What Does a Medical Science Liaison Do? (Plus Salary)

Updated July 31, 2023

Image description

A woman wearing a lab coat and stethoscope looks at her cell phone next to a list with the title "How To Become a Medical Science Liaison" and these steps:

• Choose your area of expertise
• Complete further study
• Get experience in the field
• Apply for MSL roles
• Join an association or industry body
• Complete continuing professional development (CPD)

Medical science liaisons act as a bridge between health care companies and physicians. People in this field often have a strong scientific background, excellent interpersonal skills and a desire to communicate with a variety of individuals. Learning more about medical science liaisons can help you determine if this career path is right for you.

In this article, we discuss what a medical science liaison is, alternative titles for this role, what they do, why they are important, skills needed for a medical science liaison role, the role of medical science liaisons, how to pursue this role along with other roles you can pursue and the job outlook along with what they earn on average.

What is a medical science liaison?

A medical science liaison is a scientist who provides information about their employer's products, such as medical devices, drugs and medical treatments. They go through the development process, ensure that products are utilized effectively, provide resources and peer review within the medical community and are scientific experts to internal colleagues at companies.  They typically represent companies and work with decision-makers in the medical community, known as key opinion leaders (KOLs).

Medical science liaisons also work with investors and government regulatory agencies. They primarily work for medical device companies, biotechnology firms and pharmaceutical companies, but some of them also work for consumer products manufacturers, such as cosmetic companies.

Related: What Is a Physician Liaison? (Plus How To Become One)

Alternative titles to medical science liaison

According to the Medical Science Liaison Society, companies refer to this position by many titles. These titles include:

  • Field medical director

  • Medical liaison director

  • Regional medical liaison

  • Medical science manager

  • Regional medical director

  • Medical advisor

  • Medical liaison

  • Regional scientific manager

  • Regional medical advisor

  • Clinical liaison

What does a medical science liaison do?

Medical science liaisons establish and maintain rapport with stakeholders. As members of a company's medical affairs department, they may work in one geographic area, which often requires extensive travel.

They may conduct meetings with physicians and other medical employees, participate in panel discussions or speak in front of large crowds. Other duties and responsibilities of medical science liaisons include:

  • Design and conduct studies that investigate medical conditions and methods to prevent or treat them

  • Prepare and analyze medical samples and data to investigate the causes and treatment of chronic diseases, pathogens and toxicity

  • Standardize drug potency, methods and doses to allow for the mass production and distribution of drugs and medicinal compounds

  • Create and test medical devices

  • Develop programs that improve health outcomes, in partnership with physicians, industry personnel and health departments

  • Write research grant proposals and apply for funding from private funding sources and government agencies

  • Follow procedures to maintain safety and avoid contamination

Related: How To Become a Clinical Liaison in 6 Steps

Why are medical science liaisons important?

Medical science liaisons are important because they help information about products, services and research spread. They can provide information about using products effectively, communicate with their colleagues and peers about specific scientific and medical concepts and be a resource for medical communities. Overall, they improve the entire medical community.

Skills and qualities for medical science liaisons

To be successful in this role, aspiring medical science liaisons generally need the following qualities:

  • Communication skills: For any medical science liaison to be successful, they communicate well within all levels of the company to ensure that they're aware of their duties and responsibilities.

  • Integrity: Medical science liaisons adhere to the high ethical standards of the medical industry for patient care. If they don't feel comfortable enforcing an unqualified or questionable practice or therapy, they can communicate their rationale effectively.

  • Flexibility: Medical science liaisons are versatile, able to anticipate customer needs and well-spoken both in their clinical knowledge and everyday knowledge. They also speak to people with various levels of understanding, including pharmacists, nurses, specialists and physicians.

  • Adaptability: Medical science liaisons are adaptable to change and handle ambiguity with precision. Good medical science liaisons may recognize this and adjust their methods promptly.

  • Listening skills: Effective medical science liaisons need strong listening skills to understand what their clients are asking. They also determine what the client or community-based physician is interested in and express a shared enthusiasm for this interest.

  • Interpersonal skills: Medical science liaisons act as consultants for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, so they usually have excellent interpersonal skills to share information gathered from leaders in the biotechnology field.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What's the Difference?

