How to get a medical science liaison job

Sam Barry our consultant managing the role
Author: Sam Barry
Posting date: 16/11/2016
How to get a medical science liaison job

Have you ever considered a career as a medical science liaison (MSL)? With the prominence of MSLs on the rise, more and more companies are looking to hire these expert professionals. Due to the demanding job role and requirements, it can be hard to get an MSL position if you lack previous experience. Here are some things to know if you’re looking to break into the MSL industry.

What is a medical science liaison?

Put simply, an MSL is a therapy area expert. MSL jobs are very important within the life sciences industry (pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical device and contract research organisations), responsible for engaging with the wider medical community and serving as a scientific resource to educate and advise on upcoming advances in treatments.

It is an MSL’s job to liaise with internal stakeholders (sales and marketing teams) to ensure that they promote an accurate and relevant message. MSLs are a non-commercial, field-based resource that is responsible for representing the company that they work for, making them vital to its success. They have advanced scientific training and concentrate on a specific therapy area – for example, oncology or cardiology – or disease.

What are the responsibilities of a medical science liaison?

MSLs work approximately 60-80% of the time in the field, and are responsible for an area or region. They will meet key opinion leaders (KOLs) such as physicians and healthcare professionals, and will visit key medical and academic institutions. During these liaisons, they will educate on their field of expertise and discuss relevant scientific and clinical data. It is important to highlight that the role of the MSL is not to sell. MSLs are not a commercial tool, and their role is to scientifically advise and educate on a peer-to-peer level with doctors and KOLs.

There is no sales pitch involved during their meetings with medical professionals. Instead, they bestow information about their therapy area/disease or the scientific background behind products. This could include communicating data from clinical trials that their company has conducted, describing the efficacy of a drug, or simply educating hospitals on advancing treatments within their area of expertise.

The ways in which MSLs educate and advise may include:

  • Responding to requests for information
  • Hosting advisory boards
  • Providing training to the sales and marketing teams within their company

A significant part of a MSL’s job is to keep abreast of scientific advancements in their field. This involves conducting their own education/research, and attending conferences.

What is the demand for medical science liaisons?

The demand for MSLs is high, as they play an extremely important role within any pharmaceutical company. They are vital in establishing a solid network of hospitals, physicians and KOLs, which is fundamental to the company’s success. The more knowledgeable and competent the MSL, the more credible the company will appear. As the number of organisations who recognise their importance increases, so does the demand to hire MSLs.

What qualifications or training do I need to get a medical science liaison job?

MSLs are a point of scientific expertise and as such, they are required to possess advanced scientific/academic training. Most MSLs will come from three different backgrounds: Medical Doctor (MD), Pharmacist (PharmD) or PhD. It’s worth mentioning that the role demands that you are an excellent communicator with the ability to present complex scientific material in a clear and concise manner.

How do I get the right experience for a medical science liaison job?

Gaining direct work experience as an MSL can be tricky without having a contact in the field.   Instead, it is more a case of learning how best to promote your relevant skills and your scientific expertise to the company who is hiring. Even with relevant qualification, you may still struggle to break into the role without experience. However, there are ways to increase your chances.

  1. Always choose an MSL role suited to your background so that your expertise is directly transferrable. If you have a PhD in oncology, apply for oncology MSL jobs to give yourself the best chance.
  2. When interviewing, ensure you have a detailed knowledge of the MSL role, so that you can highlight confidently how your skillset matches up. Demonstrating a sound knowledge of the role may help to counteract a lack of experience.
  3. Consider becoming a member of the MSLA (Medical Science Liaison Association) or MSLS (Medical Science Liaison Society). This can help you to build a network with experienced MSL professionals who may be able to help.
  4. Be resilient. Several companies will hire MSLs without experience but it may take a few applications and interviews to find the right company for you. Each interview will prepare you better for the next, so remain positive!

What are the different directions you can take?

Here are some examples of the directions you can take as an MSL:

Candidate A: Has a PhD in oncology and is an expert in leukaemia having worked in clinical research for a number of years. As a strong communicator with a passion for their therapy area, this career was a natural choice because of the scientific cross-over with their academic background. The candidate hopes to assume an MSL manager position later in their career, as they would like the chance to be responsible for a small group of MSLs, ensuring that they are adequately trained in their therapy area and communicate the company’s medical strategy correctly during meetings and presentations.

Candidate B: Worked for a few years as an MSL within cardiology but is looking to move into a position that requires less travelling. With solid advisory experience and expertise behind them, this candidate is seeking to move into a medical advisor job. This is an office-based position involved in implementing the company’s medical strategy, assisting with the creation of medical marketing plans and working closely with the commercial team.

Other possible career paths involve becoming a medical manager or medical director.

If you’re already an MSL professional or looking to kick start your career in this field, have a look at Proclinical’s current medical science liaison opportunities to help you to find the right MSL job for you. Proclinical is a consulting and staffing services provider dedicated to helping professionals to find their ideal position working for many of these top pharmaceutical employers. 

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