Dangerous Medical Liaisons
When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a scientist, mostly because both my parents were scientists, and I understood the career path. I loved science, I loved visiting their research labs, and I presented kick-ass projects at the local science fair.
At no time in my youth did I plan to become a Medical Science Liaison. It was never on my radar.
MSLs are non-sales pharmaceutical representatives that build scientific rapport with key medical opinion leaders, serve as scientific peers and resources within the medical community, provide internal and external training, and support clinical trials. The first MSL role was established by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in 1967, and by the late 80s, many companies required MSLs to hold doctorate degrees, such as MD, PharmD, or PhD. A job that required an academic background, exotic travel, and a willingness to talk nothing but science seemed tailor made for me. Yet, my parents never told me about it, my school advisors never mentioned it, and it never appeared in the popular media.
It hardly seems fair. My fellow Gen Xers learned about careers at a young age through the Sesame Street song “People in Your Neighborhood.” We learned about blue collar workers (plumbers, grocers) and professionals (doctors, librarians). Even Ralph Nader got to sing, “a consumer advocate is person in your neighborhood” on a special primetime episode. Nobody sang about MSLs.
It’s all about exposure. As much as parental and personal choice influence student career choices, media studies show that television serves an important role during an adolescent’s search for career resources, superseding parents, peers, teachers, and even part-time work. Think about the “CSI effect.” The number of students choosing to study forensic science increased dramatically after the TV show CSI launched in 2000, especially for young females. Quite simply, TV dramas awash with doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officers, first responders, and teachers, set the standards for career importance. Some characters are altruistic, some are greedy, some are brave, some are angry, but they all are human.
Clearly network executives are attracted to the procedural and high-stakes elements of doctor, lawyer, and law enforcement shows, as well as the relatability of teacher dramas. But without proper representation, hundreds of important high-stakes careers are left out of the national zeitgeist.
Consider this my pitch to any executive willing to take a chance on something new, exciting, and game-changing. Get ready for next season’s hot new drama Dangerous Medical Liaisons.
The series takes place at Algia Therapeutics, a small pharmaceutical company marketing a new potential blockbuster drug for migraines, a novel inhaled CGRP small molecule antagonist with unheard of efficacy and safety. A small MSL team travels the country every week answering tough clinical questions, navigating regulatory pitfalls, and balancing work, life, and love.
My multicultural dream cast includes:
- Naomi Solomon, PharmD (Michelle Trachtenburg), a 28-year old, Jewish retail pharmacist from Hinsdale, Illinois who is a first time MSL
- Omar Lewis, PhD (Daniel Kaluuya) a 30-something African-American former clinical trial research coordinator from Omaha
- Terence Bradford, PharmD (Wendell Pierce), a 50ish African-American pharmacist from Los Angeles
- Lisette Branch, FNP (Julie Bowen), a 40-something White nurse practitioner from Jackson, Mississippi
- Cara Valencia, PharmD (Sarah Shahi), a 30-something Latina pharmacist from Tampa, Florida
- Jason Hill, PhD (Patrick J. Adams), an early 40s White clinical psychologist from Boston
- Jenni Li, PMHNP (Dichen Lachman), a late 30s Asian-American nurse practitioner from New York City, who leads the team
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SEASON 1, EPISODE 1: “PILOT”
Scene opens with Naomi Solomon on a plane, looking pensive and worried. She tells the woman next to her she just came from a job interview for a Medical Science Liaison position at a small pharma company and then explains what an MSL is. Scene jump cuts back to her interview presentation on pharmacokinetics of levodopa. Jump cut to another earlier scene working at a break-neck pace in a pharmacy, filling prescriptions, arguing with doctors’ offices, and listening to customer complaints about insurance coverage. Interview. Pharmacy. Interview. Pharmacy. Final shot of her staring wide-eyed on the plane.
Naomi checks her messages when she lands. First is a message from Jenni, the Director of MSL Programs, offering her a job because she “knocked it out of the park.” Second is a message from her boyfriend Mark, breaking up with her over the phone. Scene zooms out with her staring at her phone in stunned silence in the middle of the terminal.
Next morning, Naomi is talking to her mom on the phone, explaining what an MSL is. Doorbell rings, she accepts a package which is a box of seven giant binders with a hand-written note from her new boss Jenni reading, “Here’s a little light reading. Enjoy.” Naomi stares at the binders in stunned silence, accidentally hanging up on her mother.
Naomi flies to Washington, D.C. to meet the full team: Jenni, Terence, Omar, Lisette, Cara, and Jason. Naomi asks them about the person she is replacing. There is a hushed silence, and no one will give her a straight answer. Jenni tells her she will be shadowing Terence, Omar, and Cara in the field and expects her to start on her own in a couple of months.
