Interview with Dr. Savi Chadha

In today's episode, Dr. Sava Chadhi returns to the podcast to explain the steps he took to advance his career as a Medical Affairs Leader.

Dr. Savi Chadha's pharmaceutical journey began as an MSL with Amplity Health in 2016 and later advanced to Supernus Pharmaceuticals in 2017, where he thrived. Once he was working as an MSL he completed board certification by the Medical Science Liaison Society. And his two nominations for MSL of the Year by the MSL Society reflect his exceptional contributions to the industry.

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Becoming a Medical Affairs Leader

John and Dr. Chadha discussed the topic of advancing one's career in the field of Medical Affairs. Savi provided his unique insights and shed light on strategies for listeners who aspire to fast-track their career growth.

  1. Proactivity: Being proactive is crucial for career advancement. Expressing interest in tasks, taking the initiative, and letting your manager know about your aspirations are key steps.
  2. Leadership: Stepping up as a leader within your team showcases your initiative and can accelerate your career progression.
  3. Management Experience: Gaining experience in managing other team members, by onboarding or participating in employee training can be valuable for career growth.
  4. Certification: Pursuing the MSL certification shows dedication and expertise in your role. 

Remember, your initiative, leadership skills, job knowledge, and relevant certifications all play a role in accelerating your career.

Strategic Tips for Starting Your MSL Career

When seeking opportunities in the field, engaging with pharmaceutical representatives can prove highly advantageous. These professionals regularly visiting medical offices and hospitals are sources of valuable information and pathways to meaningful networking.

Taking the initiative to connect MSLs and sharing your resume if job openings arise, can create a pathway into these nonclinical roles. This often-overlooked resource can open doors to new career prospects.

Dr. Savi Chadha's Advice

Be persistent and patient. Transitioning takes time. It may not happen right away; it could take months or even years. Don't take rejection personally; stay resilient and work through it. Despite the stress prompting the transition, give it the time it needs.


Dr. Savi Chadha's insights provide advice for those aiming to excel in Medical Affairs. As a seasoned Medical Science Liaison (MSL), his journey from entry-level to senior positions offers a unique perspective.

He emphasized proactive engagement, leadership, and expanding skillsets. Additionally, he encourages listeners to persist in the journey towards nonclinical roles with patience, persistence, and “thick skin” to achieve that goal.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode. 

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 315

Develop These Essential Skills to Be a Visionary Medical Affairs Leader

- Interview with Dr. Savi Chadha

John: Today's guest was the first MSL I ever interviewed almost five years ago on episode number 50 of the podcast. And I'm really happy to have him back with us to provide his insights and his advice about working in the pharma industry. So, welcome back, Dr. Savi Chadha.

Dr. Savi Chadha: Thank you very much, John. Great to be here. Great to be back.

John: It's good to see you. I have a lot to follow up on with you. I know you were so helpful the first time we talked. I don't have too many guests that have been in pharma, a new job with pharma and moved up the chain and that kind of thing. Maybe at the most it might be one other person. So I'm really glad you can help us today.

Dr. Savi Chadha: I'm glad I could do it. I'm glad I can be here.

John: Now my audience can go back and listen to the original episode. But why don't you go ahead and give us the short version of what you were doing before you became an MSL and then basically how you landed your first job, and then we'll take it from there.

Dr. Savi Chadha: Sure. Well, I think like a lot of your audience members, I was a clinician. I was going to the hospital, writing, seeing patients, and I think like a lot of physicians these days, I was starting to lose some of my satisfaction with the work. The same frustrations that I think a lot of us have, in terms of day-to-day patient care.

A friend of mine, actually, he had made the transition from clinical work into the MSL world. And he knew about my background. He knew that I had some business experience before I went to medical school. I actually worked in advertising. So he knew that I had some good relationship building skills. And so, he introduced me to the MSL role.

After quite a bit of thought into it, I started doing more research into it. And eventually I decided to take the plunge and I started interviewing, researching, and networking was a big one. And eventually, back in 2016, I did land my first MSL position, and I've been working as an MSL ever since.

John: Excellent. Looking back, if you have any pearls of wisdom about getting your first MSL job? We're not going to spend a lot of time on that, but anything that you would put out there in terms of advice for physicians looking for that?

Dr. Savi Chadha: Yeah, I would, and this is a question I do get a lot. Getting an MSL job is plain and simple. It's a competitive type job. There are a lot of people applying in addition to us, MDs and DOs. PhDs apply, PharmDs apply, and now the field is taking more advanced practitioners, so nurse practitioners as well as physician's assistants.

