, I utilise all of these opportunities, as well as my learnings that I get through attending external congresses.

For more information about opportunities in pharmaceutical society, check our website.