Interview with Arlene Nugent, Medical Manager of AbbVie

arleneWhat does your current position at AbbVie entail?

I am the medical manager for the hepatology therapeutic area. I manage all activities in the field and the MSL’s across Canada report to me. Our job is to provide the appropriate scientific information to external experts (mainly physician’s, but other health care practitioner’s) on our therapies including all safety and efficacy from clinical studies. My team are the medical educator’s we also help train some of the commercial team as well. We recommend clinical sites in Canada for our global and local studies and communicate with study sites on an as needed basis (asked by our clinical development team). We also work with physician’s to support their own research and medical projects. I sit on a number of management teams including Western EU & Canada Medical team, Canadian Medical management team and the Brand team.

What has been your career path leading to your current position?

After my Master’s Degree I was hired by a start-up Biopharma company to do regulatory affairs. I was responsible for the regulatory submissions to Health Canada for all Drugs and Medical Devices. Over the years I became a Regulatory Manager and then moved into a more scientific research role (managing the clinical aspect of the business). From there I moved to a medical affairs role as a national MSL role. After 13 years I moved to another start up company in medical affairs for 3 years then to my current position at Abbvie.

Why did you want to become a medical science liaison?

This was a natural progression for me and just happened as part of my career path. I am very scientifically minded, love to learn, but also have a knack for teaching and guiding others. It was my company and the Medical Director at the time that chose me for the first MSL position at the company (Medical Director was a Neurologist from Mount Sinai).

What qualities/skills do you think are necessary to become a medical science liaison?

High scientific knowledge, ability to speak in a complex manner, but also break the science down simply depending on the audience. Ability to work in a team. Strong computer skills. Strong communication and presentation skills. Ability to manage your own time and calendar. Ability to learn quickly.

What are some of the key challenges, if any, that you have faced being a medical science liaison?  

High work load, travel. You need to establish and gain the trust of new relationships. Multi-tasking. Working with a variety of personalities.

What motivated you to further pursue a PhD degree in Health Services Research at U of T?

I have a passion for learning and teaching. I also had a burning desire to study patient preferences, values and experiences based on my work experience. I hope that I may be able to using my teaching and leadership skills more.

Nowadays, do you think it is necessary to have a PhD degree to become a medical science liaison? If yes, how do you think the relevant PhD skills can be applied to being a medical science liaison? 

No, but I do believe you need a scientific background (MSc, nursing degree, pharmacy degree etc..) in fact the more important skills are the ones I list in your fourth question.

Three pieces of advice which you would like to give to grad students or your younger self.  

Talk to as many people as possible. Don’t be afraid to let people know what you are looking for. Get contacts on LinkedIn. Browse websites for career opportunities. Find a good head hunter to help you. Make friends with people in the business you are interested in (e.g. pharma, academia, research etc…). Remember you can progress to the position you ultimately want (e.g. if you want to be an MSL, don’t just look for that position look at clinical, regulatory and medical information jobs as well).

Written by LSCDS Exec Member Brett Wang 

Brett is a MSc candidate in the department of immunology, pursuing his research in the lab of Dr. Naoto Hirano. He is interested in the career of Medical Affairs or Consulting.