So, it's becoming more and more competitive to get MSL jobs. That being said, as MDs we certainly bring a wealth of knowledge and a lot of experience to that. Even though it is a competitive landscape, I encourage people to be confident in their interviewing abilities and their skills, and also to have a good amount of patience and fortitude because I think most people I've spoken to did not get their first offer, or I should say did not get their first interview, excuse me. And it was disheartening.

The trick I think for a lot of people is not to personalize rejection. Just maintain your focus, stay the path, if you will, and be patient and just be persistent. I think in most cases, the people that I've talked to that have made it or that have succeeded, have done that.

John: Well, I think that is a job where you can't have an MSL degree or something that's going to say, "Okay, you're the perfect person for this job", from what I know. You learn a lot. You could learn when you're interviewing, you learn when you're looking at job descriptions. I think it would make sense, correct me if I'm wrong, but to join the MSL society, even if you're not an MSL, because they have things that support people looking for that job, I believe.

Dr. Savi Chadha: They do. And I utilized them when I was searching, and I still work with them regularly. They have a wealth of information. In terms of both, about the MSL position itself and in terms of landing a position, interviewing, they go into a lot of detail. They're a great resource, fantastic resource.

John: Yeah. It's not like looking for your first medical school app job. Not a job but getting into med school, getting to your residency. There's kind of a prescribed process for that, but switching to a new career like this can be somewhat scary and the unknown.

Dr. Savi Chadha: It certainly can be. Especially in healthcare, I think a lot of our career paths have a strongly laid out career path. And this certainly goes off that beaten path, and we're sort of shredding our own way. So, it can very much be anxiety inducing.

John: Now you've been doing this job in different forms for a while. So, has it lived up to what you thought it would be? That would be of interest to us.

Dr. Savi Chadha: I'd say, yeah, I would say it has. It's a very enjoyable, satisfying job. In terms of being at the sort of cutting edge of clinical research, I get exposed to the newest treatments in my therapeutic area. I find out what clinical trials are going off or what new drug out there. So that's really fascinating. It's really nice actually to really have that excitement and enthusiasm of a new product coming out to treat a disease. From that aspect, it's certainly very satisfying and I think that's always been there. I foresee that always continuing to be there. That's just in the nature of the position.

John: Now, from talking to yourself I think previously and others, I've heard that it can have a fair amount of travel involved. It's just part of the job, although it can vary depending on whether you have a giant territory or a small territory or what have you. But has that changed at all in the last five years? I know with the pandemic a lot of nonclinical jobs where they're allowing them to do more remotely. So, tell us what that's like right now for you, or has been.

Dr. Savi Chadha: That's actually a great question, and certainly the pandemic had a very significant impact on MSLs day-to-day activity. All of our in-person discussions moved online, like I think many peoples are. Now that the pandemic has sort of wound down, a lot of us are back in the field. So, we are meeting with clinicians and researchers in person. That does require a lot of travel which is very much similar to what it was prior to pre pandemic. So it certainly has gone back to that model. Yeah.

John: Okay. I'm sure it varies by, again, the situation. That's just something to remember. But now you have been working there, and I know you ended up switching companies and now you've got some different roles. So, why don't you explain what's happened over those last five years for you?

Dr. Savi Chadha: Sure. Yeah. I think as I've been there at my current company longer, I've certainly gotten more projects and more type of administrative roles given to me. And some of these things are projects like interviewing new potential MSLs, training new MSLs, and then certainly managing them as well. Those are some of the things that I do in terms of my current MSL team.

Additionally, I also go outside of some medical affairs and do other aspects I should say within medical affaire but aside from just working with my MSL team. I also do work a lot with our promotional review committee. Any type of material that's printed, any type of advertisement that people see in terms of a pharmaceutical company or a product, I have to approve that and make sure that any claims that are made on there, specifically scientific claims or clinical claims, that they are backed up by clinical research and that they are 100% truthful. Additionally to that, I also do advisory boards, and I put those together and quite a bit of speaking engagements too. In addition to MSL work, there's other projects I should say that I do.

John: Now, can you explain a little bit about how the medical affairs division in a pharma company is structured? Most of us, it's really a black box. When we look in, it's like, "Okay, what the heck? I know an MSL might be in there, there might be medical directors, but what are they medical directing?" Maybe you can give us an insight into either the way it's set up in your company and or other companies if you're aware of how they typically structure things.

Dr. Savi Chadha: Sure. One easy way to say it is I think most people are familiar with pharmaceutical reps. They can go to physician's offices. I think a lot of us know about them. And then pharmaceutical companies also have clinical research teams, entire research divisions.