Image description

A woman wearing a lab coat and stethoscope looks at her cell phone next to a list with the title "How To Become a Medical Science Liaison" and these steps:

• Choose your area of expertise
• Complete further study
• Get experience in the field
• Apply for MSL roles
• Join an association or industry body
• Complete continuing professional development (CPD)

How to become a medical science liaison

Becoming a medical science liaison begins after you earn a university degree, so a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate is necessary before applying to a university program. Here are the steps you can take to become a medical science liaison:

1. Choose your area of expertise

Most medical science liaisons hold a doctorate, and many have a doctorate in pharmacy. There are also many routes you can choose within your pharmacological studies to become a medical science liaison. It depends on the area in which you want to specialize. There are several therapeutic areas to choose from as you advance through your pharmacy or medical school education.

Related: 20 Jobs You Can Do With a Biomedical Science Degree (With Salaries)

2. Obtain an advanced degree

It's possible to transition from a career as a pharmaceutical sales rep or an unrelated job to the role of a medical science liaison, though it's uncommon. Historically, the industry did not require MSLs to have a doctorate degree but it has become the educational standard in the industry for the MSL role. 

Most medical science liaisons have an advanced degree, such as a Medical Doctor degree, Doctor of Pharmacy degree or doctorate in research science, along with extensive experience as clinical researchers, pharmacists and medical doctors. Some medical science liaisons hold registered nursing (RN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees and have several years of experience in a particular therapeutic field, including cardiovascular, metabolism, oncology and pain management.

Related: 11 Different Professional Degree Types (With Jobs List)

3. Complete a training program

Consider completing an internship with a biotechnology firm or pharmaceutical company to gain expertise in the industry. Staying updated on clinical trials for new medications or certain applications of established medications is also a good way to learn what's happening in the industry. You may develop your speaking skills through presentations at conferences that highlight the relationship between promoting human health and pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies also offer extensive training to newly hired medical science liaisons. This training includes instruction in their own product lines and discussions about medical regulations relating to the pharmaceutical industry. 

Related: A Complete Guide to Internships

4. Gain work experience

You may be able to gain work experience through networking. It helps to know people in the industry who might know about potential career listings. You can improve your knowledge and skills by pursuing medical science liaison roles that match your expertise. Many medical science liaisons come from backgrounds in academic research, pharmaceutical sales or even practitioners.

Related: How To Network for a Job (Why It's Important and 7 Tips)

Medical science liaison career outlook

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for medical scientists is to grow 17% from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This career field is likely to continue growing as the demand for new therapeutic solutions increases. Due to the relative novelty of the field, there are job prospects for individuals who want to become medical science liaisons.

Jobs similar to medical science liaisons

If you're considering a career as a medical science liaison, you may also consider the following career paths:

  1. Biomedical engineer

  2. Health care consultant

  3. Pharmaceutical consultant

  4. Care manager

  5. Medical sales associate

  6. Medical adviser

  7. Biotechnologist

  8. Clinical specialist

  9. Clinical trial consultant

  10. Pharmacist

Opportunities for medical science liaisons

Below are opportunities you may experience if you become a medical science liaison:

Career advancement

Medical science liaisons often have a Ph.D. in a specific area such as medicine, so they have ample opportunity for advancement in their careers. Typically, the career progression for this title includes becoming a senior medical science liaison and then a medical manager or advisor. After that, earning a medical doctor (MD) degree can help people pursue roles as regional, country and global medical directors.

Medical science liaison salary and benefits

Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have specific data about the salaries for medical science liaisons you can review what medical scientists in the U.S. earn on average as a comparison. According to the bureau, medical scientists earn an average salary of $95,310 per year.

Salary for medical scientists can vary depending on several factors, like employer, geographic location and level of experience. Medical scientists who work for large biotech and pharmaceutical companies usually earn higher annual salaries, as do those who have several years of industry experience.

Note that figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) helped supplement data from Indeed.

Medical science liaison work environment

Medical science liaisons may work in a large geographic area or region, so frequent travel is common for them. Due to the amount of travel required to liaise and consult with other medical employees, medical science liaisons may or may not work in their employer's physical office.

They usually find methods to effectively deliver complex information concisely and clearly. Most medical science liaisons work full-time, but they have the freedom to set their own schedule and the option to work from home.

Related: 14 Positions That Require You To Frequently Travel

Medical science liaison job description

Below is an example job description for a medical science liaison:

West Coast Medical Products is seeking a qualified medical science liaison to travel and explain products to medical facilities in the region. A qualified candidate is able to research the company's products, explain complex details to medical staff and help to sell the products to regional centers. This role requires that candidates have a Ph.D. and understand the design, build, test and sales processes.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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