How to get a medical science liaison job

Tom Russell our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 16/06/2020

Have you ever considered a career as a medical science liaison (MSL)? With the prominence of MSLs (also known as medical liaisons) on the rise, more and more companies are looking to hire these therapy experts. Breaking into a career as an MSL can be challenging as most roles require extensive experience. Here are some things to take into account if you’re looking to start a career as a medical science liaison in the pharmaceutical or medical devices industry.

What is a medical science liaison?

Put simply, an MSL is a subject matter expert. MSLs play an important role in any pharma, biotech or medical device company as they are responsible for interacting with the wider medical community. Their role is to inform 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 resource 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 disease or therapy area, for example oncology or cardiology.

What are the responsibilities of a medical science liaison?

MSLs are largely field-based and are usually responsible for an area or region. They will meet key opinion leaders (KOLs) such as physicians and will travel to 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 the product. MSLs are not a commercial tool, their role is to effectively sell the science behind the product by advising and educating 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 device, or simply educating hospitals on advancing treatments within their area of expertise. Ways in which an MSL may educate a peer include responding to requests for information, hosting advisory boards and providing training to sales and marketing teams.

A significant part of a MSL’s job is to keep abreast of scientific advancements in their field. This involves conducting their own 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 life science company. They are pivotal 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?

It can be tough to secure an MSL role without relevant work experience. Most applicants will already have the skills and qualifications for the job, so it is vital to differentiate yourself from others. Networking with those in the field is often key. Reaching out to recruiters, MSLs and medical managers on LinkedIn can be an effective way to gain information on when new roles will become available or be able to recommend someone who could support you with your search.

Looking at company websites and tracking their careers page can also be useful. For entry level roles, most companies will not go through recruitment agencies so it’s beneficial to identify 10-15 companies that interest you and keep checking their websites to see if new opportunities arise.

When applying you can also increase your chances of standing out by tailoring your CV to meet the requirements of the job description. Highlighting your relevant skills and expertise shows you really understand the requirements of the role. Always choose an MSL role suited to your background so that your expertise is directly transferable. If you have a PhD in oncology, apply for oncology MSL jobs to give yourself the best chance.

When interviewing, ensure you have a detailed knowledge of the MSL role, so that you can confidently show how your skillset matches up. Demonstrating a sound knowledge of the role may help to counteract a lack of experience.

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.

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 career paths you can take?

Roles will vary from company to company but typically MSLs will have the opportunity to progress to a senior MSL role. With experience, MSLs also have the potential to become a medical manager or director. If MSLs no longer want to travel as much, they may consider moving to a more office-based career, for example a medical advisor role.

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

Example A: Has a PhD in oncology and is an expert in leukemia 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 individual 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.

Example B: Worked for a few years as a medical science liaison within cardiology but is looking to move into a position that requires less travelling. With solid advisory experience and expertise behind them, this MSL 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. 

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