We tell people, and what I tell people is that medical affairs would be fall sort of in between those two divisions. And what I mean by that is, oftentimes the clinicians will ask the reps questions that the reps may not have the immediate information on and may not be able to answer right away. So what they'll do is they'll say "Let me refer you to our in-house medical liaison."

And so, we in medical affairs work a lot with the current products that are already on the market, whereas clinical research oftentimes will be working with products that are still in maybe phase one or phase two trials. Those products are usually not on the market as of yet. What we can do is we provide medical support for products that have already been FDA approved and are currently being utilized by clinicians.

John: Okay. I know the MSLs work with sometimes they're called key opinion leaders. I don't know, what term do you use in your company for your context?

Dr. Savi Chadha: Across the industry, KOL, which is what you said, key opinion leader, that's the most common one. But different companies will use different terms. Some will say thought leaders, some will say stakeholders. There's a lot of different terms for it.

John: Okay. So in the way you're set up now is that anything that's been approved and is out there in the market. You definitely can have those conversations. But when it comes to having conversations about things that have not been approved by the FDA that would shift to somebody else or would that be something that the MSL could talk about as well?

Dr. Savi Chadha: That's actually a great question, and that is actually something that we MSLs can do. And because clinicians do frequently ask about the company and say, "What products do you have in the pipeline, can you tell us a little bit about them?" And the commercial division and members of the commercial team due to legislation are not allowed to say, speak on that. Whereas as in medical affairs, we can. That's what I mean when I say that we're sort of a bridge between clinical research on one hand as well as commercial on the other. We support the commercial, and yet we can also talk something about the clinical.

John: All right. Because I was a little bit confused about that. But that makes sense because it's all about education, right? And to your KOLs, it's really not promotional at all. And the FDA doesn't like it if you ever do anything promotional on that side of the equation. But you're strictly by the book. But if it's scientific, if there's evidence for it, you can discuss it from what I've heard.

Dr. Savi Chadha: That's correct. Yeah. If it's scientific, we absolutely can discuss it. Yeah.

John: You've got a little bit more responsibility it sounds like in what you're doing. You got some seniority. Tell us a little bit more about that. What other things you might be doing? If somebody is in a position that you were in five or six years ago, are there things they can do to help get that kind of experience and maybe what you're even looking forward to doing in the future?

Dr. Savi Chadha: I would say for somebody, if they're sort of a new MSL, if they're looking to advance their career, certainly being proactive it goes without saying. As in most careers, being proactive about letting your manager know that you want whatever said task that they have. Certainly stepping up and being a leader on your team is big and can be very useful to your career. And that shows initiative, that shows proactivity, and certainly obviously it shows leadership. Also if you've managed say another employee or assisted another employee in terms of interviewing them, in terms of getting onboarding, those would also certainly be very, very useful. Onboarding specifically.

John: Now, I think looking at your LinkedIn profile, I saw that you've actually taken some additional steps to become board certified. And so, what was that about? What was included in that kind of education and did it have leadership and management components to it? Or was it all focused specifically on the job that you do as an MSL?

Dr. Savi Chadha: It's been a little while since I had got my MSL certification, but from what I remember, it required a written examination that talked a lot about some of the different roles and some of the different aspects of being an MSL and what MSLs are legally allowed to say and are legally not permitted to discuss, and how we can bring about those discussions.

I remember the test had a lot to do with that in terms of how we can appropriately bring about those discussions. The certification also required a certain amount of work experience at that point in order to receive the certification. So, it was a combination of knowing, I would say the job itself and what it entails and what it does not entail. And then having an appropriate amount of work experience already under one's belt, if you will.

John: Now, I have to assume at some point some people in your position will end up getting even more into the management side of things, leadership and that sort of thing. A couple of questions about that, if you know the answer. One is, is it beneficial or less beneficial to be a physician as opposed to let's say a PharmD or an RN or a master's nurse or other specialties in terms of the leaders? Who do you see are the leaders? Is it more of the physicians or not necessarily?

Dr. Savi Chadha: It really runs the gamut, really truthfully. I look at my managers and I look at managers in other companies, and it really does run the gamut. Some are MDs, some there are DOs, lots of PharmDs, certainly. That's simply because PharmDs make out the most MSLs. So inevitably simple math there. But there are PhDs. I've had nurse practitioners who were managers who were great. It really does run the gamut. The degree is really secondary to people's both hard and soft skills once they get in.

John: I'm trying to get a little more insight into the rest of the medical affairs division. You kind of explained this. The way I look at the medical affairs is responsible for getting the new drug out into the world, I guess is how I look at it. I see these ads for assistant medical directors, medical directors, associate medical directors, executive medical directors. It's kind of nebulous terms. So is it they just have more responsibility in a bigger scope of people reporting to them? Is that basically what that means? Or is there some other key that we should be aware of?

