PA Life Moments | Ryan O.


When I originally expressed interest in the PA profession, I was excited, nervous, curious, and had a passion to help improve the lives of my future patients. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and immediately entered the Wake Forest School of Medicine PA Program just three weeks after graduation from UNC. This was the first step of my journey as a PA.

In the fall of 2018, I entered the clinical world as a PA in the Emergency Department (ED) in High Point, NC. Here, I continued to develop the skills, knowledge, and confidence I needed to provide high-quality care to my patients. There were a couple faculty members at HPU who had a doctorate, and as a new PA educator, I foresaw the need to learn how to be a PA educator. I also wanted to make my faculty applications more competitive by earning a doctorate degree.

In January 2020, just three months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I began the Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) program at A.T. Still University with a concentration in PA education. In the fall of 2020, two years after beginning clinical practice, I was promoted to Lead APP within my Emergency Department.

Starting a doctoral PA program while working full-time as a lead APP during the country-wide shutdown had its pros and cons. I had no distractions in life and was able to complete assignments without issues. Although, the stress and fear of working in an environment where exposure to an unknown disease was inevitable and frightening.

While completing my DMSc, I enrolled in the Master of Business Administration in healthcare management (MBA) program at the University of North Carolina Pembroke. It was tough getting an MBA, finishing my thesis research for my DMSc, and working full-time, while still an adjunct faculty member at HPU, but I knew that getting out of the ED full-time was the push I needed to get across the finish line.

I completed my DMSc degree in December 2021 and my MBA in May 2022. I officially left the ED full-time in early 2022 and began an assistant professor position at HPU. I loved educating and felt it was the best transition from full-time clinical practice. My students and their education meant so much to me and I felt like I was putting the things I learned in my DMSc program to use.

In the spring of 2022, I learned about the Medical Science Liaison (MSL) role through a doctorate PA Facebook group. People within the group praised the MSL role. The ability to be challenged by understanding complex diseases and drug landscapes, travel, and working remotely, while still impacting patients but in a different way. Breaking into the MSL field can be extremely challenging and is no short feat. I talked to multiple PAs throughout my application journey. I specifically networked with MSLs who were also PAs or NPs, as I felt like those who were once APPs could better relate and provide the best advice for breaking into the field.

I developed a strong LinkedIn page, sent over 30 applications to MSL jobs, and spoke to multiple MSLs over the phone or on messenger. I am so grateful for the guidance that MSLs provided me while I was applying. Within three months of applying, I had made it to final interviews for two different MSL positions, ultimately accepting a position as an MSL within oncology. I specifically focus on lung, thyroid, and head and neck cancers and cover a territory of five states. I was able to improve my work-life balance all while maintaining a great salary, and I rarely work past 5 pm. However, with traveling I sometimes work late nights due to flight delays or afternoon meetings. While I leave family more due to travel, the improvement in my mental health is worth it. I am happier and less stressed working as an MSL. While every job can come with stressful times, it is few and far between as compared to almost every ED shift.

Being a practicing clinician will always be the foundation of who I am as a PA. I continue to occasionally work in the ED PRN to remain up-to-date with research, maintain skills, and get back to my roots of direct patient care. Working as an MSL is the best career change I have ever made. I am challenged daily by the ever-evolving landscape that is oncology, all the while still impacting patients positively. I can discuss clinical trial data, updated evidence-based medicine practices, adverse event management, etc. with multiple providers in a single day. These providers then see 15-20 patients in their clinic. The information I provided to those practitioners can alter how they treat those 15-20 patients to improve outcomes. This is how I feel fulfilled daily.

While having a doctorate degree is not an absolute requirement for breaking into the MSL role, it is helpful. It also enables you to develop strong research and statistical skills needed to be able to present complex scientific data to your healthcare providers, which is vital to being successful as an MSL. An MBA degree can give you a statistical analysis background that can be useful as an MSL as well, however, if you are only going to do one, I would recommend the doctoral degree.

My biggest piece of advice is to network, network, and do more networking. You quickly learn how much everyone is connected, as the MSL world is small. The mentors I had while transitioning into the MSL field were so helpful. Read and do research to ensure you know what an MSL does and their role in the medical affairs and pharmaceutical industry.

As I continue to dive into the MSL role I am hopeful and look forward to the vast career growth opportunities within the MSL profession (medical and global affairs, medical director, manager, trainer of MSLs, disease state leads, etc.). I am unsure what my career goal is at this point, but look forward to figuring that out in the coming years.

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