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What are Medical Science Liaisons Made of – and How to Become One?


Medical Science Liaison (MSL), Medical Science Relations, Medical Manager, Scientific Advisor, Medical Advisor. There are many names for the field-based medical expert role, which has been established in recent years as the cornerstone of medical affairs within the pharmaceutical industry.

The importance of MSLs for pharmaceutical companies is constantly increasing – for several reasons.

First, the industry has shifted towards specialty care and more complex products that require scientific support instead of just sales. Second, the traditional sales force is suffering from restricted access to physicians’ offices. MSLs, despite their strictly non-promotional role, provide a valuable link between doctors and the company. Third, a field-based medical advisor may provide a strong strategic asset for any company: they can collect crucial insights from the field, generate important new data, and support the development of treatment practices within the therapeutic area.

As an industry position requiring a scientific background, it is not surprising that the MSL has become an attractive career option for those with an academic background in biological or pharmaceutical sciences. But how do you get such a position, and who makes a good MSL?

, What are Medical Science Liaisons Made of – and How to Become One?, MedEngine

Here’s some advice that might be helpful for anyone applying for such a position – and for succeeding in it:

1. Apply for the right reasons.
It is obvious that an expert-level position within the pharmaceutical industry sounds glamorous – especially after working long days in the dusty chambers of academia on a modest research grant. But a higher salary, status, or a shiny company car shouldn’t be the only reasons for applying – unless those are the things that bring you the best motivation in your career. Every experienced interviewer notices in minutes if you are applying for the wrong reasons.

Of course, it’s not just about gettingthe job: the chances of successin an MSL position are low without a real passion for the job. That would be a terrible waste of time and money both for you and your employer.

2. A PhD degree is just the start.
Actually, MSLs don’t even need to have a PhD degree in all cases. At MedEngine, we expect a sufficient level of scientific expertise – that, however, is just one of the many qualities we are looking for. Actually, having a suitable degree is probably the easiest box to tick. Individuals who have the right combination of attitude, personality, and scientific knowledge are the ones that companies are looking for.

3. It’s a service business and you are there for the customer.
Even smart people with a strong scientific background sometimes fail as MSLs due to one simple reason: they don’t really understand the nature of the job.

MSLs are in the service business and, no matter how strong their scientific background, they have to serve their customers. The better service you are able to provide, the more likely you are to succeed in your position.

4. Flexibility is a must. 
The environment within the pharmaceutical industry is very different compared to academia or public organizations. Say goodbye to flexible project deadlines, long coffee breaks, and academic freedom. Welcome to a packed calendar, extensive travel, and unusual working hours.

5. Tolerate bureaucracy.
The MSL’s role is actually not that much about science – it is much more about internal meetings, meetings with customers, traveling, and organizing various things. Within any global pharmaceutical company, internal and external bureaucracy takes huge amounts of time and effort. You either learn to tolerate it or you won’t last long.

6. Find your way into the transition.
When you have worked as a MSL for a year or two, you have good chances for building a nice career within the industry. But the most crucial question is whether you are able to make the transition from academia to the industry.

So how to stand out from the crowd?

It is important to have something more in your CV than purely scientific merits. Study communications, marketing, and management. Find an internship within the industry. If you cannot find an internship within the pharmaceutical industry, find one in the diagnostic industry or in medical devices. Take whatever role you can land.

You need to show in all ways that you are really passionate to find your place in the industry and the time spent in academia was just preparation for it. Study the company you are applying for. Learn their products and understand the position you are applying for. Find contacts within the industry. Get into a mentor program and mingle in industry events. Be active and build your assets that will differentiate you from the other 100+ applicants that are fighting for the same position.

At MedEngine, we are always looking for good candidates for medical affairs positions. If you think that you have what it takes to become a great MSL, send us your CV or give us a call. You might end up in your dream job.

Tero Ylisaukko-oja

Tero Ylisaukko-oja

Known for his creative thinking and passion for complex projects, MedEngine CEO and Founder Tero Ylisaukko-oja seeks out clients who are willing to innovate and challenge both him and themselves. Outside of MedEngine Tero enjoys everything Italian, be it food, wine, soccer, the Mediterranean sea, or small cars with character. His family includes his wife Niina, two sons, and dachshunds Gunnar and Bruno.