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Alternate Career Options: So You Want to Be a Medical Science Liaison (MSL)?

June 14th, 2011 by Cliffprf Mintz

One of the new “hot career” opportunities in the life science industry is something called a medical science liaison or MSL. Increasingly, graduate students and postdocs are beginning to mention MSL as a possible career option. Of course, the first thing that I ask these persons is “Do you know what an MSL is or does on a daily basis?” In most cases, most of these would-be MSLs sheepishly admit that they don’t!

With this in mind, I invited Samuel Dyer, PhD, MBA an experienced MSL and CEO and Founder of the Medical Science Liaison Corporation and MSL WORLD to better inform those who may be interested in pursuing a career as an MSL.

What is a Medical Science Liaison?

By Samuel Dyer

The MSL is a therapeutic specialist (e.g. Oncology, Cardiology, Infectious Diseases, Central Nervous System) within pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, and clinical research organizations (CRO) who has advanced scientific training and generally a "terminal D" degrees in the life sciences (PhD, PharmD, MD).  It's important to note that MSL's are not sales reps and their function is very different.  The primary purpose of the MSL role is to be scientific or disease state experts for internal colleagues (sales and marketing), but more importantly for doctors in the Therapeutic Area of the Medical community in which they work (i.e. Oncology, Cardiology, CNS etc.).  The focus of the role has changed over the years, but the primary responsibility of the MSL role remains to establish and maintain peer-peer relationships with leading doctors, referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOL's).

Medical Science Liaison’s (MSLs) were first established by Upjohn pharmaceuticals in 1967 as a response to the need for professionally-trained field staff that would be able to build rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in various therapeutic areas of research. Although originally called Medical Science Liaisons by Upjohn, over the years and today, pharmaceutical companies have used various names for the role including: Medical Liaisons, Medical Managers, Regional Scientific Mangers, Clinical Liaisons, and Scientific Affairs Managers among others.  

Originally, the first MSLs were selected from experienced sales representatives that had strong scientific backgrounds to bring a higher degree of clinical and educational expertise to the medical professionals they were working with to influence sales. Over the years, MSL teams have been made up of individuals with various scientific backgrounds including: “super” sales reps, those with nursing backgrounds, those with various doctoral level degrees or other clinical backgrounds.  However, the required educational and scientific background and purpose of MSL’s has progressively changed over the years since they were first established.  In the late 1980’s, a number of companies began to require those applying to MSL roles to hold a terminal “D” degree such as an MD, PharmD, or PhD degrees.  

Although, historically, the educational standard in the industry did not require MSL’s to have a terminal “D” degree, however, today the terminal “D” degree has become standard in the industry.  Today according to one benchmark study more than 90% of current MSLs hold terminal “D” degrees.  

While the MSL role has received some attention, including a CNN Money article entitled "#1 Job in Pharmaceuticals-10 Jobs for Big Demand-Good Pay”, it remains one of the best kept secrets and one of the most difficult roles to break into.  Few people know about it, and little is written about the role.  In fact, the MSL community is quite small when compared to other professions in the pharmaceutical industry however there has been an explosion in the growth of the position. According to a recent benchmark study, there has been an average growth of 76% of the MSL role since 2005 across the industry in the U.S.

To learn more about the MSL role and find free resources go to www.mslworld.com

Until next time...

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!

 

 
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