Dr. Savi Chadha: I think you sort of touched on it. An associate director usually will be joining, maybe that's their first directorial level position. They'll be labeled as associate and maybe not have full director type responsibilities. As they gain more experience, then maybe they become a director and then maybe eventually senior director. I think you touched on it, it's really just the volume and intensity of the types of projects that they're given and trying to manage.

John: All right. I'll put you on the spot now a little bit, even more than I already have. I'm just trying to think of other advice you can give to physicians or even other clinicians because I do have some nurses and pharmacists and dentists that listen.

But in terms of preparing for that first MSL job, but then maybe even learning some things prior to be getting your first MSL job that might help you later on, move up the ranks. Any thoughts or suggestions on that?

Dr. Savi Chadha: Yeah, I would say a couple of things. I would say to really talk to their drug reps that come to their offices or their hospitals. They are an excellent, excellent resource in terms of information and in terms of just networking a segue in. They can ask their reps, if they have a medical liaison that they work with. If so, ask to speak to them, get to know them. It wouldn't hurt to maybe give them a copy of your resume if they're hiring. Who knows, maybe they're hiring. That is an easy segue that's kind of laid out right there. So, I think that's a resource that people have that's often overlooked.

John: Yeah. I've at least spoken with one person whose job came directly from talking to the drug rep when they were still clinically practicing. And then actually just within a year she became an MSL and it's like, "Okay, that worked out well, but it's not always that simple."

Dr. Savi Chadha: You're right, it certainly is not that simple. That being said, it is an avenue that's available. There are other avenues. I think that if that's an avenue that's right there, that's proverbially sitting right under the bed, if you will, you might as well take advantage of it.

John: I think part of the issue was for her, it was that some of her colleagues ended up being KOLs. So, it was built in, she became an MSL and she was calling on those very people that she used to interact with. I think the company thought this would be a good hire, but it doesn't work like that very often from what I've heard.

Dr. Savi Chadha: Yes and no. I would say it can be an asset in terms of our professional network. I can pretty confidently say that will not be the only network that she will talk to. It will certainly have to expand.

John: Yeah, and what are the odds that you're going to just happen to live in an area that happens to need an MSL who's not already working there and for that company. Still, it's worth it. Definitely you can learn a lot from your rep from what I've heard. So I'm glad you definitely second that.

Anything else that we're missing in terms of the job, applying for the job? Do you see a lot of your colleagues doing lateral moves to other companies? Or do most people try to work their way up in one company and then later on do a switch?

Dr. Savi Chadha: I would say generally I see a lot of lateral moves, primarily for a few different reasons. One, when they become an MSL, a lot of people are simply satisfied with the MSL itself. They don't have an intention or any interest in going into management, which is perfectly fine. In that case lateral moves happen more often.

Generally what I've noticed is that if somebody moves vertically, they do generally move vertically within their own company and then move laterally. So, it's not too common where I've seen somebody do both a lateral and a vertical at the same time.

John: Well, I think I've picked your brain pretty darn well here for the last half hour. Any words of encouragement you want to give to the listeners too? Because most of my listeners are a big percentage. They've been trying for a while to get a nonclinical job, or they're just getting started. They're kind of frustrated working in the hospital situation or even a clinic situation with long hours and working with EMRs and the risk of being sued. Any advice for those people who are still maybe in that early phase?

Dr. Savi Chadha: I would say don't lose heart. If you're persistent, I know it's hard because people oftentimes want to transition during very stressful times in their career, and they want out pretty quickly. The transition does take time. Most people I've talked to, it didn't happen right away. It takes them months, sometimes years. It's just patience, persistence, and fortitude. Don't personalize rejection, have thick skin to work through it I would say. I know it's hard. I know it's not easy. I know that the very reason they want to transition is because they're stressed out at their current job but it does take some time regardless.

John: I think that's good advice because when we're in a big hurry sometimes we make mistakes that end up being worse than the solution that we would've gathered if we just gave it some time and really figured out what we wanted to do instead of run away from something. So, that is definitely excellent advice.

All right, Savi, this has been really good. It's been great to catch up with you and we'll put it on the books to get back together in five years.

Dr. Savi Chadha: Thank you for having me.

John: I really appreciate the time you've taken to come in and share all that. Best of luck, continued luck and success in your work in pharma. It sounds really good. So with that, I'll say goodbye.

Dr. Savi Chadha: Thank you so much. I appreciate it, John. Thank you again for having me.

John: You're welcome. Bye-bye.


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