The following week, Naomi shadows Terence in Los Angeles, waiting to meet a doctor for dinner to get him to join their next clinical trial.
NAOMI: May I ask a personal question?
NAOMI: Well, it’s just that. I mean, you have way more experience that anyone on the team. Why aren’t you leading your own team?
TERENCE: I used to lead my own team. Many years ago. Different company. Then the company did some stupid things, and I got out before the shit hit the fan. I decided that what I really wanted was to travel the country, talk science, and eat at fancy restaurants. I’m happier with three or four levels of target practice between me and everything going sidewise.
NAOMI: Wow. That’s kind of…cynical. Do you think Algia plans to do something stupid.
TERENCE: Nobody ever plans to do anything stupid. That’s the point.
Doctor arrives. Over second glass of wine, doctor tries to goad Terence into pushing an off-label use of the drug. Terence doesn’t take the bait, points to the FDA officer listening two tables over, and accuses the doctor of entrapment so he can collect a portion of the SEC fine under the False Claims Act. Terence and Naomi leave in a huff.
Two days later, Naomi shadows Omar in Des Moines, Iowa. They arrive at the clinic, and Omar explains to the receptionist what an MSL is. The doctor they meet interrogates Omar on safety data. At subsequent meetings with different doctors, each doctor asks increasingly esoteric questions, which Omar answers calmly. At dinner, Naomi asks him if all the doctors try to trip up the MSLs. He explains that he gets the worst of it because many doctors don’t trust a black male MSL.
OMAR: My problem is that some docs in Iowa don’t want to meet with a tall black man named Omar.
NAOMI: You’re kidding.
OMAR: Let’s just say that you should have an easier time than I did getting a first meeting.
NAOMI: So, how do you do it?
OMAR: By being as charming as hell. Always.
Naomi and Omar move to the hotel bar after dinner, drinking, and talking about their failed love lives. They leave the bar together both of them drunk and laughing. Next morning, Naomi wakes up in bed with Omar. Both look shocked and vow to never speak of the incident again.
Next week, Naomi shadows Cara in Miami. After training a team of nurses, Cara and Naomi talk in the hotel bar. Cara warns Naomi to never go in the field with Jason, who is a womanizer.
CARA: He’ll try to charm you quietly and subtly, but don’t fall for it. The man thinks he’s a player.
NAOMI: Did he hit on you?
CARA: Oh, yeah. Crashed and burned.
NAOMI: Did he hit on Jenni?
CARA: Are you kidding? She scares the pants on him.
NAOMI: You mean scares the pants off him.
CARA: No, I said what I meant.
Cara warns Naomi about romantic fraternizing with other members of the team, how it could tank her career. Naomi looks away guiltily.
Final scene has Naomi collapsing on her own couch exhausted. Naomi calls Jenni and complains that she feels totally overwhelmed. Jenni tells her to get it together because they need her in the field a month ahead of time. Scene pulls out on Naomi staring in stunned silence.
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That’s the pitch. If a network snatches it up, I have a full series planned, including:
SEASON 1, EPISODE 3: “LET THE WHISTLE BLOW”
Terence is contacted by a former supervisor at his old company who wants him to provide false information in a court case related to the Department of Justice False Claims Act. Terence refuses, and the supervisor threatens to falsely implicate him in the case. In a separate plotline, Jason travels to New York City where we discover he is carrying on affairs with four separate Key Opinion Leaders.
SEASON 1, EPISODE 5: “OMAR AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY”
Omar misses his flight to Denver. He gets a new flight but the flight is canceled after he races across the airport. Omar makes it to Denver just in time, and the doctor cancels their appointment. Omar makes it to his next appointment and is yelled at by the doctor because insurance won’t cover their drug. Omar goes to the airport, but is stopped by TSA, who pull him out of line and ask him questions about his name, causing him to miss a connection. Eventually, he flies home, but on the drive from the airport, a cop pulls him over and harasses him. When he finally gets home exhausted, he reads an email from a nurse, thanking him for answering a tough question that saved a patient’s life. He lies on the couch, smiling at the ceiling.
SEASON 1, EPISODE 8: “MAMA KNOWS BEST”
Jenni flies to Atlanta to help Lisette placate a doctor she angered by challenging his knowledge. Jenni flies to Chicago to help Naomi train a doctor in a clinical trial. Jenni flies to Boston to help Jason placate a doctor he angered by hitting on her. Jenni flies to Washington, DC to provide character testimony for Terence at the ongoing Department of Justice case. Jenni flies to New York City, where she has a romantic meeting with Bryce, the MSL that Naomi replaced, suggesting that their affair led to his resignation from Algia Therapeutics.
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Dangerous Medical Liaisons can’t miss. It’s got high stakes, intelligence, beautiful people, drama, and sex. More importantly, if all goes well, it won’t be long before everyone talks about the “MSL Effect.”